California Encounter

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two - Disappointment

By the time Diego had returned home, changed into one of his more ornate outfits, and returned to the pueblo, the new comandante had just arrived on a splendid dappled Andalusian, but General de Silva and the magistrado still hadn't shown up.   Motioning to Maria, the barmaid, Diego ordered a glass of wine for himself and Bernardo, to be enjoyed on the outside patio.

For some reason, the caballero was more than a little nervous and the manservant's presence helped to calm him.  Diego had not felt this way when he had first come home, but that was probably due to the fact that he was unsure of what was ahead of him when he had started his clandestine activities against Monastario.

He had not been happy with the deception he had perpetrated on his father, but even though Alejandro's disappointment was keenly, and at times, distressingly felt by Diego, he was also aware of his father's continued love for him.  With Gen. de Silva, whom Diego felt as close to as he would a second father, young de la Vega had no idea what to except.

"Bernardo, General de Silva is going to wonder about your hearing impairment.  I will have to explain it as the result of a fever you suffered on the way here from Spain," Diego told him, in a low voice, so as not to attract attention.   He sighed.  "I have a nasty feeling this may get ugly."

Bernardo looked concerned.  He, too, had come to admire the tough, but fair-minded old instructor, but he feared that his patrón was correct in his assessment.

Shortly after Maria had delivered the refreshment, the disheveled magistrado, along with de Silva, the lancers, and the prisoners arrived in the pueblo.   Sgt. Garcia announced the pair from Mexico as they entered the plaza and the whole group headed straight for the cuartel, where Diego saw them being greeted by the new comandante.

"Our new comandante seems to have a hard look about him. By the Saints, Bernardo, why can't we get more good ones, like Toledano?" Diego sighed.   "Well, at least Sgt. Garcia was not here to try to muster up a lot of pomp and circumstance."

Bernardo reminded Diego in sign that Zorro had had to break in Comandante Toledano and then he agreed that the lack of celebration was a welcome relief.  Diego smiled at the remembrance.

A short time later, the magistrado and his escort walked across the plaza to the tavern.  Diego affected his most gracious demeanor and stepped toward the doorway of the tavern to greet his former mentor.  "General de Silva, what a pleasant surprise." Suddenly, the old memories came flooding back and the past three years of secret-guarding and deception went flying to the back of his mind.  Diego was genuinely glad to see his old instructor and the pair exchanged warm greetings, with much backslapping and laughter.

"Diego, you are looking fit, and you have also matured greatly in the three or so years since we parted," de Silva exclaimed.  "But surely you did not know I was coming and dressed for the occasion?"

"No, General, I had no idea you were coming to California, much less our humble pueblo.  But I see you have an official with you, as well as the new comandante."

"Oh, many pardons, Magistrado, Comandante," de Silva turned to the other newcomers.  "This is Diego de la Vega, one of my best students in Madrid. Diego, this is Manuel Inocencio Hernandez, the new magistrado for this part of Alta California.  I am accompanying him to the different pueblos in his district.  And this, Diego, is Capitán Vincente Pedro Villagro, the new comandante."

The comandante’s hard gray eyes looked Diego up and down.  The thin, aquiline nose seemed to tilt just a bit higher before he spoke.  "And what were you a student of, Señor de la Vega?" he asked disdainfully.

Diego saw the general begin to speak and he quickly interceded.   "A bit of military training, which, as you can see, I have not had the occasion to use here in our sedate little pueblo.  General, when you have helped the magistrado settle in his room, perhaps we can talk together privately over a glass of wine.  The vintage from these parts easily rivals that of the Iberian Peninsula, and I am most curious to find out what brought you to this part of the world."

Giving Diego a puzzled glance, de Silva nevertheless said nothing, other than to accept the invitation.  "I also have a message from your old roommate, Fernando," he added.

The magistrado broke in.  "I would suppose that many of you young caballeros would not have a great deal to do with the military arts, with El Zorro around to fight your battles for you."

"Zorro? What about Zorro?" Villagro asked loudly.

"We were rescued from injury and possible death by a masked swordsman who called himself El Zorro.  For someone dressed like a bandit, he had the demeanor of a somewhat roguish cavalier," de Silva explained.

"I was sent expressly to not only keep the peace in this area, but also to capture this Zorro, who has stymied numerous comandantes and magistrados in the past two years," the comandante retorted.

"Ah, but those comandantes and magistrados were corrupt and were bleeding the people blind, for the most part.  The peons see El Zorro as their hero," Diego said evenly.  "Neither you nor the officials who sent you know what has been going on in our pueblo."

"Nevertheless, Diego, I have been given my orders and I intend to carry them out.  If this Zorro is indeed innocent of being an outlaw, then he has nothing to worry about, does he?" Capitán Villagro said sarcastically.   "The magistrado is tired after his ordeal, and I have work to do in the cuartel.  Please excuse me, señores."  The man almost clicked the heels of his boots together, before pivoting and walking back toward the cuartel.

"I will let you two go.  Magistrado Hernandez, I give you my personal welcome to the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Perhaps this evening you can both come to the de la Vega hacienda and enjoy our hospitality?" Diego asked.  The magistrado nodded.  "Until later, then, General."

Watching them go, Diego again felt dread wash over him.    Bernardo tapped him on the shoulder and signed to him.  "Yes, Bernardo, I did manage to forestall any more embarrassing questions on my status as a student, and I suspect that after Gen. de Silva becomes thoroughly disgusted with the new Diego, he will not have much to say to anybody else either," Diego murmured as they walked back to their little table.

When General de Silva finally came out onto the patio, Diego was still musing over his first glass of wine.  Bernardo was off running necessary errands.   "Diego, I am still curious about the reason for the fancy dress.  You were never one to dress up in Madrid."

Shrugging, Diego took a sip of his wine.  "General, there is not much to do in this part of California, and I have grown partial to fancy calzoneros and chaquetas.  Tell me, what message did Fernando send with you?"  Diego changed the subject quickly.

"He says to give you his greetings, and tell you that he has married and, I would suppose, by now, has a fine baby daughter or son to bounce on his knee.   The Doña Perita was expecting when I left.  I would have expected that you would have married by now also, Diego."

"I have not found the right señorita, General.  But I envy Fernando.  I would imagine, that knowing him as I did, he is very happy.  Who is this most wondrous of women who settled him down?"  Diego couldn't hide the bit of melancholy in his voice.

Glancing curiously at his former protégé, de Silva answered. "The daughter of Viceroy Pedro Del Marinta.  She is very beautiful and she has turned him into quite a family man."  The general chuckled at the memory.  Diego laughed shortly at the thought of his former roommate, always known as a ladies man, now a settled homebody.

"What enticed you to leave the university and become part of the Mexican government, if I may ask?"  Diego asked in unfeigned curiosity.

"I wanted to do something new with my life.  My only son is in the Mexican Army and there was nothing left for me in Spain," de Silva explained.   "I am enjoying helping a new country establish itself.  And I also find California to be a very beautiful and pristine country.  It is no wonder that you had little reticence in returning."

At that point, Bernardo walked up and tapped the general on the shoulder. When he saw that he had de Silva's attention, he affected a beaming, childlike smile and proceeded to show him a magic trick, going through each motion meticulously.  Diego understood what Bernardo was doing and was grateful.  When the manservant finished his trick, Diego clapped and smiled back at him.  Then he motioned for him to pull up a chair.  Bernardo sat down between the two men.

De Silva watched Bernardo a moment in abject curiosity, before asking, "Well, Bernardo, how is it that you have not kept my young student on the right path?" De Silva asked.  The moon-faced manservant just pointed to his ears and shrugged.

"On the way home, Bernardo suffered a fever and consequently lost his hearing.  It also impaired his thinking a bit, but he would nevertheless, still do anything for me," Diego explained, when the general inquired.

"Please express my sympathy," de Silva said.   Diego complied, giving a few signs. Bernardo just shrugged again and smiled.

Sighing, de Silva sipped the wine that had been brought for him.   "Diego, I feel you are playing word games with me.  Something has happened and I see no reason not to be blunt with you." The general looked at his former student with a frown on his face.  "I saw a great deal of potential in you when you were learning under me in Madrid.  What happened, Diego?"   There was some anger, frustration and sadness in de Silva's voice.

Knowing his mentor as he did, Diego prepared for the sharp bite of the general's tongue, the explosion that only occurred when one of his students did something incredibly stupid.  "General, I suppose that what you saw as my potential was just that...potential; your desires for my future.  Desires that were not necessarily what I wanted.  I enjoyed studying on the voyage back and that is what I have done since I came home.  The military part of my training, I set aside.  I have no wish to pick up a sword now."  Diego noticed that as he spoke, the general had the look of someone who had been slapped in the face and he then took on the appearance of a snake readying itself to strike.  General de Silva leaned back stiffly in his chair, his face growing hard, and his eyes becoming steely cold.

"Diego de la Vega, I did not train you to come home to become a popinjay, a royal dandy in a colonial state.  I took the time I spent with you, so that you could become a leader, a courageous voice in the building up of this part of the world.  I would have been better off taking on Jose Rodriguez, instead of you, for all that you have accomplished."  De Silva's words exploded like bullets, and Diego winced slightly in spite of himself.  He felt the same knife-sharp hurt that he had experienced when his father had called him a coward.  It had not become easier to take.

"General, please, there is no need to shout," Diego said softly.   "I am sorry that I have not lived up to your expectations.  I had hoped you would understand."

"I do not understand, Diego.  It is like I am not even talking to the same person that I taught in Madrid.  You are like a total stranger; a weak, sniveling court fool.  Whatever happened to the courageous youth who risked everything to save a manservant in need?" he raged, and then he suddenly stopped as though he was wasting his breath.  "I have important things to attend to that will probably keep me busy until the magistrado and I leave for Santa Barbara tomorrow morning, so we will not be able to accept your gracious invitation.   Good day, Señor de la Vega."  Juan Morales de Silva slammed his chair up to the table and stalked off.

Bernardo had seen Don Diego's father watching from a nearby shop, anxiety etched on his face.  As the elder de la Vega started to approach, Bernardo got Diego's attention and signed to him.  "No, Bernardo, I do not wish to talk to Father right now.  Please go and apologize to him for me."

Diego then dropped a couple of pesos on the table, pulled on his riding gloves, and picked up the almost empty wine glass to finish the last swallow.  His gloved fingers curled around it.

Later, when Maria came to clean up the table, she found an extra peso on the table next to the shattered remains of a wine glass.

 

 

Chapter Three
Chapter One
Zorro Contents
Main Page