California Encounter

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four - Villagro Sets His Snares

 

 

If anything, Zorro's action seemed to spur Villagro to even greater action against the citizenry of the pueblo.  For the two-week period, there was almost no moment of respite for El Zorro.  A peon threw a mud clod against the cuartel gates; his execution was set for that evening.  The owner of a small rancho protested the advances of a soldier to his only daughter; the man was sentenced to work in the tin mines north of Los Angeles.  Another peon laughed at a soldier; he was sentenced to be whipped.  The incidents continued almost without ceasing.

And Zorro had ridden to the rescue of them all. The most recent incident occurred when a vaquero's horse had been spooked in the plaza and knocked down several soldiers. The vaquero was fined one hundred pesos.

To Alejandro it seemed endless.  He didn't even tell his son about the latest incident with the vaquero, he and Bernardo had left him dozing in the library, while they rode into the pueblo and handed the hundred pesos over to the comandante.   Villagro didn't look pleased and argued with the elder de la Vega.

"But to pay so much for an itinerant vaquero, Don Alejandro," Villagro protested.

"Did you or did you not set the fine at one hundred pesos?" Alejandro retorted.

"I did," the comandante answered, frowning.

"Then here are the hundred pesos," the old man said evenly.  It was a great struggle to remain calm in front of the capitán.

"Very well, Señor de la Vega," Villagro said, a disappointed sound in his voice.  "Sgt. Garcia, release the vaquero José Braconos, his fine has been paid."

"Wonderful, Comandante...," Garcia beamed until he saw the look on Villagro's face and then he just saluted and turned to carry out the order.

"Good day, Comandante," Alejandro said curtly and followed Sgt. Garcia out the door.  Villagro's narrowed eyes followed the old man out the door.

Later that morning, a peon family was forced from their home at gunpoint.   The father was accused of stealing cattle from a nearby rancho.  The father protested that the steer had only wandered onto his small plot of land and was consequently pistol whipped and carried off to the cuartel jail.  His wife and three children could only look on in anguish and pray that God would deliver them from this horror.

The oldest boy ran to the nearby hacendado and asked him for help, since his father got into trouble because of the man's steer.  Disturbed by the event, the patrón rode to see his friend, Alejandro de la Vega.

"Alejandro, what can I do?  I came here to ask your advise before going into the cuartel to inform Capitán Villagro of his mistake in the arrest of Jorge Melendez," Antonio Briales asked in consternation.   "I do not believe that even Zorro can continue to keep up with all of this deviltry that Villagro seems capable of thinking of."

Alejandro frowned and pulled at his beard.  "Let us both go into the pueblo and you can explain the mistake, Antonio, my friend.  Perhaps this situation will not even need the help of Zorro," he said, with a tight smile, hoping that he was right.  He was worried about Diego, and realized that Antonio was correct in his assessment.  In fact, an ugly thought crossed his mind; that Villagro's main purpose in being in the pueblo wasn't to bring law and order to Los Angeles, but to kill or capture Zorro.

Sudden inspiration caused him to smile more broadly.  "Antonio, we might be able to get help from another direction.  I remember the magistrado saying that he would be returning to the area in about two weeks, stopping at San Gabriel to worship and to admire the fine architecture of the mission.  I will send one of the servants with a note, informing him of the happenings here.  He struck me as a fair minded individual."

"Wonderful idea, Alejandro!  We certainly can be no worse off."

Taking a few minutes, Alejandro crafted a succinct, but well worded letter.  Then he gave it to Bernardo, charging him to hand it only to the magistrado or the general.  Bernardo wasted no time, having been greatly concerned about the unfolding events as well.

As Bernardo was riding off, Diego came into the sala, yawning.   "For what reason would Bernardo be riding off in such a hurry, Father?" Diego asked.

"I am hoping that the new magistrado is following his planned itinerary that he had mentioned to me the evening before his departure to Santa Barbara.   I wrote a note to Señor Hernandez, telling him of these outrages in our pueblo and I am hoping that he will come speedily, before anyone else is unjustly punished or before Villagro manages to kill or capture Zorro.  You do realize that is what he is here for."

Diego nodded, remembering the short conversation with the comandante two weeks previously.  Now everything was making sense.  He had been too busy and too tired freeing prisoners and eluding the ever-increasing patrols to remember that.   Diego mentioned the comment Villagro had made when he had first met him.

"You look tired, Diego," Antonio observed.

"Too much reading and composing, Don Antonio," Diego said with a slight smile.  "Nothing that a little fresh air and a bit of rest would not cure."  Seeing his father donning his riding gloves, he inquired, "Riding into the pueblo, Father?"

", my son.  It seems that Antonio's neighbor was arrested for having one of the Briales steers on his property.  We are going in to talk to the comandante," Alejandro explained.

"Be careful of walking in tall grass where snakes lurk.  They cannot be seen until their fangs are in your ankle," Diego said enigmatically.   Alejandro nodded, knowing exactly what Diego was referring to.

After the hacendados left, Diego went up to his bedroom, and into the secret room, where he changed into the costume of Zorro.  Knowing his father's hot temper at times, the outlaw was going to keep a close eye on these developments.  He did not have a good feeling about this.

 


 

Villagro’s aide, a man whose name was Corporal Manolito Duarte, admitted Alejandro and Antonio into the comandante's office.  But no one called him Corporal Duarte.  By his own insistence, and at the point of a gun or the end of a sword, Duarte had convinced everyone in and around the pueblo that he was to be called Corporal Diablo.  The peons said that indeed, he was a devil.  His cruelty was unrivaled and he was a master of weaponry.  Whenever he walked by, many of the local folk made the sign of the cross.    This suited his and Capitán Villagro's purposes perfectly.

"What can I do for you, señores?" Villagro asked in a bored manner.

"One of my neighbors was brought to the cuartel, accused of being a cattle thief, Comandante," Antonio Briales said.  "That is a false accusation because the steer just wandered onto his plot of land, as cattle in California are known to.  The man is innocent."

"We have already obtained a confession from him," Villagro stated evenly.

"A confession obtained by brute force and cruel torture, no doubt," Alejandro retorted, heatedly.

"Corporal Diablo, arrest Don Alejandro de la Vega for treasonous slander against a representative of the Mexican government.  And escort Don Antonio out of the cuartel."

"No, you cannot do this, comandante," Briales breathed in disbelief.

"I can and I ....."   Villagro's next statement was unfinished, when Zorro burst through the door from his private quarters.

"Zorro!" Villagro shouted in astonishment at the audacity of the outlaw.  He quickly drew his sword.

"Comandante, you have been a great thorn in the sides of the people of this pueblo and of myself in particular.  I will tolerate no more," Zorro thundered and attacked with drawn sword.

Zorro realized that the comandante was very good, almost as good as himself, but his main concern was Corporal Diablo.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the soldier trying to get an aim on him.  Keeping Villagro between himself and the corporal, he fought a battle, which he felt would be to the death; his, if he didn't find some way to neutralize Diablo.

"Señores, leave us.  This is between myself and the comandante," Zorro said to the two older men.

Alejandro suddenly noticed the pistol in the hands of the comandante’s aide and leaped for him, getting to his side just as the corporal's finger was squeezing the trigger.  Grabbing the pistol, Alejandro managed to jerk it down as it discharged.  The ball gouged a furrow across the elder de la Vega's leg, causing him to collapse to the floor.

Antonio was at his friend's side in two steps.  "Señor Briales, get Señor de la Vega out of here and to a doctor," Zorro ordered, still battling Villagro, but with a determined set to his features.  The comandante lunged and Zorro found the opening that he needed.  Leaping to one side, his blade went into Villagro's sword arm, the force of the thrust breaking the outlaw's sword as well as the comandante’s arm.

With chagrin, Zorro was surprised at the force with which the saber had entered its target, and realized that he had fought partly in anger, something he very seldom did and which General de Silva had taught should never be done.

Diablo leaped at him with a drawn knife and Zorro danced to one side, tripping him with his foot.  Picking up the corporal by the collar of his uniform, and before the soldier could collect himself, Zorro threw him against the wall.   Diablo collapsed without a sound.

Turning back to the comandante, he gave his warning.   "Comandante, I would suggest that you request a change of assignments.   Los Angeles is getting too dangerous for you.  I should have killed you, but I will give you a chance to bow out with honor.  If you so much as think of harassing the people of this pueblo again in order to capture me, I will come and finish the job I started today.  I hope you understand me clearly, Capitán Villagro." And with that Zorro left the same way he came in.

Only then did Villagro think to call for help.

 


 

General de Silva read Alejandro de la Vega's note with great concern.   He realized that Villagro had to have been promised a great deal of money to capture or assassinate Zorro.  The unprovoked attacks on the citizens of Los Angeles could only be for that purpose.  Don Alejandro hinted strongly at that, but didn't come right out and say it.  Motioning to Bernardo to sit down, the general took the note into the magistrado.

"This is an outrage, Juan, an absolute outrage.  We must go back to Los Angeles immediately and confront Villagro with this," Hernandez blustered.

"We must also be wary, though.  Apparently there is someone in Mexico City who is secretly working behind the scenes.  We were not told of any vendettas against Zorro," de Silva reminded the magistrado.

"You are right.  What do you think is behind all of this, general?" Hernandez asked.  "Why was Zorro not pardoned at the change of government, as others were?"

"Probably because Zorro is a patriot of California, not Spain or Mexico.  He has not been working to overthrow Spanish rule, but to see that justice is rendered to all citizens of the area.  He may have caused the downfall of a Spanish comandante, but he also caused the downfall of one who was fighting against the Spanish rule.    Zorro's actions are not political.  I would imagine that he raised the ire of more than one Mexican official the past couple of years."

"You speak as though you have a great deal of respect for this outlaw, General," Hernandez said, looking intently at de Silva.

"This is the type of patriot that we need in the government, in the army, and among the people.  And this Zorro reminds me of someone I once knew," de Silva said thoughtfully.

"We still need to go to Los Angeles.  My orders were to have Zorro captured, if possible, and brought to trial and I am the magistrado of this region.   I intend to enforce the directives that I have been given."

"And I outrank Villagro and have the authority along with you to strip him of his post and his rank for his unjust tyranny against the citizens of Los Angeles," de Silva said. "You are right, we need to go to Los Angeles immediately."

 

 

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