Fox Hunt




Chapter 13 



Father Francisco directed two priests to carry the injured man into a private room.  “Carefully, carefully.  Be gentle with him,” he admonished the men as Zorro was laid on the comfortable bed.  How ironic, the cleric thought, that El Zorro would have use of the same bed that had been set aside for occasional visiting high-ranking church officials. 

“Father Martin, go get hot water from the cooks.  Father Sebastian, get my pouch with all of my medical supplies and instruments.  Quickly!” he ordered.  After the two novices had dashed off to do his bidding, Father Francisco turned to his patient.   He pulled off the outlaw’s gloves, throwing them on a nearby chair.  Taking a short knife from inside his robe, Father Francisco began carefully cutting the seam of Zorro’s pants.  As he pulled the material away, he looked at his hands, where he saw the blood staining his fingers. 

Father Francisco was familiar with the exploits of El Zorro, and while he thought him rather reckless at times, he still admired what the man had accomplished during the past two years. The priest got almost as much joy from the telling of Zorro’s adventures as the children got from hearing them.  Father Francisco laid his hand on the injured man’s chest and felt the steady beating of the heart.  A bit fast, and the breathing was a bit shallow.

He gazed at the injured foot, then murmured a short prayer.  Carefully, Father Francisco began unwrapping the makeshift bandages, laying them to one side.   When the wrappings were removed, the priest was amazed at the amount of blood Zorro had lost.   Carefully, he examined the wound, realizing that the man had been unlucky enough for the ball to penetrate a vein.  Father Martin brought in the requested water, along with clean bandages and towels.  Taking a cup, Father Francisco partially filled it with wine and then added liquid from a vial.

“Señor Zorro, you are a very fortunate man,” the cleric murmured as he worked.  “Had this ball gone through an artery, you would have been dead a long time ago.”  It was obvious from the swelling that there was also at least one broken bone.  But he would have to wait until later, when the swelling had gone down, to check to see how badly the bone was broken, and hopefully be able to get it back in its proper position. 

At this point, Father Francisco felt his patient’s muscles tighten and heard him cry out in distress.  Madre de Dios, Padre, what torture chamber did you learn your craft in?!”  There was a short pause as the outlaw completed the return to full consciousness. “Perhaps if you twisted it a bit more…” Zorro quipped, even though his face registered the pain the wound was causing him.

Immediately stopping his examination, Father Francisco looked at the man who, though injured, was still able to joke about it.  “My son, I was not sure how deeply unconscious you were.  I have prepared a narcotic to let you sleep while I take care of your wound.”  Holding the mug with the opiate-laced wine, the priest watched Zorro drink it all down.  Then he pulled up one of the chairs to banter with his patient until the drug took effect. 

“My son, who did this to you?” Father Francisco asked, curious as to who was able to deal this kind of a blow to the famous outlaw. 

“I infuriated a hacendado up north of Santa Barbara, when I gave his peon slave-workers the option of leaving his employ.  I damaged some of his property in the process,” Zorro continued to give a short description of his ordeal, and then paused.  In his weakened condition, the priest could see that the drug was already beginning to affect him.  “He kept following me south...with vaqueros...and dogs.”  He looked up at Father Francisco with a slight smile.  “I think, Padre, your medicine is already working.  I feel much better, gracias.”  He chuckled softly, “Never felt better.  So sleep.  Just...let me sleep.”  As the novice priest entered the room, Zorro’s voice trailed off and soon he was in a deep state of unconsciousness.

As was his habit, Francisco verbally checked off each step in the care of his patient.  Grateful that the opiate kept Zorro unconscious and lax throughout the process, he cleaned and dressed the wound.  Finally, Father Francisco was satisfied that he had done all he could to clean all the infection from the injured foot. 

Removing the trail worn costume, he noticed the dried blood on one sleeve.  He cleaned and bandaged the wounded arm and then dressed the injured man in a soft robe.  The mask and headscarf remained untouched; the hat, the sword, and riding gloves lay on a chair in the corner.  After binding the wounded foot, he then, with Father Martin’s help, placed splints on the foot and leg, and tied them on securely.  “It has to be made totally immobile,” he told the novice.  “Or else it will not heal right.  And I should like to think that El Zorro has many more tasks to accomplish.”   Telling the young priest to get two more blankets from the chair, he folded them to prop up the leg. 

“Father Martin, go tell Father Ignacio to save some broth for our patient,” he instructed.   “And admonish the other novices to keep quiet about the identity of our ‘guest.’  I would think that El Zorro has many more nights of service left to perform.”  Francisco couldn’t help but wonder which caballero in the area this was, for he had no doubt that Zorro was a caballero in disguise.  He had once been one himself, and he felt that he was a shrewd judge of people.  While he was at it, he shaved the sleeping man.  Now he looked more like El Zorro, the protector of the people, and less like a common brigand.  Covering the unconscious outlaw with a blanket, he sat with him for a few moments.  

Some time later, satisfied that Zorro would continue resting quietly, he took the black shirt, sash, and pants and quietly left the room.  Down the hallway he met Pedro, the young neophyte, coming toward him.  “Pedro,” he said, handing the garments to the boy.  “Take these and have Pascal wash and fix them as best as he can.  Our guest may need them again.” 

“Sí, Padre,” the boy replied, staring at the clothes.  “Is it true, then, that El Zorro is the injured man brought into the mission?” 

“Sí, Pedro, my son, and when he is better, you can attend to him.  For right now, I will.”  As the boy started to leave, Father Francisco thought of something else.  “Pedro, please do not go dancing all over the mission talking about our patient.  Realize that if anyone from here talked about this in Los Angeles, Zorro’s life would not be worth a centavo, because you know the lancers would come and arrest him.” 

Pedro’s eyes widened at the gravity of the priest’s words.  Then he nodded his understanding and ran to see Pascal.

Francisco went into the kitchen and got the soup and water that had been laid out for his patient.  Thanking the cook, he returned to Zorro’s room.  When he went in, he immediately noticed the outlaw regarding him sleepily. 

“Father Francisco,” he said weakly.  It was a statement, rather than a question.

“Sí, my son,” he answered.  “Are you feeling any better?” 

“Sí, Father,” Zorro answered, with a slight smile.  Shivering, he pulled the blanket tighter around him.  “I vaguely remember talking to you earlier.”  He glanced at the bound and splinted foot. “You have been busy, I see.  Thank you for your care,” he said softly. 

Por nada, my son, but you look cold,” the priest stated.  “I am afraid you have a fever. Hopefully it will pass soon,” he paused and then continued.  “I believe that you can count Lieutenant Lopez among your friends, Senor Zorro.  I would venture to say that he probably saved your life.”

“I realize that, Padre.  It was a very risky decision for him to make, bringing me here.  And I thank you for taking me in,” the outlaw told him.  “Because I know I make a very dangerous patient for you to have on your hands.” 

“It would not be the first time a priest has done something unpopular with the local government officials,” Father Francisco chuckled.  “Here, my son, you must take nourishment to heal quickly.”  He held the mug with the broth for Zorro to drink from. 

“That was like heavenly manna, Father,” Zorro sighed when finished.  The priest offered him a little water, which he accepted.  Then he laid another blanket over the injured man.   

“Father,” Zorro made an effort to sit up, which Francisco stopped with an austere look and a shake of his head.  Zorro sank back against the pillow with a sigh.  “Why would such an insignificant wound cause so much trouble?  I could not believe how quickly I became incapacitated from this.” 

“Nothing made by a pistol ball is insignificant,” the priest said sharply.  “If you follow my instructions and keep that leg still, you may yet get to gallivant across the countryside on the big black stallion of yours.”  He looked sternly at Zorro to help him understand the significance of what he was saying. “We are not talking about bruises that will go away in a few days; that “insignificant” hole in your foot could have killed you if Lt. Lopez had not brought you here. You also have a broken bone, which will take time to heal,” Father Francisco explained.  “The one thing that you did right was to wrap the wound and keep wrapping it.” The priest paused a moment.  “The thing that you did wrong was to almost wait too long to bind it and then you rode all night, aggravating the wound.”

“Had to,” Zorro murmured sleepily.  “Heard horses... following.  Had to fight off.…”  Looking wearily at Father Francisco, he said softly,  “I am safe.  Can sleep now.”

“Yes, Señor Zorro, you are safe,” Father Francisco said quietly, as the outlaw drifted back into a restful sleep.  “Sleep is a good thing, too.”

The priest opened the door and found Pedro sitting quietly in front of him.  In amusement, he smiled at the boy, who looked imploringly at him.  “Please, Father, let me sit with Señor Zorro.  I can give him water or soup or whatever he needs.”

The priest pondered the request.  “Yes, Pedro, I think that would be a good idea.  I do have other duties that need my attention.”  He looked sternly at the boy.  “I know that I have already said something about this subject, but I cannot impress upon you the importance that the fewer people that know about our guest, the better.  Two thousand pesos is a big temptation for anyone.”   Again he smiled at the boy.  “I know how you love to tell all of the other children tales and stories.”

“Oh, Father, you do not have to worry about me this time,” Pedro exclaimed. “I will not tell anyone about Zorro.”

The boy looked so solemn that Francisco had to laugh.  “Pedro, I believe you are the right man to help me in this.”  Pedro beamed with boyish pride. 

“My son, there are a few other things you need to remember if you are going to be my assistant,” he explained to the boy.  “Do not under any circumstances let Señor Zorro try to get up or move around.  And if he becomes feverish or delirious, come and get me at once.  I will probably be back in a few hours when I have taken care of a few of my other duties.” 

“Sí, Padre,” the boy answered and quietly entered the room. 

As the door clicked shut, Zorro jerked awake and scrutinized the boy for a moment before speaking.  “You must be Father Francisco’s assistant.  You seem to be a most able helper,” he smiled at Pedro.  “What is your name?”  Pedro told him.  Zorro blinked sleepily.  “I think I will be poor company for you, Pedro.”

“Oh, that is all right, Señor Zorro,” the boy answered quickly.  “I really do not mind at all.”

“Tell me, muchacho, do you live here or do you have a family elsewhere?” the outlaw asked.

“Both, Señor.”  Pedro told him.  “I live here most of the year learning from Father Francisco, but I do have family in a rancheria not too far away from here.  It is just too far to walk back and forth everyday.  My mother comes and visits me sometimes when she can.”

“I forgot that Father Francisco has a school here,” he said wearily.  I feel so tired, he thought, and he remembered that his father had slept much after he had been wounded.  Pedro was asking him something.  “What did you say, muchacho?” he asked.

“I just wanted to know if you wanted a little water,” the boy repeated.

“Sí, Pedro.”  But when the boy had poured the drink and turned back around, he saw that Zorro had already fallen back to sleep.

Several hours passed and the restful sleep turned into a fitful and nightmare-laden one.  Zorro started talking and crying out.  He called ‘father’ several times and some name that Pedro couldn’t be sure of.  The boy wondered if the injured man was calling for Father Francisco or his own father.  The idea of Zorro having a father like anyone else was a startlingly novel one to him.  He never thought of Zorro having a family; Zorro was always just Zorro.  Whenever someone needed help, Zorro was there.  When the danger was over, Zorro was gone, like smoke.  But if Zorro has a family, Pedro wondered to himself. Would they be worrying about him right now?’ The thought disturbed him as he watched the feverish man fight his own dreams, crying for help.  He took the outlaw’s hand to try to reassure him, but even in his weakened state, Zorro still had a strong enough grip to be painful to the boy.

Pedro decided it was time to get Father Francisco, so he quietly closed the door behind him and ran to the priests’ quarters, where he knew someone could tell him Father Francisco’s whereabouts.

In the little room, Zorro thrashed about weakly, deeply in the grip of the fever.  The outlaw was being chased by hordes of lancers.  Never had he been so accosted; there seemed to be hundreds of them.  Tornado was agonizingly slow and the soldiers amazingly fast.  It seemed impossible to shake them from his trail and every time he looked back, more men seemed to join the group, including vaqueros who kept shooting at him.  The balls sounded like thousands of angry hornets, whizzing past his ears.  Why couldn’t he outrun them?

Then he saw the group of men being joined by huge wolfish hounds, some as big as horses.  Suddenly, Tornado was falling underneath him and Zorro was thrown into a large tar pit.  Señor Paulo Wheeler was on the edge laughing his shrill, evil laugh at him, and the dogs were standing nearby, barking and growling, their slavering jaws snapping close to his head.  The gooey, sticky tar kept getting higher and higher.  It was soon around his face, and he tried to wipe it away.  ‘Help me,’ he cried.  But no one would, they only laughed at him. The noxious tar was making it hard to breathe; he had to wipe it away.  Finally, he succeeded in getting the messy stuff off his face.  Now he was able to breathe.  Strangely, at the same time, all of the men, dogs and horses disappeared.  It was then that Zorro fell back into a deeper and more restful sleep.        

Pedro found Father Francisco and reported Zorro’s condition to him.  The priest decided it was time to take care of his patient himself now.  He sent Pedro to help the cook in the kitchen and to make sure that some dinner was set aside for his patient.  Then he went to check on the outlaw.  He entered the room, closed the door behind him and, turning, looked directly into the fever-flushed countenance of Don Diego de la Vega.




Chapter Fourteen
Chapter One
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