Fox Hunt






Chapter 15



When Zorro awoke again, he was startled to see Bernardo in the chair next to him, sound asleep.  Quietly reaching over to the table to get the some of the wine that Father Francisco had left for him, he pondered how Bernardo had figured out that he was here.  Even though he tried to be careful, when he laid the cup back down, it made a small noise, which woke Bernardo up with a jerk.  Smiling broadly, the mozo signed a question to Zorro, ‘How do you feel?’          

“You see this and ask a question like that?” Zorro answered pointing to his bandaged and splinted foot.  He sighed. “Seriously, I feel very weak and tired and quite frankly, I am sick of it.  But, thanks to the good Father, I feel much better than I did a few days ago.”   Zorro frowned in concentration.  “Just how long has it been since that cursed Don Paulo ambushed me?”           

Bernardo indicated that not quite two days had elapsed.  Zorro was incredulous,  “Is that all?  Father Francisco is a better doctor than I imagined.  All I can remember are nightmares and cold that seemed to go on forever.”           

Bernardo also signed that Wheeler had arrived by stage in the pueblo the evening before, along with his vaquero.   Señorita Anna Teresa had arrived also, very disgusted with the company she had to keep all that way.             

Zorro chuckled at Bernardo’s description, feeling slightly guilty for doing so, because he also pitied the young señorita for the torment she had had to endure.  But he became serious at the implication of Wheeler continuing to pursue him.  “Will that man ever stop?” he asked in exasperation.  Bernardo could only shrug, not having any kind of answer to that question.            

“Of course, you realize that as soon as I appear as Diego with an injured foot, he will guess my identity immediately, along with any other people who know of my injuries, especially Lieutenant Lopez.   Zorro paused a moment.  “Somehow we have to make a separate event line for Diego that will also explain this,” he said pointing again to the splinted foot.           

Bernardo signed that he could don the mask and then ride as the outlaw.  Zorro nodded and said, “Sí, after I return home as Diego, that will help, but somehow I, as Diego, have to be found somewhere else and certainly not shot.”          

Bernardo made the signs of something breaking and pointed to Zorro’s wounded foot.  “Sí, the pistol ball broke a bone, so what are you trying to say?” the wounded man asked, exasperated at the befuddled state of his mind.          

Bernardo made the motions of someone on horseback and then someone next to a horse.  Then he made the motion of a horse stepping on a foot.  He paused to see if the caballero had understood.          

Zorro looked at Bernardo incredulously for a moment and then started to laugh; real laughter, something that had come too seldom for almost a week.  “Bernardo, you have a terribly wicked sense of humor.  You know that will be an embarrassment to me for years to come.  Imagine a caballero getting stomped on by his own horse.”  Laughing some more, he said,  “I agree.   That will be the story of the foot.  When we get home you will probably be the only one changing the dressing anyway.”          

“Now where should I be found?  It should not be too far away.”  Zorro and Bernardo thought for a while.  “Near the Mission Santo Cristobel,” the outlaw announced with a snap of his fingers.  “We will have to work out the details with Father Francisco.”          

Bernardo realized while watching his patrón, that he was looking at a man who had finally been able to share a portion of a huge and terrible burden with those around him.  The chase from north of Santa Barbara had to have been harrowing to the extreme.  Then he realized what had just been said about Father Francisco.   How in the world can the priest help in the plans to conceal Zorro’s true identity when he does not know it?  Unless, of course, he does know it, Bernardo thought.  By repeating himself several times using different signs, the manservant made his concerns known to his patrón.           

“Bernardo,” Zorro said quietly.  “I was delirious with a fever much of last night and I pulled the mask off.  Father Francisco promised to treat that revelation as he would any at the confessional.  I trust him, my friend.  We will have to have his aid in order to make our plans work.”   Bernardo nodded.  Zorro continued, “I believe it would be wise to keep your secret intact, though.”  A sudden thought came to him.  “How is Father taking all of this, or does he even know?”          

The manservant made the signs for Lt. Lopez and the story of how he found Zorro with Diego’s horse.            

Zorro groaned.  “I’ll wager that Lt. Lopez thought that he was doing Father a great favor by telling him Zorro was injured and not Diego.”            

Bernardo nodded and then explained how they had figured out where Sgt. Lopez had taken him.          

Zorro yawned.  “Very astute, Bernardo, I hope no one else is able to deduce where I am, especially Paulo Wheeler.  You must go to Father now and tell him I am all right, and we will work this out so I can finally come home,” he said, trying unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn.  “I really am ready to go home.  Oh, and Bernardo, when you come back, bring simple vaquero trail clothes.  That happens to be what I was wearing before all of this mess started.”          

It was Bernardo’s turn to stare unbelievingly at his patrón.  Bernardo made signs, which showed his disbelief of Diego wearing anything so plain.          

“Go ahead and laugh,” he said with a chuckle.  “I may have been insane to travel that distance alone, what with bandits periodically traveling the Camino Real, but not so much that I would advertise my status.  Now go reassure Father and let me sleep. That seems to be all I have been doing lately, and about all that I’m good for,” he added with a chuckle.           

As Bernardo was leaving, Father Francisco was just approaching the door with some breakfast on a tray.  Bernardo made signs thanking him for helping Zorro and then he left.          

The priest went in with the tray.  “I see that you are ready for another siesta,” he said lightly.          

“Sí, Padre,” Zorro yawned again.  “I think I am getting enough sleep for two lifetimes.”          

Father Francisco handed him the tray.  “Try some of this first,” he suggested.  “And then I will need to check your foot.”           

There was a variety of different foods.  Zorro sampled everything that was there, but was unable to finish everything.  “Padre,” he finally said with a sigh.  “This is excellent.”          

“Gracias,” the priest answered.  “I will pass your compliment along to the cook.”           

Zorro became much more serious.  “Father Francisco, we need to discuss how to get me off your hands without arousing suspicion as to my identity.”        

“My, son,” the priest reassured his patient.  “I guarantee that you are not the only one thinking about this matter.  You rest and then we can plan.”           

No, Padre,” Zorro disagreed sharply.  “I really do not think my enemy will allow us the luxury of extra time or leisure.”  He explained to the cleric in more detail what had happened at Paulo Wheeler’s rancho, and the nature of the man himself.  “Bernardo and I have some ideas as to how we might make this work, but I think that whatever is done needs to be done tonight.”           

The priest was appalled.  “You should not be up so soon, my friend.  You have come so far in such a short time.  No, there is too much risk to you.”          

Zorro shook his head.  “No, Father, we have to risk it; the longer we wait, the more likely it is that Diego and Zorro will be linked.  And also that Don Paulo will figure out where I am.  You saw how easily Bernardo was able to deduce my whereabouts.  And consider how many young Indian children and novice priests this man could kill while getting to me.  Father, I guarantee you, he would not hesitate to kill anybody to get to me, and I have enough guilt over those who have died already; I have no wish for the lives of those here to be added to that guilt,” he stated vehemently.          

Father Francisco thought carefully about the outlaw’s words and grudgingly had to concede that the man was right.  Sighing, he said as much.  “Tell me what your ideas are, and let us see what is involved.”           

Zorro explained what he and Bernardo had discussed earlier.  “Do you think the padre at Santo Cristobel would be able to get Diego’s time of arrival a little mixed up?” he asked with a smile.           

Father Francisco frowned in concentration.  “No, not a mission; too many people involved, and besides, that mission closed down last year.  But I do know someone who might help.  And she would have absolutely no qualms about lying a little, especially to soldiers or patróns.”          

“Uh, Father,” Zorro hesitated a bit.  I am a patrón.  It sounds like this friend of yours does not particularly like those of the upper class.”          

The priest chuckled.  “You are right, my son, but I have helped her and some of her people at times without asking for recompense.  Perhaps it is now time for a payment, although I think seriously that Senora Barosa will do this without being reminded of payments.”  Zorro gave the cleric a questioning look.  Father Francisco continued.  “She is Marlena Barosa, an old gypsy who lives in near seclusion not far from the way station Santo Cristobel.  It should be fairly simple.  We take you to her as Don Diego.  The story is that she or one of her people found you near death in the hills, after your horse had injured your foot.  She sent for me to set the broken bones and you are then able to go home as soon as you are ‘discovered.’  You will be reunited with your father, who has been anxiously awaiting word of you.”          

Zorro nodded.  “Provided that Senor Barosa is willing, I think it is a good plan.  I believe there is probably nothing else we can do, except leave the rest in God’s hands.”         

Father Francisco had taken off the splints and started to unwrap the bound foot. “I will be as discreet as possible,” the priest said.  “I would just as soon no one know we are leaving, at least right away.”  He looked sternly at Zorro.  “As soon as I have finished checking your foot, I will insist that you rest and sleep.” 

Carefully taking off the rest of the bandages, he noted with great satisfaction that there was almost no bleeding and that the swelling had gone down.  “This is going to be painful, but I have to find out where the broken bone is, and make sure it is in place for proper healing.”  The priest felt the wound as gently as he could, but could tell from the ragged breathing of his patient that it was not gentle enough. “I am very sorry, Diego, let me send for something to relieve the pain and let you relax.”           

“No, Father,” Zorro hissed through gritted teeth.  “Just get it over with.”          

“Very well, but you will have to hold completely still.”  Zorro just nodded, bit his lip, and held on tightly to the sides of the bed.  

It didn’t take long for Father Francisco to find the break. Incredibly, the pistol ball had not shattered the bone.  The passage of the projectile had caused a simple fracture in the nearby bone.  Father Francisco sighed deeply in relief.  Manipulating the foot to make sure the bone was straight, he felt it slip into place.  Zorro let out a sharp cry of pain, but was able to keep from jerking his leg.  “Señor Zorro, you are a most fortunate man.  I had been afraid that a shattered bone would have been impossible to set and heal normally, but it is a simple fracture that, with care, will heal without a problem.   Praise the Saints.”          

“Remind be thankful in a few minutes...when the pain subsides,” Zorro grimaced.  Then he smiled wanly at the priest and tried to relax against the pillows as the priest quickly cleaned, dressed and rebound the injured extremity, and then resplinted it.          

“Diego, I appreciate your ability to remain so relaxed during my ministrations,” Father Francisco said.           

“Remind me to stay on your good side, Father,” Zorro quipped.          

Father Francisco smiled at the injured man’s attempt at humor.  “I should not have to do that again.  I am sorry for the pain that caused,” he reassured him.  “Now I want you to sleep.  I will take care of the details and come to let you know of the progress of our plans.  Your job for the remainder of the day is to get as much rest as you can.  I will leave you now to make arrangements for our little journey tonight.”          

“Sí, Padre,” the outlaw yawned again.  Zorro had finally run out of arguments, Father Francisco noted with satisfaction.           

The priest found Pedro in the kitchen helping Father Ignacio prepare the midday meal.  “Pedro, my son,” the cleric said.  “Go and see if the crutches have been finished yet and also see if our guest’s clothing has been repaired.”          

“Sí, Father,” the boy dashed out of the room.           

Father Ignacio looked reprovingly at the priest.  “I sincerely pray that your patient is not responsible for bringing down the whole cuartel on us.  We certainly have no need for anyone having any further excuses to take more mission land away.”           

“Father Ignacio,” the padre chided his fellow priest.  “Surely you are not suggesting that we should have left him by the road to die, did you?”          

“Oh, no, of course not, Father,” Father Ignacio replied a little guiltily.  “I am just worried, that is all,”          

“Leave that to God,” Father Francisco admonished and left for other errands.


In the early afternoon, Father Francisco returned to Zorro’s room with clothing and a pair of crutches.  Zorro was delighted to have the means to leave the bed.  It gave him a sense of increased mobility and independence, limited though that was.  Even as tired and physically weak as he still was, he chafed at staying in the bed as long as he had.   The priest wanted him to wait until later in the afternoon to try the crutches, but Zorro insisted on using them immediately.  So, Father Francisco helped the highwayman ease the splinted foot off the side of the bed.           

“Under no circumstances, are you to put any weight on your foot at all,” he warned.  “Now take my arm and let me pull you up onto your good leg.”          

Zorro still felt a little dizzy, but hung on tightly to the priest’s arm until it had passed.  He was very grateful that the cleric made no comment about it.  Reaching for the crutches, he tried them out.  They seemed to be exactly the right length.           

“Two very tall young trees sacrificed themselves to provide these crutches.”  Father Francisco chuckled at his own joke.   Zorro laughed along with him.   The priest kept a very close eye on the outlaw, knowing that he was still light-headed and weak.  The last thing he needed was for the independent caballero to hurt himself further trying to do too much, too soon.           

Zorro tried to walk with them, but became slightly off balance. The priest kept a very firm grip on his patient.  Then he tried again, successfully this time.  After a few steps, he sat back down on the bed, already tired.  

The priest handed him a pair of calzoneros, the button up pants that all caballeros wore.  This pair was simpler, such as some vaqueros sported on special occasions.  Of course, the right leg had the buttons undone almost to the top.  These would be much simpler to get on than the trousers he wore as part of his costume.  With the Father’s help he was able to slide the calzoneros over the splinted leg, and he buttoned them down to a comfortable place.  Next Father Francisco handed Zorro the newly repaired black shirt.  Off came the robe and on went the shirt.  “Much better.  Graciás, Father,” he sighed.             

“I have a small carriage which will be ready for us to travel in anytime after evening prayers,” the priest explained.  “We should be able to get to Señora Barosa’s home just before dawn.  I have a dose of narcotic prepared to relax you on the journey.”          

Knowing how groggy he had felt the last time he had some of Father Francisco’s narcotic, Zorro shot an irritated look at the priest.  “I will be fine.  I have no wish to be drugged again, Father.  The last time was enough.” 

“My son, this will be a fast and possibly a rough journey.  If someone stops us, you would be unable to do anything to help anyway.”  Pausing to think of just the right thing to say, he continued more passionately.  “Don’t you understand, Diego, I am trying to get you well.  You are needed!  I feel that God directed the passage of that pistol shot.  The bone will heal normally and you will be able to help many other people in the guise of Zorro.”          

Zorro was surprised at the priest’s vehemence, which had effectively negated any arguments he could make.  “All right, Father, how can I argue with that?” he finally conceded.  “But only if the journey gets rough.  I really get no enjoyment feeling more helpless than I already am now.”          

“Agreed, all I ask is for you to trust my judgment in the matters of your health,” the priest said, mollified.  “I will send Pedro in with some late lunch.  Then there will be nothing else to do but relax and wait.”        



Chapter Sixteen
Chapter One
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