Fox Hunt

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

Day 5 & 6

 

            

“Sí, Father, I will help him,” Madame Barosa finally assured the priest.  “How long does he need to hide out here?”          

“Only until one of his father’s vaqueros ‘happens’ to find him here.  I had heard that Don Alejandro had sent at least one man to this area to set up a search for his son when his horse turned up rider less.  And maybe a certain priest can hurry the process a little, especially since your house is somewhat remote.”  Stiffly, he got up to go check on the subject of all of the conversation.             

The old woman went out with him.  “By the way, Padre, how did he injure his foot?”           

“His horse spooked and stepped on it, breaking a bone,” the Father answered, thinking of the additional lies he would have to repent of.            

“I hope he is not too sensitive about his reputation with horses, then,” the gypsy laughed.  

“Please, do not tease him about that, he already feels badly enough as it is,” the priest warned her.  “He had also been stranded out in the wilderness for awhile, so he was not in very good shape when found.  Diego is still weak and in need of plenty of rest, and if anyone questions why I am here, it is because you sent for me to set the broken bone.”     

Señora Barosa returned to her house to prepare a place for her guest to sleep.  While Diego was still under the effects of the narcotic, Father Francisco changed the dressing.  The sky had begun to lighten and he was able to see that the wound was beginning to heal nicely, without any apparent trace of infection.  Hopefully all of this traveling would not cause a set back in his patient’s recovery. 

The priest rewrapped the foot, adjusting the splints to make sure they fit tightly enough to keep the foot still, but not enough to cut off circulation.  As he was finishing the job, he felt his patient slowly waking up.  After Father Francisco had finished, Diego sat up groggily and frowned at the priest.  By this time, Señora Barosa had rejoined them.          

“Oh, my aching head,” Diego groaned, massaging his temples.  “You lied to me, Father.  That must have been pure narcotic.”  He had the distinct impression that his mental processes were mired in quicksand, and he felt slightly nauseated when he sat up.        

“So this is Diego de la Vega,” the woman said pointedly.  “You should learn to stay out of trouble, boy.  It’s better for your health.  It keeps priests from lacing your wine.”  She let out a hearty laugh.            

Diego peered at her, trying to get his eyes to focus properly.  In his drug-fogged state, it took an extra minute or two to catch her joke.  He glanced at the priest and saw a bemused expression on Father Francisco’s face.  Then he looked back at the old woman, this time noticing the merry twinkle in her eyes.  Suddenly, he understood what she had said and he laughed right along with her.  Her humor was infectious, and he thought he might enjoy staying temporarily with such a tart old woman.  When he reached for the crutches, the priest grabbed him by one arm to steady him.  The gypsy put the crutches out of his reach and took his other arm as he slid down from the carriage.  Swaying, he had to lean on the priest for a moment to let the dizziness subside.  “Father, please,” Diego pleaded with a wan smile.  “Never give me such a drink again.  It makes me feel almost as bad as I did when I first came to you.” 

“I am sorry, my son,” the priest explained. “I really had no intention to make you feel sick.  I promise, the light-headed feeling will pass very quickly, as soon as you have had a chance to sleep it off.”   He took most of Diego’s weight as they slowly made their way into the house.  The gypsy woman held the door open, and motioned to a neatly made pallet near the fireplace.  The young ranchero lay down gratefully as the old woman leaned the crutches near the fireplace.

Señora Barosa got a cup of watered down wine and gave him some.  “There you go, my fine caballero, this will help clear your head a little.  You sleep, and then you will feel much better.”   

“Graciás, señora,” Diego murmured.  It wasn’t long before the residual narcotic had again put him into a dreamless sleep. 

“I should go soon, señora,” the priest told the woman.  “I will travel back by way of Santo Cristobel.  I would assume that any of the de la Vega vaqueros would be staying there at the way station while in the vicinity.”  He glanced back at Diego, sleeping oblivious to their conversation.  “And I am very appreciative to you for doing this for us.  I have grown rather fond of Diego in the short time he has been in my care.  I hope that you have no reason to regret giving this young man aid.”

“If he gives me any trouble, I will just give him one of my tongue-lashings, just like I did to my own boys when they were young and wild.”   She chuckled.  “But I think that you gave him enough of your medicine to keep him quiet for at least a day.”       

“I am leaving!”  The priest threw his hands in the air and laughed.  “Neither one of you has shown me any mercy this morning.”         

As the priest drove the carriage away from her house, Marlena Barosa wondered what young de la Vega had done to cause the priest to so staunchly champion him, even resorting to subterfuge to protect the young man.  

 

It only took a little more than an hour for Father Francisco to reach the inn at the way station, where most of the customers were just finishing up their breakfasts.  The priest ordered a small meal and then asked the innkeeper if anyone from the Rancho de la Vega had been at the inn lately.  He was told that a vaquero in the employ of the de la Vegas might still be in the stable taking care of his horse and getting men ready to go out in search of Don Diego.  The man had been in the vicinity for a day already, searching for the missing son of Alejandro de la Vega, they further informed him.  Most of the customers in the inn had been listening and ventured their thoughts on the matter.  The vocal one felt that the search was fruitless, feeling that the caballero had to be dead in the desert somewhere.         

Father Francisco quickly finished his breakfast and went out to the stable, where he was told that the vaquero and the hired men had left on their search only a short while before.   Father Francisco was not too alarmed, because Diego was in the good care of Marlena Barosa and a half-day either way would mean nothing in the plan that had been hatched.  The innkeeper agreed to let the priest rest in one of his unoccupied rooms until the vaquero came back.          

Before he left the room, though, the insatiably curious innkeeper stopped him with a question. “Father,” he asked, “Why do you wait for the de la Vega vaquero?  Do you have a message for him?”          

“Sí, señor,” the Father said enigmatically, “I know where young de la Vega is.  Please let me know as soon as the vaquero returns.  I am sure that the sooner the son is returned to the father, the better it will be for the whole de la Vega family.”  The cleric left the innkeeper gaping in surprise and went to the room to sleep for a few hours.         

During the hottest hours of the afternoon, the vaquero returned for a siesta before going out again to search.  The innkeeper was prompt in getting the priest.  Father Francisco made his way to the main dining area of the inn where the anxious man was waiting for him.  “Father,” Vasquez inquired, his hat in his hand, “I have been told that you have news of Don Diego?”           

“Sí, my son,” the priest answered.  “He has been in the good care of Señora Marlena Barosa.  I was asked to come and set his broken foot.  Don Diego was resting very comfortably when I left him early this morning, and I will be happy to take you to Señora Barosa’s house before it gets dark.”           

“Graciás, father,” Vasquez replied, breathing a sigh of relief.  “If it pleases you, let us go soon.”         

“Of course.”  And soon Father Francisco was leading the way up the trail back to the gypsy’s house.

            

Diego woke up again at midmorning.  The priest had been right, the dizziness was almost entirely gone and all that was left was a great thirst.  Señora Barosa gave him some breakfast and fresh spring water, which helped clear away any of the residual grogginess left from the narcotic.  But before he drank it, Diego peered intently into the cup.           

“Eh, you think I would pull such a trick on a fine caballero as yourself?” she cackled in merriment.  “There is nothing in that cup but good water that God created for us to drink.”   Then she looked at him in mock solemnity.  “Or do you fancy patróns not drink water in your haciendas?”          

“Please, Señora, have mercy.” Diego gazed at her carefully, and seeing that she was teasing, laughed with her.  “I meant no insult, I just have no desire for any more enforced sleep.  I have had enough of that to last the rest of my life.”

Diego reached for a chair that was nearby and slid it close to him.  Perceiving what he had in mind, the old woman held the back of the chair to steady it for him.  Gathering his left leg underneath him, and using his arms he was able to pull himself up.  “Graciás, Señora,” he said when he was comfortable.     “Señora Barosa,” he queried a little while later, after watching her bustle around her house.  While he had sat there, she had cleaned up after his breakfast, swept her floor, strung chilies to hang from the ceiling, and gone out, presumably to a garden and come back with a bucket of beans. He was feeling awkward and a little guilty just sitting and watching.  “Is there anything I could possibly do for you while I am sitting here?”            

She looked at him sternly for a second and then said mockingly, “Now what would a rich young landowner know about house cleaning and cooking?”           

“Um, very little,” Diego admitted, “but I do appreciate what you are doing for me and I thought that I would at least offer.”  He paused, trying to gauge her reaction.  Seeing no deep anger, he continued.   “I have no idea if there might be something that a clumsy caballero would be able to do.”   He smiled softly, hoping to dissuade her irritation.          

She looked deeply into his eyes for a moment, then she, too, smiled.  He appeared to be genuinely interested in helping her.  “Don Diego, this is going to be a treat,” she said, her good humor restored.  “I will get to see a patrón shell beans.”   She set a bowl of semi-dried beans in their pods on the table next to him and a pot for the shelled beans to go in.  “Now, you had better do a good job, because these are going to make soup for our supper tonight.  It will be your fault if the soup is bad.”   Señora Barosa chuckled as she went about her other chores.            

Diego wondered what he had gotten himself into.  The beans from the first pod scattered on the floor where an orange and white cat played with them, but soon he got the hang of it and after a short while they were shelled.  The old woman inspected the beans, added water and spices, and then put the pot on a hook over the fire to start cooking.  She was chuckling softly the whole time.  

“Señora,” Diego pleaded with her in mock anxiety, “please do not tell anyone about this.  It will be bad enough living down the broken foot.   You do know the image we caballeros have to keep up.”   And then he started laughing, feeling a restoration of the sense of humor he felt he had lost somewhere north of Santa Barbara.  The old woman laughed with him.    “Señora Barosa, I think if you have no objection, I will practice walking a bit on the crutches,” he told her.  “But I am unable reach them.  Could you get them for me, por favor?”           

She did so and then watched him out of the corner of her eye to make sure that he didn’t fall and hurt himself.  As he went from one end of the room to the other, she saw him gain confidence with the crutches.  He tried using only one, while simply carrying the other.  Marlena realized that despite his outward demeanor, here was a man who could act in time of need with quick decisiveness.  She wasn’t sure how she knew this; she just did.   Then she wondered how a man who appeared to be fairly agile could have allowed his horse to do so much damage.  It was then that she decided there was much more to this caballero than met the eye.   And she was surprised to find that she actually liked the young man, and wasn’t just tolerating him for the priest’s sake.  After practicing for almost an hour, he returned to the seat and drank a little more water from the jug.           

While he was resting, she asked him about his family.  That was something else that surprised her; she was actually asking a hacendado about his personal life.   With great pride, he told her quite a bit about his father, whom she could tell he respected and loved very much.  The gypsy got the impression that most of his easy affability came from his father, even though, according to Diego, the elder de la Vega was much fierier than the younger.  His mother, he spoke of with a little sadness, as she had passed away when he was much younger.  Surprisingly, he also spoke of a deaf-mute manservant more like one would of a compadre.  When he had finished, he asked her about her family.           

“My tale is that of all gypsies, Don Diego,” she said quietly, “that of woe and misery.”           

“But you are certainly not a person of woe and misery,” he pointed out.            

“We are talking about two different things, patrón,” she explained.  “The things that have happened to me, I did not choose.  But the way that I felt about those things or the way I reacted to them has been entirely up to me.  In other words, I could have become bitter about the way my family has been treated, and, of course, you know the stories of gypsy atrocities in Europe; or I could be thankful for what I have and go about doing the best I can.  I have a daughter and son-in-law and several sons and daughters-in-law scattered all over the area and I have many fine and healthy grandchildren.  Most of the time I have a great deal of joy in my heart.”         

“Of course,” Marlena continued with a hint of sarcasm, “please do not get me wrong.  You have no doubt heard of my great love of soldiers and patróns.  That stems from the death of my husband at the hands of a particularly spiteful landowner.  We had not been in California very long and were traveling from San Diego northward, when we stopped at a stream to camp for the night.  It happened that the stream was on the property of a certain patrón who apparently had no love for gypsies.  He came out with his vaqueros, and, when my husband, Augusto, tried to keep them from laying their hands on me, the pero had his men whip him almost until death.  When I tried to help him, I was beaten also, but not as badly as Augusto. That is why I have a few missing teeth.   Augusto died the next day, after a night of agony in the back of our wagon, while the soldiers were escorting us from the area.  I was not able to get a doctor willing to attend to my husband.”          

“I am truly sorry about your loss, Señora,” Diego said softly.  “That must have been a bitter experience.”          

She shook her head sadly.  “That was a terrible time for my family.  But we have not done too badly since we settled here.  I have tried to teach my children that returning violence often brings more violence, and apparently they learned that lesson well, so I have not had to bury any of them yet, because there are prejudiced people wherever you go.”          

“How did you find this place, Señora?  Diego asked, genuinely interested. “It looks like you have been here a long time.”          

“Now Don Diego, not all gypsies live in wagons,” she replied, her tone slightly sarcastic.           

“That is not exactly what I meant, although the thought did briefly cross my mind,” he admitted truthfully.           

“My people found a valley not too distant, which they settled and put in a claim for.  Most of the gitano, the gypsy people, live there, a few of us settled outside, like me.  This house has been my home for over twenty years and I would not want to live anywhere else.  It is remote enough that my family and I have not been bothered.  I am thankful to have been able to raise my family in peace.  I may be a sedentary gitano, but I still am Rom, still gypsy.          

“I suppose that few Californianos even know that your people are up here; maybe that is why you have had tranquility for that long,” he said wryly.  Señora Barosa nodded with a smile.  Then Diego thought he heard a noise outside.  To his ears came the sound of a lone horseman approaching the house.  

Marlena peeked out the window, and then smiled broadly.   “My son, Hernando!” she beamed a great smile.  “He is the youngest, and my most volatile, so be careful.  He is more sensitive about the local Spanish landowners than I am.”           

Hernando came in, gave his mother a great bear hug, and then as he noticed Diego, narrowed his eyes in suspicion.   The woman introduced him simply as Diego.  “He had the misfortune to have problems with his horse out in the desert area.  That is the cause of the broken foot and his stay with me.”           

His countenance changed abruptly.  Hernando seemed to have the quick humor of his mother.  “So, señor,” he laughed, “you apparently do not have any gypsy blood in your veins.  You realize that gypsies have no trouble with their horses, for a gypsy horse knows who is in charge.”           

Diego laughed with him.  “Perhaps that is what I lacked out there in the wilderness.  I had never had any trouble from this particular horse before.”  He shrugged, “Well, what is done, is done.”           

Hernando turned back to his mother and his demeanor became more serious.  “I wanted to come and see how you were doing.  It seems that all kinds of trouble has come to my ears and I worry about you here all alone.”          

While he was talking, Diego noticed that the man was only a couple of inches shorter than him, and was perhaps five to ten years older.  He had the broad-shouldered build of a blacksmith or someone who did a lot of work with his arms.  His hair was dark brown and curly, but he noticed that his eyes were lighter in color than those of most Californianos.  And they were very intense.  It was apparent that this man could be a very good friend or a dangerous enemy.  Diego had no desire to eavesdrop on a private conversation, so he excused himself to go outside and practice on the ever-present crutches.          

“There is no need to leave, señor.”  Hernando told him, “This is general information and nothing of a private nature.  In fact you might have heard of some of these events yourself.”            

Diego sat back down, and listened politely.  It seemed that a certain rancho had been raided up north by outlaws, and that for a few days, soldiers and vaqueros had been roaming the area from north of Santa Barbara almost to Los Angeles.  Oh, yes, thought Diego drolly, I do believe I have heard of some of these events.           

“It was rumored that it was not a group of outlaws, but one man, El Zorro.  And apparently Zorro has disappeared somewhere north of Los Angeles.  There were also vaqueros and soldiers from the Pueblo de Los Angeles looking for the missing son of a wealthy landowner, whose horse had turned up near here.”  Out of the corner of her eye, Marlena Barosa studied young de la Vega’s reaction to the news.  Diego just looked mildly interested in the conversation.          

As he spoke, Hernando had a sudden insight and looked intently at Diego, who could do nothing else, but look placidly back at him.  “Señor, would you be the son of a wealthy landowner who lives near Los Angeles?”           

Diego got up to introduce himself.  “Sí, señor,” he answered, “I am Diego de la Vega, and your mother has been kind enough to put up with me since my accident until I am well enough to travel.  She and Father Francisco are responsible for having kept me from death.  I am very grateful to your mother for taking me in.  And I do have some small idea of the sacrifice that she made in doing so.”           

“Before you say anything, Hernando,” Marlena interjected, “I have thoroughly enjoyed the company of this caballero and he has not been the least bit offensive.  So you had better not start anything with my guest.”           

Hernando gaped at his mother in shock and then gazed at Diego.  Bowing slightly to him, the gitano began to laugh. “My congratulations, patrón, you are the first of your class who has received that kind of an endorsement from my mother.”  He grew more serious then, before he continued.  “But my concern is not you, Don Diego, but those who might still be looking for you.  Sometimes soldiers and vaqueros do not readily accept explanations from gitano.”           

“That is why I am glad that I have recovered enough to intervene if it becomes necessary,” Diego assured the other man.

 

 

 

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