Night and Day 1
decided he would take a chance on finding the mysterious hacienda on
foot, even though like most Californianos, he would prefer to ride.
A horse would be heard easily on such rocky trails, especially by
guards as observant as the two he already met.
He also didn't feel the trip would be too far.
The outlaw traveled along the trail in the general direction he
felt the rancho or whatever the two men were protecting, must lay.
a walk of about an hour in the semi-darkness, he came over a ridge and
looked down on a long, but narrow valley.
By the light of a waxing moon he saw a modest hacienda, with
several outbuildings, probably stables and storage sheds, and a little
beyond, several smaller buildings, near the fields.
Zorro surmised that those were the peons' quarters.
He was about to start down into the valley when he heard the
sound of a horse just to his left on a different path; and trailing
behind the horseman was a large wolfish-looking dog.
Zorro noted, with satisfaction and gratitude to the Saints above,
that the breeze was traveling from the valley up the ridge so that the
dog was not able to get a scent from him.
There were few dogs on the de la Vega estate for work and none
for pleasure. His father
didn’t care that much for dogs, claiming that their barking was a
detriment to a good night’s sleep.
He had never had a desire to have one either.
Not that he was afraid of them; there just was no reason for them
on their rancho. The
thought occurred to him that this hacendado
might only have big dogs for guard duty if he were hiding something.
considered this development and realized that he would have to be very
careful of the direction of the wind and of his movements.
Men were easy to fool; dogs' senses were not.
This was probably not the only guard dog on the premises, there
were most likely others posted around the perimeter of the valley.
the guard was far enough away to suit him, Zorro quietly slipped down
the trail toward the hacienda. So
far everything was quiet and remained so until he had reached the main
house. There he heard the
voice of an angry man and the sound of what seemed to Zorro to be that
of someone being slapped. He
risked a glance through the window nearest the sound.
The glance told him that no one was looking anywhere near the
window and he took a longer look at what was transpiring.
I not tell you what I would do to you if you could not get more work
from those lazy peons?" the angry man roared at a peon lying on the
floor. He paced like a
caged and volatile tiger, snarling threats at the cringing peon.
The angry man, obviously the patrón
of this rancho, was of medium height, about a half a foot shorter than
himself. By the standards of the day, the man might be considered
ruggedly handsome, with light brown hair and gray eyes, but his intense
rage made him only seem base and corrupt.
He sported a short pointed beard, which didn’t alleviate the
taint of evil that the man exuded.
The patrón was a trim, well-muscled man and appeared to be quite
strong. Perhaps, thought Zorro
in anger, because he spends so
much time beating his peons.
the peon on the floor was much larger than the man who had slapped him,
the former was groveling and crying in fear.
The smaller man grabbed a whip that was hanging on the wall and
proceeded to give several lashes to the peon, an act which made the big
man wail even louder. The echoing cries reverberated through the night.
They also caused Zorro to keep reaching for the handle of his
sword, but he felt the servant was in no harm of being killed at the
present moment, and he needed to assess the total situation before
rushing in to save him.
master, I'll do better. Please, master, give me another chance,
please," the peon whimpered.
realized with horror that he was probably not witnessing the punishing
of a rebellious servant, but of a slave.
He knew that many peons were treated much like slaves, but
others, like those on the de la Vega rancho were housed, fed and paid
salaries. Even the
indentured servants would be free after a certain period of time had
elapsed, to go and make their fortunes or to continue their work for
appropriate wages. Zorro
wondered if the other peons were in similar conditions as that of the
cringing man. If that were the case, then it was no wonder the valley was
so heavily guarded from outsiders.
And it was no wonder he had felt the need to investigate.
crept around the corner of the house and toward the nearest hovel.
Like the pads of a large cat, his soft-soled leather boots made
no sound, and he only hoped that there were no dogs nearby.
So far there was no evidence of any, down here on the valley
floor, this near the main house. Reaching
the door of the little house, Zorro heard only the sounds of tired men
groaning and snoring in their exhaustion.
He also heard footsteps of someone approaching the doorway, and
he slipped back outside the door to wait.
A very young peon shuffled out the door and then sensing another
presence, suddenly stiffened and turned toward the outlaw. Seeing he had
been discovered, Zorro quickly grabbed the young man by the arm and
covered his mouth to avoid any outcry.
outlaw felt the fearful trembling of the boy and quickly tried to
reassure him. "Muchacho,
if you promise to make no outcry, I will take away my hand," Zorro
whispered in his ear. "I
only want to ask you a few questions and I promise that I will not harm
you." The young
man nodded his head and Zorro slowly withdrew his hand.
were you going this late at night?" Zorro asked quietly.
young man pointed a trembling finger to a very small building nearby.
by all means continue, but I am trusting you to return without anyone
becoming suspicious that I am here.”
The boy nodded and left Zorro without any further sound.
The outlaw slipped around the corner of the hovel and awaited the
boy’s return. The
peon returned shortly. “Let
us talk here, so that we will be away from the door," Zorro
for the boy to sit down, he made a quick, but thorough perusal of the
immediate area, and then joined him.
goes on here?" Zorro asked anxiously.
The young man, who appeared to be only about thirteen, just
looked at Zorro without speaking. Soon
tears began to roll down the boy's face and quiet sobs racked his small
frame. Zorro was a bit
taken back by the young man's reaction and put his arm around the boy to
try and comfort him. "Amigo,
I am called El Zorro. I
have never hurt youths before and I promise not to start now. I am only
concerned by what I have seen here this night and want to know more so I
can help you and your people,” he whispered in reassurance.
The boy pulled back and looked at him as though for the first
young man’s eyes widened. "You are the outlaw, Zorro, who has
helped peons escape those who would mistreat them?" he asked
hopefully, wiping the tears away with a grimy sleeve.
Zorro said, simply.
you came here to free us?" The boy's voice trembled slightly, with
to obtain information and then we will see how best to proceed.
What is your name, muchacho?"
what is your position at this ranchero?"
Senor, we were promised great wages when the vaqueros
spoke in the plaza of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, but anyone who was
foolish enough to come here has never left, at least alive, and none has
received any payment. I,
myself, came to earn wages for my family and now my poor mother probably
wonders if I am dead or alive."
drew a deep breath in anger. "Who
is the so-called patrón
of this rancho?" he asked, trying to calm himself.
“I am assuming it is the man with the small pointed beard and
gray eyes,” he said before the boy could answer.
señor, that is Don Paulo Wheeler,” Rico answered.
“It is said that he came from the Indies where they use slaves
brought from Africa. Don Paulo has peon slaves working in mines in the nearby
mountains. It is whispered
that he only grows cattle and grain until he finds gold or silver or
anything else precious in the mines."
statement puzzled Zorro. Mining
was almost unheard of; everyone in California knew that if gold or
silver, in any quantities existed here, the conquistadores
would have already found it.
He wondered what reason Wheeler would have to think he could find
those things in these mountains. Greed
made people act in strange ways.
everyone treated as the peon foreman in the hacienda was?"
Zorro asked, getting back to the problem at hand.
Señor Zorro, sometimes it is horrible!
I saw my uncle, he is the foreman, beaten near death.
And those who have tried to escape have the dogs of that devil
set on them. Those
unfortunates do not usually live."
realized that while he was listening, he kept clenching and unclenching
his fist as though it was around the neck of an imaginary enemy.
Taking a deep breath, the outlaw realized that he had to put away
his anger in order to have a clear head to make plans and carry them out
methodically. Anger had a place, but at the present time it served no
purpose, except to give him the resolve to help these slaves.
many peons would like to escape tonight and go back to San Luis
Obispo?" Zorro asked, surprising himself at the words that came
before the thought had formed. So
much for planning methodically, he thought wryly to himself.
the boy asked incredulously. "Why, all of us, I am sure, señor.
But what about all of the vaqueros
and their devil dogs? The
dogs are what frighten us the most.
They are like demons from hell. If it were not for the dogs we
would have probably tried to escape a long time ago."
there must be a diversion and then if I can lead the dogs and their
handlers after me, you will be able to escape.
And, muchacho, you must be sure to tell the local administrado what is
going on in this valley," the outlaw told the boy.
sat pondering for a moment, and while he was doing so, he heard the
stumbling approach of someone from the hacienda.
Rico froze against the wall of the adobe hovel, while Zorro crept
to the corner of the building to see who was approaching. The man leaned
wearily against the doorframe and paused, which was the exact time that
man stared in Rico’s direction, intense fear etched in his face, and
evident even in the pale moonlight.
"Who is that?" he asked, with a trembling voice.
Uncle Antonio," the boy answered quietly.
He crept around the corner of the building to reassure the
foreman, before he made any further outcries. "I had to come out
for a moment and then you frightened me. Did the master beat you badly,
Uncle?" he asked.
Rico, but that would not be so bad if I knew that I could keep the rest
of you from being beaten when you do not please him.
It seems so hard to please Don Paulo," he sighed and slowly
shuffled over to where Rico and a little beyond him, Zorro waited.
Antonio reached Rico, he sensed the outlaw’s presence and stiffened.
"Who else is here?" he hissed.
had decided that Antonio was someone who could be trusted in the
planning of the escape as long as he could keep Don Paulo and his whip
away from him. This was when he wished he had his own whip with him,
feeling that it would serve a better purpose against Don Paulo's back,
then at home on the wall. "Señor Antonio, I am a friend.
I have come to attempt to help you and your people escape,"
Zorro explained quietly.
Antonio, it is El Zorro," Rico whispered excitedly.
interrupted Rico. "Antonio, tell me more about this landowner, Paulo
Wheeler. His name and
accent sound foreign. Is he
from the British Indies?"
Señor Zorro, that is what I have been able to learn.
Señor Paulo is of the opinion that the land is only good for the
money it can earn him, and that paying wages to peons is wasteful.
I hear that he believes that all peons should be slaves, as black
men are in the Indies." Antonio
told him. "He also has
an evil temper, like that of the vicious wolverine, and if you are able
to help us escape, he will follow you to the ends of the Earth to get
will have to deal with that when the time comes."
Inwardly Zorro had confidence that volatile men such as Señor
Wheeler usually ended up making deadly mistakes in the end.
That had always been the case in the past.
is your plan, Señor Zorro," Antonio asked, hopefully.
thought quickly. It would be unwise to let these two know that he had not
really formulated a clear plan, but he did have several ideas that
together might work. "Antonio, is that building over there near the
hacienda the stables?" he asked.
Señor Zorro. They also keep the kennels for the dogs along the back wall
of the stables. As you
probably already know, this and the next building are where the peon
slaves sleep. That building
to the north of the stables is the vaqueros’
quarters. About a third of
them work at night and the rest work during the day."
any of the dogs roam free down here, near the hacienda?”
Zorro questioned. The
two peons shook their heads, no.
all of your people know routes away from here?
You need to pick two or three trails that you feel would be
easiest to escape along, and if necessary, hide on," Zorro
Señor Zorro, if we try to hide, they will find us with their
dogs," Antonio moaned.
I am able to arouse Don Paulo's wrath enough, most of the vaqueros
and their dogs will follow me. Once
I get to my horse, no dog will ever be able to catch me."
Zorro wished he felt as confident as he sounded.
"Go to the other building, Rico, and as quietly as you can,
rouse everyone. Tell them
to be ready to leave as soon as they get the signal.
Antonio, you do the same in this building.
Do you think they will listen to you?"
Señor Zorro, and the few who would tell Don Paulo to curry his favor,
we will tie up and make sure that they can do nothing to prevent our
escape,” Rico declared, fervently.
saw what appeared to be a tool or ammunition shed near the stable.
Which is it?” Zorro
tool shed, señor, but it is always kept locked,” Rico answered.
I can, I will break in and bring what I am able to carry for you to use
as weapons,” Zorro explained.
will the signal be?” Antonio asked anxiously.
believe that tonight is a good night for a bonfire,” Zorro said with a
grim smile. “I will
release the horses before I light a fire in the stable.
What your people must do is wait for the guards to come after me
and then keep to the shadows until you get to your chosen trails.
You must do everything in your power to get to San Luis Obispo de
Tolosa. Talk to the padres there; they will help to intercede for you
at the Presidio de Santa Barbara. If
anyone comes after you, then you must do whatever you have to do in
order ensure your escape. If
you can catch any of the horses, that will help you and it will mean
that fewer vaqueros will
be able to follow me. If
any dogs chase you, use sticks, rocks, anything you can to kill them.
A group of you can kill a dog where one person cannot. Do you understand this?”
Senor Zorro,” Rico and Antonio answered together.
“We will do as you say. And
may God go with you.” They
both quietly crept away.
did the same toward the tool shed.
When he reached it, he found that it was indeed locked, but was
able to work the point of his knife under the hasp and pry the nails
loose from the semi-rotted wood. You
would think that with all of the money saved by not paying peon workers,
that Paulo Wheeler could build decent buildings, Zorro thought in
grim amusement. Quickly, he gathered all of the tools that might
conceivably be used as weapons. It
took two trips to carry everything, but he was able to do it in relative
quiet. By the time he had
made his second trip, most of the peons had been told of the plans and
eagerly took the offered ‘weapons.’
next crept toward the stable. Inside
the doorway he found a lantern and flint and steel.
Carefully, he poured the oil over some straw and put the flint
and steel inside his sash. Then
he quietly approached the horses and untied them.
Most of the animals were docile enough that they didn’t protest
someone coming in the middle of the night and entering their stall.
A few he had to take time to soothe before he left them. In order to avoid mistakes, he did all of this slowly
and methodically. When
he got to the last horse, which, by quick inspection, seemed to be
sound, he led it near the back of the stable, where he had poured the
oil. Zorro found a suitable
bridle, and put it on the horse, but he didn’t bother with a saddle,
hoping to be away from the rancho and to his own horses soon enough to
make saddling this animal unnecessary. He surmised that he had been in the stable more than long
enough for all of the peons to have gathered and be awaiting his signal.
found a stick and some rags. With
a piece of hemp, he tied the rag around one end of the stick.
Next he struck the flint and steel together and fanned the
resulting sparks until they caught in the straw.
Then he thrust his makeshift torch into the fire.
As soon as the torch was lit, Zorro vaulted onto the back of the
increasingly nervous horse and with a loud yell, urged the other horses
out of the stable. Many
things happened at once, Zorro noted with a great deal of pleasure.
The oil in the straw was quickly creating a conflagration in the
stable, the dogs were yelping and howling in fear and anger, and vaqueros began pouring out of their quarters, like a small colony
of ants from a disturbed hive.
also noticed that Señor Wheeler had rushed out onto the patio of his
is the dangerous moment, Zorro thought as he wheeled his horse
towards the man. Thowing the torch into what he hoped was material dry enough
to start a fire in the hacienda; he then turned his attention to
Wheeler, you have tortured and enslaved these peons long enough. Now
feel the wrath of Zorro," he thundered in as loud a voice as he
could in the tumult. He
drew his sword and slashed a Z on the man's vest.
"Señor, you will treat your workers fairly or I will return
and make you wish that you had never left the Indies."
To increase the man's ire, he laughed and with the horse's
shoulder, knocked Wheeler to the ground.
When he saw Wheeler struggle up and reach for something in his
belt, Zorro realized that it was probably a pistol and the time for a
quick departure was at hand. He
only prayed that Antonio and Rico were successful by this time, in their
efforts to lead the peons out of the valley.
almost the same time, Zorro heard two pistol shots, one from behind him,
presumably Señor Wheeler, and one in front of him, probably a guard.
At that moment, Zorro felt the horse miss a stride and lurch a
little to the right, almost unseating him.
Quickly surmising that the horse had taken a ball in its right
flank, he deduced that this animal would be of service to him for only a
short distance. This was
very unfortunate, he thought grimly to himself, as he had counted on
this animal to know the way up these trails in the dark better than he