A Song of Joy

(A Sergeant Garcia Story)

 

 

Chapter 8

 

But Garcia didn’t get time to visit the mission.  By the time supper rolled around a very tired Sergeant Garcia did not even have the energy to drag himself to the tavern to have a glass of wine.   Diego almost ground his teeth together in frustration.  He knew that the senorita’s time was limited.   During the day he had checked on the ships bobbing in San Pedro harbor and the only one leaving for Mexico City was sailing on the following day’s evening tide.  When he had investigated further, there was, indeed, an Isadora Perdiz listed on the passenger’s list. 

He or Bernardo had kept an eye on Sergeant Garcia during the day and it seemed that the new comandante was determined to whip the garrison into shape in less than a week.  First it had been the patrol, then musket practice just outside of the pueblo, then the men were put on clean up detail.  And that was all before lunch.   Bernardo joked that the cuartel had never looked better, but Diego was not in the mood for laughing.  They took turns watching surreptitiously during the afternoon and it was more of the same.  Close order drills on horseback, with lances and without them.  Then when most of the rest of the townspeople were taking siestas, the soldiers were in the shade of the stables, grooming their horses and mucking out the stalls.  Then Garcia was ordered to inspect the men’s arms, making the lancers clean them until not a speck of dirt could be found on barrels or stocks. 

By supper, the lancers were too tired to even think of any pleasures, such as wine and cards and women.  Diego noticed that Garcia was almost asleep on his feet before he could dismiss the men for the evening.  In frustration, the young caballero turned on his heel and walked to the tavern, where he ordered a small meal.   A short while later, Bernardo joined him; the look on his face telling the young don that there was information forthcoming.  Diego motioned for the mozo to join him at the table and watched as Bernardo surreptitiously signed something about Zorro.  Putting down his fork, Diego concentrated on the rest of the message, then he tossed some money on the table and motioned for Bernardo to follow him. 

When they were away from anyone who could hear him, Diego asked, “So the reason for all the drills and musket practice is to catch or kill Zorro?”  Bernardo signed some more.  “That and Montez’s apparent fetish for cleanliness.”  Diego shook his head.  “I think that our new comandante is definitely in the wrong place.”  

Bernardo made more signs.  ‘How do we get Sergeant Garcia to the señorita before she has to leave?’ 

Diego rubbed behind his ear, pondering the same problem.  “The new comandante wants his men capable of catching Zorro, correct?”   Suddenly a huge grin lit his face.  “Then we shall certainly let them have the practice.”  

Bernardo looked slightly confused, but excited, seeing signs of a plan in Don Diego’s face.  The young caballero clapped him on the shoulder and motioned to the horses.  “Come, Bernardo, we have work to do.”  Soon they were galloping out of town, toward the de la Vega Rancho. 

An hour before dawn, Zorro was riding into the pueblo, his plan a little bit tenuous, but his resolve rock solid.  He had hoped that the men in the cuartel would not be up yet by the time he got to arrived in Los Angeles, but in that he was disappointed.  He heard the banging of doors and the loud grumbling of men awakened about two hours earlier then they wished.  Although Zorro knew what he wanted to accomplish, there were many variables in the plan.  The biggest variable was Capitán Montez, and apparently the comandante had ordered the men out of bed before the sun rose. 

Climbing to the stable roof from the back of the cuartel, Zorro watched, wanting to know just what the comandante had in mind for the day’s activities. 

“Sergeant Garcia, you will take the men out on early morning patrol.  You and I will ride toward the Mission San Gabriel, since that is the last place Zorro was seen.  You will give Corporal Reyes command of half of the troop to patrol areas further to the northeast, in case Zorro is hiding in the hills. 

Zorro grinned.  This would suit his plans perfectly.  Then he felt a perverse desire to add a bit of dangerous pleasure to his plan.  And to, perhaps, put the new comandante in his place.  It would also guarantee the sergeant getting to the mission.  Instead of waiting for the patrol somewhere away from the pueblo, he would begin the chase right here at the cuartel gates. 

Zorro did not wait until Garcia had selected the second troop before he returned to Tornado.  “Ah, my friend, we get to see if this intensive training has done more than tire out our poor lancers.”  He maneuvered the horse to a place on one side of the plaza where foliage hid him from view.  It would have been nice to only be dealing with Sergeant Garcia and Capitán Montez’s men, but he knew that there was always a possibility of Reyes’ men seeing him before they were fully out of the plaza, and then he would be caught in a trap of his own making.  He would lead every one of them in a merry chase.  He heard Montez finishing his little speech and Garcia ordering the men to mount up.  That was his cue to ride into full view in front of the cuartel.  Zorro called out in a loud voice, just as the huge gate began to creak open.  “Hola, Capitán Montez!  Let us see just how well your training has progressed!”

He pulled Tornado up into a quick rear and then the pair pivoted and dashed up a road leading toward the north.  Behind him came a surprised shout, “Zorro!” and then, “After him, men!”  Zorro recognized the voice as the comandante’s. 

Zorro’s laugh easily carried back to the lancers as Tornado thundered out of the pueblo.  The outlaw did not deviate from the road leading to the mission, only momentarily pausing at the crest of a hill when the lancers fell too far behind.  Once, a bullet whizzed past his head and Zorro realized, that while the horses may have been feeling the effects of the previous day’s increased exercise, someone’s aim was still very good.  Glancing over his shoulder, Zorro saw Montez shoving his pistol in its holster.  “A bit faster, Tornado,” he said, leaning down and patting the stallion on the neck.  The horse responded and soon they were almost out of range of the lancers’ bullets.  Not much later he arrived at the mission and quickly leaped out of the saddle, motioning to the stallion to wait.  The sound of music came from within and Zorro realized that he would be interrupting Mass.   Cringing at that thought, the black-clad man, nevertheless, was determined for his plan to work.  He waited until the lancers came over the nearby hill and saw him, then he motioned to Tornado to hide around the back of the mission.

 

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Isadora sat on the first pew, holding little Demetrio in her arms, trying desperately to concentrate on the words of the mass.  This would be her last mass before Mexico City.  Before her forced separation from her baby.   Such a thought was like a signal and tears softly coursed down her cheeks.  She bit her lip, wishing she could do something, anything to not have to do this.  Father Felipe’s prayers had not resulted in any solutions; neither had hers.  And after Mass, she was to begin her journey to San Pedro. 

Father Felipe said the benediction, leaving a blessing on all who attended, and then the organ began its final song to end the worship service.  Most of those around her were neophytes, but there were some local rancheros, vaqueros and servants.  While the church was not full, it contained many of the faithful.  Until she had come here it had been many years since she had heard so many voices saying the litanies or singing the songs.   If only there had been a solution to her problem, she would have felt joy at the masses and vespers she had attended at San Gabriel. 

Isadora had even entertained thoughts that Demetrio might want to marry her, but she had quickly dismissed that. The Army was his life and, for the length of time he had been a soldier, he certainly must be happy with his lot.   Even though the portly soldier had treated her kindly, even deferentially, why would he want to have as his companion, someone with a reputation such as hers?   Why, indeed, would any man want to have her as his wife and be saddled with a child that was not his?

Suddenly the main door burst open.  To the astonishment of Isadora and everyone else in the church, Zorro rushed in, carefully shutting the door behind him.  She heard the worshippers gasp and utter the outlaw’s name, not in fear, she noticed, but in surprise.  Zorro did not seem overly concerned, but she was as shocked as everyone else when he dashed past her and, stopping before Father Felipe, kneeled and said in a loud voice, “Padre Felipe, I invoke sanctuary!”

Then she heard the sound of many horses outside the church, the clinking of armaments.  Father Felipe looked down at Zorro, glanced toward the door and then let his eyes rest briefly on her face.  Suddenly, he grinned broadly.  “Señor Zorro, again God has used you as his emissary for good.”  He lowered his voice until only Zorro and Isadora, due to her proximity, could hear, “When you can, go through the vestry and the cemetery.  There is a tiny gate hidden by vines and brush.”

“Sí, Padre.  He grinned even more broadly.  Then he stood up and stepped closer to the priest and even Isadora could not hear his next words. 

“Sí, Señor Zorro,” Father Felipe replied, his answer coming clearly to her.  “I will be sure to emphasize that.  But should you change your mind after I go to speak to the soldiers, the way I spoke of is best.”

Zorro nodded, the grin still in place.   He turned to Isadora.  “Señorita, will you please come with me, to assure the soldiers’ good intentions.  I will not harm you or your child.” 

She glanced at Father Felipe, who was now walking toward her, Zorro at his side.  The priest nodded his approval, before looking up toward the organ loft and signaling the organist.  Soft music began to fill the air once again.  It was solemn, but somewhat more uplifting than what had been played during Mass. 

Isadora was comforted by Father Felipe’s confidence in the black-clad outlaw, even though she had already felt a measure of safety in his presence anyway.  She had no idea why someone dressed all in black, wearing a mask, could make her feel secure, but somehow he did.   Bending, she began to pick up the basket that held little Demetrio.  Zorro was by her side in an instant and she could see where he got the appellation of ‘wraith.’  He made almost no noise.  “I will help you with the baby.  We can wait in the vestry.”  His voice was soft and his assurances filled her with even more confidence.  He held out one arm out for her to hang onto. 

There was something about this little scene that filled her with a sense of tingling anticipation.  It was as though something good was about to happen.  Isadora had no idea what that future event could be, but she felt more optimistic then she had in many days, even months.  Holding on to his arm, they slowly walked the short distance to the vestry door.  Zorro opened it for her and allowed her to enter first.  Her hobbling steps took her to a nearby bench, where she sat down, gazing at Zorro in anticipation.  The outlaw set little Demetrio’s basket next to her and then with another grin, he saluted her with both hands and slipped out the back way.   Her eyes widened in surprise.  Exactly what is going on? she wondered. 

 

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“He is not as invincible as you thought, Sergeant!” Montez shouted in triumph as they rode over the hill and sighted the outlaw.  “We have him, men!” he called out over his shoulder.  

As they thundered toward the mission, Zorro sent his horse away and dashed into the church.  Suddenly the beautiful notes of the organ that Garcia had been hearing ceased.  For several moments where was only the sound of their horses and tack, and then the music resumed. Apparently, Mass is not over, Garcia speculated, feeling the peaceful strains flow into his mind and sooth him. 

But Garcia was puzzled.  Why would Zorro do such a thing?  He could easily get away from them.  In fact, he wondered if Zorro was playing some kind of joke on them.  He replayed the chase from the time the outlaw made his obvious challenge at the cuartel.  All along the way to the mission, whenever Garcia thought that Zorro had gotten away, the masked man was seen sitting on his horse on the top of some hill, as though waiting for them.  Then, with a laugh and a taunting cry, Zorro would start the chase anew.

The sergeant remembered an incident at the tar pits with great distaste.  That was a trap that Zorro had sprung that had taken him a long time to forgive the outlaw for pulling on him and his fellow lancers.  It had taken Garcia almost as long to scrape the tar from his body.  He was about to warn the comandante when they came over a hill and saw Zorro dismounted and standing in front of the church of the Mission San Gabriel.  Is his horse hurt? he wondered.  That had to be the only explanation.  Otherwise, Zorro could just ride into the hills and be happy that he had yet again outrun the soldiers of the king.

And then he recalled, Isadora is here.  If only I could have a couple of moments alone with her.  He remembered what Zorro and Don Diego had said to him.  Only a few moments.  That is all he would need to convey the message of his soul.  His heart beat faster as they approached the front of the church. 

As they dismounted, Father Felipe stepped out of the church.  “Sergeant Garcia, welcome.”  He looked at the comandante next. “And you must be Capitán Montez.  Welcome to my humble sanctuary, Señor Comandante.” 

“Where is Zorro?” Montez asked, without acknowledging the greeting.  “We saw him enter your church.”

“Señor Zorro asked for Church Sanctuary, Capitán.”

The priest kept a straight face, but Garcia saw that everyone in the troop was gaping in shock.  He knew that he was.  Zorro asking for sanctuary?  Such a thing was inconceivable. 

“What?” Montez asked.  “You cannot be serious, Padre.”

“I am indeed serious.  But he did say that he might consider surrendering himself to Sergeant Garcia.”

Montez glared at Father Felipe, then at Garcia.  His face seemed a mixture of anger, surprise, disbelief and then triumph.  “Let us go in, then, Sergeant.”

“You misunderstood, Capitán.” Father Felipe said quietly, his features still calmly serene.  “Zorro specified Sergeant Garcia only.”   Montez gaped for a moment and then scowled fiercely.  “Capitán,” the priest continued.  “It is for the best anyway.  Mass is still in progress and to have even several soldiers enter would be a distraction to the worshipers that I could not tolerate.”  Father Felipe appeared resolute. 

Montez sighed. 

“Comandante, I will watch over the negotiations, making sure that nothing goes awry.”  Father Felipe smiled benignly.  “Zorro does not know you,” he added, “but he does know Sergeant Garcia.”

“Oh, very well,” Montez said petulantly.  He turned to Garcia.  “Affect the surrender, Sergeant.  Unconditionally.  If need be, we can wait out this bandit.”  Turning to the rest of the men, he said.  “Take up positions around the mission to make sure that Zorro does not escape, should he change his mind.”

While the men hastened to do their leader’s bidding, Garcia dismounted and pulling his hat off, followed Father Felipe into the church. 

 

 

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