Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

An hour before sunset, Diego finally awakened.  Refusing any food or drink, he insisted that Bernardo help him sit up on the edge of the bed.  Diego’s fingers clutched his shoulder almost painfully, as the mozo checked the bandage and then eased him into a clean white shirt.  This man, who, by his own admission was different than him or others in the pueblo, for whom the wound didn’t seem quite as serious, was nevertheless suffering.  Bernardo’s heart ached for him.   The afternoon of sleep had done little to rejuvenate him.  It seemed impossible for this plan to succeed.  But then he has the original Diego’s willpower and determination.  Only the santos know what will happen.

He motioned for Diego to lie back down again and then he carefully pulled off the blood stained black pants, and undergarments, and then pulled on clean garments.  Unbuttoning the suede riding calzoneros almost all the way up both legs, he pulled them on and buttoned them up.  Bernardo then helped the injured man into a sitting position. The suede riding jacket came next.  His patrón began buttoning it up, but Bernardo gently pulled his hand away, chastising him before quickly fastening the chaqueta. 

“Ai, you took me at my word, Bernardo.  I will let you deal with the clothes,” Diego said with a wan smile.  He sat quietly as the servant loosely tied the banda around his waist.  When Bernardo was finished, Diego murmured, “Now we have the real test.  Help me on my feet.”

Bernardo shook his head, motioning him to stay still while he gathered a broken-in, comfortable pair of riding boots from beside the wardrobe.  Only when the socks and boots were on his patrón’s feet did the mozo allow Don Diego to slowly slide off the edge of the bed and stand.  Diego’s eyes were tightly closed and his hand was gripping the servant’s shoulder firmly.  Bernardo could see the intense concentration on his patrón’s face. 

When he finally opened his eyes, Diego also released his grip on Bernardo’s shoulder and took several tentative steps.  He held his shoulders stiff and square, turning as little as possible, and he was a little more pale than usual, but otherwise there was nothing in his countenance that showed how very badly he had been hurt.  “Shall we get this over with?” he asked softly. 

Bernardo nodded and picked up the packed traveling bags that were by the door, his and his patrón’s. Signing, he indicated that he was going with him, just as he would on any other trip.

“But how will you explain coming back alone?” Diego asked, leaving future possibilities unsaid.

The fingers signed, ‘I will think of that later, if there is a need.'

Don Diego nodded, “It is for the best, I suppose.  I do not know how much strength I have.  Perhaps the amount of a newly born kitten?” he asked with a wan smile.  He walked slowly toward the door, becoming more sure with each step.

Bernardo was amazed and began wondering if this man was truly going to pull off this charade.  Nodding, he hurried to the door and opened it.  Slowly, deliberately, but without any indication of discomfort, Diego walked out of the door.  With one hand on the railing of the balcony, he made it to the stairs and began the long journey down to the patio.   Don Alejandro waited at the foot of the stairs, his face a study of not quite hidden anxiety.

“Patrón!  We have your horse saddled and ready.  Are you going to be in San Diego long?” Pepito called out from the doorway of the patio, his bright smile stretching from ear to ear. 

“It depends on how long it takes me to find the right breeding stock, Pepito,” Diego said, a quick smile on his own face.  His steps on the stairs never faltered. 

“Don Diego, it is said that El Zorro was here…that El Diablo had injured him,” Pepito said, now standing next to Don Alejandro.  Bernardo couldn’t help but be amused at the speed with which the servant’s grapevine worked.

“Sí, Pepito, he was here.   I was helping to take care of him, but he has since gone.  He was injured, but not too badly,” Don Diego explained.

“Thank the santos!” the boy exclaimed.  “Someone had said that Zorro was dying.  Mi madre and I have been praying and lighting candles in the chapel for him.”

Bernardo was a bit alarmed when Diego stopped before he reached the bottom of the stairs.  “That is good, Pepito.  Although Zorro was well enough to leave, he can always use the prayers of such as you and your mother.  He would appreciate it, too, I am sure,” the patrón said quietly.  Bernardo realized that the exercise of faith by this servant boy and his mother had touched this Diego.  The young man continued down the stairs, and grasped Don Alejandro by the shoulders.  “I will send word of my progress, Father,” he said, jovially.  Bernardo, knowing what to look for, knew it was forced.  To others, though, it appeared that Don Diego was genuinely happy.  “I will send Bernardo home to let you know what I have found out.”

“Vaya con Dios, Diego,” Don Alejandro said huskily.   Diego then walked out of the gate that Pepito held open for him.  His palomino stood placidly, chewing on his bit. 

With almost no hesitation, Diego reached for the saddle horn and placing his left foot in the stirrup, swung up on the gelding, his lean frame settling easily into the saddle. 

Bernardo hurried and mounted his roan.  Diego turned his horse around, smiled and gave a short salute; then eased his palomino into a canter.  Bernardo followed, watching the injured young man carefully.  The canter continued over the hill that now hid them from the watching eyes of those at the hacienda.  The mozo tapped his horse with his heels, urging him forward to catch up with the horse in front of him.  On the road ahead were several vaqueros.  Cursed luck, Bernardo thought.  Another hill was negotiated and this time the road was empty.  Bernardo noted the ashen look on Diego’s face and knew that the young man had very little stamina left in him.  This charade would have to end soon.  The mozo pointed to a thick stand of brush and trees several hundred feet from the road.  Slowly Diego eased his horse off the trail and toward the indicated refuge.  Bernardo scanned the road ahead of them, making sure there was no one to see their activities.  When he turned back to his patrón, he was horrified.  No longer was the wounded man sitting straight and tall.  His body slumped forward until he was almost lying on the horse’s neck. 

 With a quick burst of speed from his horse, Bernardo was almost instantly at the gelding’s side, examining Diego.  He noted that the wound had begun bleeding again and the lower half of the chaqueta was beginning to stain black in the deepening twilight.  Diego turned his head and gazed at him, slowly pushing himself upright, his look one of relief.  In a barely audible voice, he said, “I was hoping to make it all the way…”

Bernardo reached over and touched the younger man’s lips with his finger, admonishing him to not speak.  It did not matter that this man was not the real Diego.  He had acted as Don Diego would, he had sacrificed as his patrón would, and he felt deep loyalty, sympathy and empathy from this man for himself and all of the people of California.  That was enough for him.  Until the real Diego returned home, this was his patrón, his master, and his friend. 

Diego didn’t argue, only watching Bernardo through half closed eyes.  Adroitly the mozo slid out of his saddle and sat behind Diego, reaching around with one hand for the reins and holding his patrón’s body with the other arm.  Slowly he walked the palomino to the secret cave, his own horse following placidly behind.

The night was totally black and the stars were shining brightly in the moonless sky by the time the pair reached the entrance of the cave.  Diego had slipped into total unconsciousness, making it difficult for Bernardo to hang on to the larger man.  Inside, he saw Don Alejandro, whose face was drawn with anxiety.   “Bueno, Bernardo.  I have fixed as good a bed as I can with fresh hay and blankets.  I also brought down all the medicines and a basin for fresh water.”  The older man kept Diego from falling while Bernardo slid off the back of the gelding.  Then both men carried him to the hastily made pallet. 

Two lanterns illuminated the area while Bernardo stripped off Diego’s chaqueta and shirt.  Don Alejandro pressed his ear against the younger man’s chest.  “Santa Maria, he breathes so shallowly and he has begun bleeding again,” Alejandro murmured.  Bernardo felt Diego’s forehead and then motioned.  “No fever?  Good, that is one thing in our favor,” Alejandro murmured. 

As Bernardo changed the blood soaked bandage, Don Alejandro tried to make the pallet more comfortable, building the hay up under his head and shoulders to help the wounded man breathe easier.  Finally as they were pulling on a clean shirt, Diego began to stir.  Moaning softly, he opened his eyes and gazed at Bernardo.  “We made it?  I do not . . . remember getting here.”  Then he looked around the cave, with its flickering shadows and dark walls.  The eyes had a bewildered look in them.  “I thought I was going to the curandera’s house,” Diego said.

“We discussed this, Diego,” Don Alejandro explained patiently.  “This is the most secure place you could stay in.  This cave is so remote that even I was unaware of its existence until last year.  No one will ask questions and it is close enough for Bernardo and I to take turns caring for you.” 

“But…”

“I will not argue.  You are staying here.”

Diego’s eyes seemed to lose a bit of the bewilderment that had been in them when he had first awakened.  He gazed at the two men, and then his face broke into a slight smile.  “I remember now and I concede, Don Alejandro.  But it’s cold in here.”

Don Alejandro gazed up at the dancing shadows on the ceiling of the cave.  Bernardo was familiar enough with the man to realize that the old don was struggling with his emotions.  “Diego, I want you to continue to call me Father.  There is too much of my son in you to do otherwise,” Alejandro said, his voice husky with emotion.  “Only my son would have done what you just did.  And do not think that I am unmoved by what you did by disobeying your leader.”

“Gracias… Father.”  Diego paused, resting.  “The first time I said that word, it confused me; it was both familiar and strange.  Now it is strange not to use it,” he added, meaningfully.

Alejandro cleared his throat.  “As to being cold…that is easily taken care of with an extra blanket.  I must go make an appearance or else the servants will begin to wonder where I have disappeared.  I will return later.  I have instructed Bernardo to give you some of Dr. Avila’s pain medicine.  You will not argue with him,” he said sternly. 

“Yes, Father,” Diego said meekly, smiling slightly as Bernardo poured the dark mixture into a spoon and held it for him to drink.  As the old don turned and walked toward the steps, Diego was already falling into restful sleep.  Bernardo unfolded another blanket and laid it over his patrón, tucking it up under his chin.   Throughout the night, he alternately sat by the young man’s side and brushed and cared for Tornado.  Don Alejandro came and went, sometimes sitting near Diego, sometimes pacing.  Finally Bernardo was able to convince the old don to try and get some sleep.  

He led the stallion into the little box canyon an hour or so before the rising of the sun and let the chill breezes hit his face.  Did he dare to hope that Don Diego could actually survive this horrible wound?  His prayers had been in his heart for so long, since Don Diego’s abduction.  He had felt something amiss when this Diego had returned, but was unable to understand exactly why.  He had prayed continually, supplicating the Blessed Virgin on behalf of his patrón and friend, little knowing that he was asking for help for two people, not just one.  He prayed now, asking that this man be spared as well.  Leaving the stallion to run and kick in his little corner of freedom, he returned to the cave, lighting another candle and placing it in its niche in the wall.  He turned to Don Diego and found him watching him. 

‘How do you feel?’ he signed. 

“Somewhat better.  Not quite as tired, I think,” Diego answered. 

Bernardo smiled, the first time since before Zorro went out to find El Diablo.  He signed again.

“Hungry?  Yes, I think I am, a little bit,” Diego answered.  Bernardo signed again.   “I will be all right, you go on.  Do what you need to do.” 

Bernardo scowled and signed again.  ‘You will not try to get up or move around!’ 

“No, Bernardo.  I promise.”

‘Do you have pain?’ the fingers asked. 

“Yes, but not like last night.   But no more medicine until you have brought me some of Juanita’s soup.  Perhaps she has used some squash?” Diego asked hopefully.  Then he laid his head back on the hay and closed his eyes.  “I will not go anywhere,” he murmured softly. 

Touching the young man’s forehead, Bernardo was relieved to feel no heat of fever.  With a lighter heart, he went up the steps and into Diego’s room.  He saw Don Alejandro, leaning against the balustrade of the little balcony, his head in his hands.  The old man’s body shook with what the mozo could only assume was silent sobbing.  At the servant’s light step, however he turned.  “How is he?” Don Alejandro whispered softly. There was evidence of tears, quickly wiped away.  Before Bernardo could answer, the older man turned back to the hills that were beginning to glow with the light of the rising sun.  They seemed burnished with gold.  “This is so confusing.  I see him and I see Diego, but I hear what he has to say and I know he is not my son.  I love him, Bernardo.  I love the spirit that resides in him.  I know that my real son is out there somewhere, maybe lost and struggling to come home, maybe not even knowing who I am.  You cannot imagine the pain that thought gives me.”  Bernardo stepped closer to the old hacendado.  “What will I do if he dies?  I will keep hoping for the return of my son, but what if he doesn’t come?  What will I do?” 

Bernardo touched the old man’s sleeve and signed to him, ‘God will provide the answer.’

Don Alejandro turned and gazed into the mozo’s face.  There was a fire in his eyes that was part anguish, part grief, and part anger.  “Is this God’s answer then, this pain, this suffering?  What happens when Diego comes home, Bernardo?  How do I give him memories of feelings and emotions?  How do I return the connection that he and his mother shared?  How do I begin to return what we shared?”  He paused, wiped his eyes with his sleeve and then continued, “How do I return the thoughts, the feelings, the deep convictions that caused him to become Zorro?  How do I do that?”  

Bernardo could not say anything.

“And you . . . were with him only part of the time he was in Madrid.  “How do we give him back what neither of us know about,” Don Alejandro asked, his voice rising slightly in his despair.  “He will not be the same, Bernardo.  He will be, but there will be pieces of his soul gone, pieces that can never be replaced.”

‘We must trust and believe that God has an answer and a way,’ Bernardo repeated.   

Don Alejandro stared at the hills, pulling in the early morning air as though it would clear his head.  Then he sighed and smiled wanly.  “Yes, I suppose that you are right, Bernardo.  God will provide us with what He thinks is best for us.  Thank you, Bernardo, that gives me hope,” he said, although the servant didn’t think that Don Alejandro believed it yet.  Both men stood watching the sun add color to the hills. 

Bernardo motioned the news of the injured man’s lack of fever.

There was a slight flickering of hope on the old man’s face.  “I will go down to the kitchen and tell Juanita that I want some soup this morning, not porridge.  Then I will bring it down.   I will take care of him for a while so you can sleep.”  Bernardo nodded and returned to the cave.  

Alejandro took the soup to his room and slipped through the secret passage.  When he entered the chamber where Diego was sleeping, he saw him resting peacefully.  As he approached, though, the younger man opened his eyes and regarded him sleepily. 

“Bernardo tells me that you are feeling better,” Alejandro began, feeling somewhat awkward. 

“Yes,” Diego answered. 

“No more stunts like that one yesterday evening,” Alejandro admonished. 

“No, no more stunts,” Diego agreed, slipping back into sleep. 

Alejandro sat quietly beside the sleeping man, enjoying the coolness of the cave, listening to the tranquil murmur of water in the outer chamber of the cave. He could hear that Diego’s breathing was easier and that not only gave him comfort, but also hope.  Throughout the day the two men took turns watching the injured man.  Most of the time Diego slept, but while he was awake, Bernardo drew a chessboard in the dust and used different colored and shaped stones for the various pieces.   Diego won most of the games, laughing softly when the mozo shook his head in self-disgust.  Near evening, Bernardo brought down Diego’s guitar and played tunes he had learned in Spain.   The night brought more rest, pain free and comfortable, and Alejandro found himself dozing against a saddle as his son slept. 

He awoke suddenly the next morning, soft moans infringing on his sleep.  In alarm he moved closer to Diego and felt his forehead.  He was hot with fever and the old man choked off a bitter utterance.  His greatest fears were realized, infection had set in, swift and virulent. 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One
Memories Prologue
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