Caesar Triumphant

 

 

Chapter Three - The Rescue

 

 Sgt. Garcia walked toward Matt as he pulled on his jacket. Reyes and the sergeant talked to each other, but the boy only caught a few words. Finally the corporal turned to him and made some signs, which Matt figured was a question about Tornado. Making pantomiming signs of his own, Matt told the two soldiers that Zorro was trapped in a cave and needed their help.

Garcia smiled broadly and said something to Reyes. Matt thought he heard the word pesos and figured the sergeant was talking about the reward for Zorro’s capture. Matt looked around trying to keep his face blank just like Bernardo did.

"Muchacho," Reyes said, tugging on his pants. The corporal signed a request to take them to Zorro. Matt nodded vigorously.

The sergeant smiled broadly at him and then his eyes widened in shock as Caesar popped his head out of the saddlebag and whined softly. "Caesar!" he cried. Reaching out, Garcia scratched behind the little dog’s ears. Sighing, he turned back to the lancers and ordered them to mount up.

It only took a slight tug on the reins for Tornado to turn and trot out of the cuartel.  Matt leaned over when the horse had passed beyond sight of the soldiers and whispered, "Zorro." As the lancers began catching up to him, Matt tapped lightly on the horse’s side with his heels.  Immediately the stallion broke into his easy gallop, the distance flowing steadily under his feet in swift blurs.

Caesar ducked back into his saddlebag and soon fell asleep. Very quickly they arrived at the site of the cave in and Tornado stopped. The lancers behind him stopped also. Matt pointed and Sgt. Garcia shouted to his men. Soon they were digging at the hillside.

As the sun rose higher over the hillside, the lancers, in a cascade of pebbles and dust cleared enough of a hole for Zorro to escape from his natural prison. Matt whistled before the lancers discovered the cave beyond. When Garcia looked up, the boy began gesturing frantically.  Shaking his head, Matt made signs telling the fat soldier that the cave-in where Zorro was trapped was somewhere else. Somewhere steeper, he signed.  With more trees.

Reyes asked him if he was sure. Matt nodded his head, yes. Gathering the reins, the boy urged Tornado away from the hillside where his master was trapped and toward the north.  At first the stallion hesitated, reluctant to leave, but soon he trotted off in the direction Matt had indicated.  He was gratified to hear the sound of other horses following behind. They rode until Matt saw what looked to be another landslide.  He pointed and nodded. The soldiers dismounted again and began working.

Matt quietly sat on Tornado watching the men work. The sun rose higher and higher, and he began to feel sorry for the soldiers. Hoping that Zorro had had time to escape, he eased the stallion closer to the sergeant. When Sgt. Garcia turned to him, he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Making signs that he had forgotten where Zorro was trapped, Matt turned Tornado and tapped his sides with his heels. The horse raced toward the spot of the real cave in, the angry shouts of the lancers echoing in his ears.

When he reached the landslide, Matt saw the bandit sitting on the ground still bound, but not gagged. As soon as he saw the boy approaching, he began shouting. Tornado slowed, but didn’t stop. Within a short distance, Matt saw Zorro waiting, a broad grin crossing his face. Tornado stopped, neighing a greeting. Mounting quickly behind the boy, Zorro took the reins and urged Tornado into a gallop.

"You did a wonderful job, Matt," Zorro said. "But why did you not go find Bernardo?" Matt explained his reasoning. "Yes, very logical, if not potentially dangerous."

Caesar popped his head out of the saddlebag and began barking. Matt thought it sounded a great deal like bragging. "A little too excited for sleep, eh, Caesar?" Zorro asked with a laugh. Caesar barked at a jackrabbit bounding out of the stallion’s path. "Enough, Caesar. We do not want the soldiers to follow us home." Caesar immediately stopped and curled up in the bottom of the saddlebag again.  Soon he was sound asleep.

Zorro noticed Matt nodding off as well. "Ah, Matt, you have had a very busy night. Hopefully this will not set your recovery back. You are a smart boy, and you allowed me to escape, for which I am very grateful. The soldiers will find Señor Cordero, which will make them happy.  All told, I would say you have been a very good compadre tonight."

"Thank you," Matt murmured sleepily. The boy dozed as the stallion’s long stride ate up the miles.  As Zorro rode into the cave, Bernardo was waiting. At the mozo’s inquisitive look, the masked man quickly explained the situation.  Gathering Matt up in his arms, Bernardo took him upstairs to Don Diego’s bedroom. Caesar padded behind. Soon the boy’s feet were cared for and a hot bowl of corn porridge placed on the bed stand.

Diego gently shook Matt’s shoulder. "Muchacho, here is some breakfast."

Matt shook his head. "No, thank you.  I’m just very sleepy.  Don’t know why."

"Well, Matt, perhaps it is because young boys should not be up all night rescuing outlaws," Diego said with a chuckle. "You sleep and then we will decide how to get you back to Natchez."

Matt nodded and rolled over, his hand resting on Caesar’s back. The dog sighed softly and closed his eyes. Diego walked lightly from the room, leaving the door ajar, assured that the little dog would stay and protect the boy.

 


 

Matt woke up, feeling a weight on his bed. When he opened his eyes he saw, instead of Diego’s room, his own room and his mom sitting on the side of his bed. Confused momentarily, he looked for Caesar. "Oh, Caesar’s gone!"

"Caesar?" his mom asked.

"Caesar was here last night and he took me to California.  Zorro was trapped in a cave and I rode Tornado to get help…"

"Whoa," Mom said."  That must have been some dream. You’ll have to write it down.  But right now, it’s Christmas."

Matt slipped out of bed and winced. His feet hurt. "No, Mom, it was real.  My feet still hurt from walking barefoot on the rocks and dirt." His mom said nothing, but as she walked with him from the room she did notice the more pronounced limp and saw a seam ripped on the shoulder of his pajamas.  She wondered just what had happened last night.

Caesar trotted over to Diego and sat down by his knee, whining softly in his throat.  Matt must be awake. Motioning to Bernardo, he climbed the steps to his bedroom and opened the door. The boy was gone.  Looking outside his balcony door, he pondered Matt’s earlier words.  Next he walked back down the stairs and into the small family church.  Kneeling before the crucifix on the wall, he murmured, "I thank you, San Diego.  Again you have watched over me and made it possible for my continued existence.  Please also watch over young Matt.  Let his Navidad be joyous."

Merry Christmas, Y’All
December, 1999

   

 

 

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