Juan's Christmas Gift

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four - The Russians

 

 

 

Capt. Sergey Petrov scowled at the shoreline in distaste, and pondered his options as he stroked the dark black beard that hung over the top of his barrel chest. He knew he was well south of his destination, but he could not sail back north until the 'Emperor's Jewel' was restocked with provisions. A third of his men had been stricken with scurvy, which was part of the reason for their difficulty at sea. When the monstrous storm had hit the ship about five miles west of Monterey bay, Petrov had been short-handed because of the sickness, and therefore had been forced to try to run south of the winds.

Now he was near a port in southern California that was unknown to him and he had heard rumors of these southern Californians. Ominous rumors. His second in command, who was the only member of the crew who had known Spanish, had died during the storm. Pulling on the curly strands of his beard, Petrov grunted and then began issuing orders. "Dmitriy," he shouted. A more slightly built, younger man dashed over to him and stood at attention. "You will pick out a dozen of the most fit men and arm them for an excursion on shore. We need provisions and I see no other way to get any then to just take what we need if they will not freely give them to you. I am told that the Californios that live south of Monterey raise much cattle and fruit. We need both. If anyone opposes you, do what you need to do to insure the safety of the men." Dmitriy saluted and turned to comply.

Several hours before sunset, the band of Russian sailors was rowing ashore in two small boats. Shortly after pulling up on shore they came across a farmer with a wagon full of hay. "Santa Maria!!" the farmer screamed, when he saw the gaunt and bearded men. They looked to him, for all the world, like demons from Hell. His load that he was going to sell to a nearby hacendado was forgotten. The two sturdy mules were forgotten. Throwing the reins aside, the farmer scrambled down from the wagon and ran into the brush that lined the dusty roadway. From concealment, he made the sign of the cross and watched as the thirteen men climbed onto his wagon and drove it back in the direction from which he had come. The speech the men uttered sounded deep and ominously guttural to his Latin ears also.

Dmitriy Sidorov laughed in amusement at the sight of the peasant running into the bushes. "Nikita, you drive the mules. The rest of you get in the back. Why walk when we can ride in comfortable hay?" Soon the men were resting while Nikita turned the team around and headed east along the road.

It wasn't long before the sailors came to a small rancho, and they were perplexed to note there was nobody around. Shrugging his shoulders, Dmitriy sent the men in pairs to look around for any foodstuffs and supplies that they might be able to use on the ship. Soon, the wagon had a small amount of dried beef, wine and fruit. Heading onward, the Russians next came to a larger rancho with a more substantial casa grande. This time there were a few servants, who essentially had the same reaction as the farmer.

"Stop them, Misha," Dmitriy ordered, using Mikhail’s nickname. The cook, and the two house servants were herded into a corner of the sala at the point of a knife. The cook fell to her knees and began praying. Dmitriy was disturbed at the abject terror that his appearance was causing, but not knowing Spanish, he couldn't reassure the three servants. "Does anyone know some other language that these Californians might recognize?"

"I know German," Mikhail answered. He addressed the trio in that language, but they just looked at him fearfully. Dmitriy then made signs to indicate that they were hungry and thirsty. The male house servant nodded and motioned for the sailors to follow him. First they went to the wine cellar, where Dmitriy ordered most of the men to carry out what they could. Then they went to the storeroom behind the kitchen, where copious amounts of dried beef hung for easy access by the cook. There were also nuts, citrus fruits in baskets and vegetables in barrels. It was all carried out to the wagon.

Trying to reassure the man who had helped them, Dmitriy smiled, patted his stomach and bowed. Then the group headed back to the shore where they had left their boats. "We will unload this on the shore and Nikita will supervise three of you in loading these goods onto a boat. Then take it to the 'Jewel.' The rest of us will go back for another load," Dmitriy said in way of instruction. "When the vegetables are unloaded, use these barrels to get water at the spring we saw nearby. We should be in a position to leave with the morning tide, before these Californians can gather a force against us. Dmitriy fully believed they were in the vicinity of the place where one of his government's agents was murdered a year or so previously.

Later that evening, further on the same road, Dmitriy and his group of seven came upon an almost deserted hacienda. The scenario was essentially the same, but this time the servants put up a fight. The two menservants were finally subdued, but not before one of the sailors had been killed.

"Let me gut this Californian flea for what he did to Ivan!" one of the sailors said angrily.

"No," Dmitriy ordered. "They were just protecting their property. Misha, see if one of these men can understand you." Mikhail complied, receiving the same blank stare as before.

Then the eyes of one of the servants widened and he said in a loud whisper, "Zorro!"

Dmitriy swung around and saw nothing substantial in the darkened end of the sala. But he could have sworn that he had barely seen some kind of large animal or bird flowing through an open doorway into the next room. "You, go and see what that was," he pointed to one of his men.

After awhile a hollow thud came from the other room, and Dmitriy called out impatiently, "Petjka, where are you, what have you found."

In the kitchen, Zorro, who had warned the servants to make no noise, knew the intruder was calling the unconscious man at his feet. He was unable to understand what was being spoken, but guessed it to be Russian. In the hopes that they could understand German, he called out, making his voice sound as mysterious and eerie as he could. "Ich bin Herr Fuchs."

Dmitriy turned to Mikhail. "That sounded like German, what did he say?"

"He said he’s Mr. Fox, sir," Mikhail answered.

Dmitriy’s face became cloudy with anger. He had hoped they would be able to take what was in this house and quit this country without incident. But apparently that was not to be. "Lis? Kakoy, k dyavolu, lis? Ya s etogo lisa shkuru spuschu!" he cursed.

Mikhail translated, "The Fox? What the devil kind of a fox. I’ll strip the hide off that fox!" The spectral voice just laughed a merry, satiric laugh that echoed throughout the room.

"I didn’t ask you to translate that, bolvan, (you blockhead)," he growled to his subordinate. "But ask him who he is, this fox," Dmitriy ordered. Mikhail sheepishly complied, but the only response was another mocking laugh. A slight whispering sound of feet came to the Russians' ears, but no one could tell in which direction the sound was coming. Dmitriy cocked his pistol and tried to aim, but found there was nothing to aim at.

Soon a thud of a body hitting the ground caused Dmitriy to pivot around again, this time toward the opposite end of the room, where he saw the floating of black satin and silk and then nothing. Firing his pistol, he knew he had missed when he heard the laugh again.

"Light some candles, quickly," Dmitriy said in a trembling voice. Another sound of a slight struggle and yet another one of the sailors was left prone on the hardwood floor. The remaining sailors kept turning and looking toward darkened corners. Two more shots rang out, but the whispering of black silk told him that they had been no more successful then he had been.

"Who are you," Mikhail asked once again, in a louder voice. "We should get out of here, sir," he told Dmitriy.

"Russian sailors do not run from men who hide in shadows," Dmitriy said gruffly.

"I am a poltergeist, men from Russia," the voice across the room said in a manner that seemed at once ethereal and uncanny. A muffled groan and another body sank to the ground. Mikhail translated. The other two sailors moaned in fear, and moved closer to Dmitriy in the middle of the room.

"Get the candle lit, I said," the Russian sailor ordered. But as soon as one candle was lit, a slight popping noise snuffed it out again.

"We will talk, since you seem to have the upper hand, whoever you are," Dmitriy finally said after pondering for a moment.

"Put down any weapons that you have, gentlemen," the voice ordered. After Mikhail’s translation, the Russians complied. In Spanish, the voice then ordered the two servants, who had been cowering just inside the kitchen, to gather up the pistols and knives. "Take them outside the sala, and wait there," they were told.

"Now, what is your purpose for being here," the voice asked. Mikhail translated.

"Tell him that we are sailors that were blown off course by a storm and we needed food and drink," Dmitriy said. "And ask him if we can light a candle to see with whom we are speaking."

"Yes, but remember that I am almost as dangerous in the light as I am in the dark," the voice said. A candle was lit and its light revealed a man clad all in ebony black, from head to toe. A mask covered the upper face and a sword was in one hand, with a whip in the other.

Dmitriy had known that there had been only one speaker, but the idea that nine men had been defeated by the subterfuge of one masked adversary, irritated and disgusted him greatly. Evidently Mikhail felt the same way and tried to rush the Californio. A slight flick of the wrist holding the whip was all that was needed to bring his comrade down.

"I said I was dangerous. Do not tempt me further. I would like to keep my good humor, this season of Weihnacten."

As Mikhail slowly pulled himself to his feet, Dmitriy saw most of his men in unconscious in heaps on the hardwood floor. He was astonished at the prowess of this masked man, and said as much.

The man shrugged. "I had the element of surprise on my side." With a slight frown the man continued, "Why did you not come to someone during the day and ask for help. Do you not know that Californios are extremely generous?"

"We had been told that a countryman had been murdered in this area and we were worried that we would meet the same fate," Dmitriy said through Mikhail. The Russian leader saw Pyotr slipping quietly from the room behind the black clad man. Perhaps surprise could work in both directions, thought Dmitriy to himself.

But as quiet as Pyotr tried to be, he was not silent enough. Making a half turn, the point of Zorro's blade found itself resting at the end of his assailant's nose, while the whip continued to menace the other three men.

"I have offered to discuss your problem with you," Zorro said, with a slight smile, motioning for the man to join his fellows. "Californios may act suspicious at times, but they ARE generous," he added. Mikhail continued translating.

Dmitriy sighed. "Any chance that you speak Russian?"

Zorro shook his head. "I would be speaking to you in your language, if I did," he pointed out.

"But I do," a voice answered, and a smaller figure divorced itself from the shadow of the doorway. "Zdravstvujtje," Juan greeted the sailors.

Zorro looked at Juan in astonishment. "How do you do that?" he asked, incredulously.

The church helper laughed pleasantly. "In this case, I simply followed you when I saw you ride through the pueblo," he said to the outlaw. Turning back to the sailors, he told them, "I am called Juan and this is El Zorro. If you need help, I am sure that we can work something out. Why not light some candles so we can see one another more clearly," Juan suggested.

Soon the group was conversing, with Juan the translator for both parties.

"Tell Captain Petrov that tomorrow is Christmas Day, we should all be able to worship together at the early morning mass and then there should be some of the rancheros who will help you, so you can continue your journey back to Russia," Juan suggested.

"Is it past midnight yet?" Dmitriy asked. Juan nodded. "Then it is Christmas Eve. I did not even know what day it was," he added in a soft voice.

"That it is, and you might also want to attend the last night of the Posada," Juan offered, also translating his comment for the outlaw.

"Juan is right. Let us celebrate Navidad and then we can provision you for your homeward journey," proposed Zorro, with a smile. Juan translated for the outlaw. "Why not go and talk to your captain and we can meet later in the day."

"Spasibo vam," Dmitriy said softly, thanking Juan and Zorro. The sailors gathered their still unconscious comrades, loaded them on the wagon, and headed back to their ship.

Looking up at the sky, Juan commented, "It is near dawn, would you mind letting me ride with you? It is a long walk back to the pueblo."

"Where is your horse?" Zorro looked around in astonishment.

"He is obviously not here," Juan answered with a laugh. After mounting, Zorro reached down with his arm to let Juan swing on behind him. "What a glorious day this is," Juan commented brightly as they rode along.

 

 

 

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