Juan's Christmas Gift
Chapter Five - Urn of Fate
Capt. Petrov was still a bit suspicious, he nevertheless relented, because it
was a holy day, and he allowed whichever of his men wanted to go ashore to do
so. In the early afternoon, the captain was surprised to see several wagons pull
up on the beach loaded with provisions.
Rozhdjestvom Khristovim, (Merry Christmas)," Juan shouted from the lead
wagon. When the goods were rowed out to the ‘Emperor’s Jewel,’ he informed
Capt. Petrov that several hacendados from the Los Angeles area had
gathered the goods and would have felt remiss if they didn't help their friends
tebje," Petrov murmured, overwhelmed by the generosity of the local
people. He, along with most of the sailors, decided to go and observe the Navidad
observances after the provisions had been stored below decks.
zah chto," answered Juan brightly. "It is nothing among
friends," he explained.
Bernardo," Diego said quietly from the back of the crowd observing the last
Posada procession. "It would seem that Navidad has not only
softened our dour Administrado, but it has made the Russians and Californios
friends, at least for the season." Bernardo nodded his agreement.
evening progressed, Juan again was in demand as a storyteller, and again he
mesmerized everyone with his vivid accounts. "It is an enviable talent to
be able to tell a story so well," he murmured to his mozo. Bernardo
pointed out in sign that part of the time, Juan was telling the stories in
Russian. Diego nodded. He had vaguely noticed that, too, but decided that the
change in language didn't diminish the impact of the stories at all. Probably
because they were so familiar, he thought.
As the fiesta
progressed into the morning hours, the groups gravitated to the church, where
Father Miguel held mass to celebrate the glorious birth. Afterwards, the sailors
were invited to many different homes for dinner. Diego invited three home with
him. "S Rozhdjestvom Khristovim," one of them held up his glass
in a toast at the dinner table. Alejandro didn't know what was said, but Diego
had picked up enough during the day to know the meaning of the phrase. They all
raised their glasses to toast the holiday and the feelings of good will that it
brought with it. Then Alejandro saluted his homeland. The Russians joined in,
next responding with another toast of their own.
amusement, Diego watched them come up with toast after toast, and he began
sipping tiny swallows of his wine to avoid becoming drunk. Alejandro finally put
his hand up and motioned for them to stop. Laughing, the Russian sailors
understood and drained their glasses without any more toasting.
afternoon was spent quietly with friendly chess matches and music, which each
party provided to the other. In the late afternoon the group returned to the pueblo,
where a huge urn had been placed in the center of the plaza. "Ah,
Don Diego, are you going to participate this year?" Sgt. Garcia asked him
in his booming voice.
course, Sergeant," Diego answered. Garcia had not been a sergeant long when
he had drawn Diego's name from the Urn of Fate. It had been the year before
young de la Vega had sailed off to Spain. Garcia had considered Diego his close
friend since that time. Diego penned his name on a slip of paper and dropped it
in the urn. Bernardo followed suit, as did most of the spectators in the crowd.
the oldest members of the community who are participating come to see who their
new year long friends will be?" Father Miguel invited. People started to
line up in order to select a name from the urn.
sailor tugged on Diego's sleeve to get his attention. In sign, the Russian
explained that the weather was changing and they must go back to their ship.
They would need some servants to come with them to return the wagons to the pueblo.
Diego nodded and found a few volunteers. As the Russian sailors climbed into
their borrowed transportation, several turned back and waved to their newfound
friends. "Do svidahnija," they called out.
svidahnija" Diego answered. "Vaya con Dios," he added
as the wagons rattled out of the plaza. The caballero looked skyward and
noticed the thickening clouds. It would not be unwelcome to receive rain, the
area needed it; the last months had been drier than usual.
brought his attention back to the matter at hand with a tap on his arm, and
Diego strode forward to pull a slip of paper from the urn. The manservant
followed soon afterward. In amusement, Diego recalled how the Californios
had altered this custom. Whereas in Spain, someone pulled two slips of paper out
of the urn for each pair, in Los Angeles the individual pulled a slip out, the
belief being that a person would have two good friends for the coming year
instead of just one.
Diego had pulled the name of an eligible and lovely señorita, and a
different, but equally lovely and eligible señorita had pulled his name
from the urn. It had taken a few months before both young ladies had given up in
disgust. The caballero had almost sworn to give up the custom, because
the two young señoritas had begun interfering with his clandestine
activities, causing him some awkward moments.
opened his slip of paper and looked at it, he was surprised, but still pleased
to see Bernardo's name on the paper. Bernardo opened his paper and was startled
to see Diego's name.
looking over their shoulders, boomed, "Too bad, Don Diego, no senoritas
this year, but tell me the odds of something like that happening; both of you
drawing each other's names. Oh, well, that is the luck, everyone knows that the
servant and the master cannot be friends."
walked to the urn to pull a piece of paper. "By the Saints," he cried
a moment later. "Señorita Agnes Morales!" The sergeant looked
very pleased, because while the señorita was not beautiful, nor was she
very young, she was from a fairly wealthy family. Looking to one side of the
crowd, Diego noticed that the señorita in question did not look so
pleased. He laughed softly.
Diego, do you believe that the servant and the master cannot be friends?"
Juan asked softly. Diego jumped slightly, he had been unaware of the man’s
steadily at the shorter man, he answered, "No, Juan, in this case
especially, the master and servant can be very close friends. But from the look
in your eyes, I think you already know that," Diego said thoughtfully,
surprised at his own candor. He and Bernardo had been very careful to keep up
the pretenses of their positions, and both men were well aware of their
respective ranks in the order of things. But both were also conscious of the
deep friendship that had grown from the time they had met and most especially
from the moment that Diego had donned the mask of the Fox.
and a good master also serves," Juan added thoughtfully. A sprinkling of
rain ended speculations of friendships in the plaza for the moment and
most of the crowd began heading for their respective homes. Sgt. Garcia was
loudly asking his new friend if she wanted a bit of refreshment in the tavern
before leaving for her hacienda. The flustered lady apologized
half-heartedly and entering her carriage left the pueblo in haste. Diego bid
goodbye to his friends, and he and Bernardo mounted and headed for the hacienda.
By the time they had arrived the light misting had developed into a full and
Christmas, the people had been praying for rain. Now after a week of steady,
heavy downpours, people were now beginning to pray for it to cease. Alejandro
looked out of the sala window and gazed at the wet flagstones of the patio.
"You know, Diego, if this keeps up, we will have to build an ark to get
around by Dia de Los Reyes," he quipped.
Father, and I heard that one of the more remote missions was in danger from the
mud slides. A messenger came into the pueblo yesterday and told Sgt.
Garcia that lancers might be needed to help move the orphans and priests to the pueblo
until this wet season ended," Diego explained. As if on cue, a lancer came
through the gate and approached the house. Bernardo opened the door to let the
bedraggled soldier in.
Cpl. Reyes announced as he dripped great amounts of water on the floor near the
doorway. "We need the use of any wagons and drivers you can spare. We have
received word that the missions nearer the mountains must be evacuated. Many of
the orphans are in danger and have to be brought nearer the pueblo."
have two wagons sturdy enough for that purpose, corporal. We will have them and
drivers ready within the hour. Should they begin heading to the Mission San
Gabriel?" Alejandro asked.
Don Alejandro." Reyes looked down at the wet floor in embarrassment.
"I must go to the other haciendas." As soon as Corporal Reyes
left, Diego galvanized the servants in preparing the wagons. Bernardo insisted
in going with one of them.
careful, my friend, the roads can be dangerous. I will get some of the vaqueros
together and follow shortly," Diego said. Bernardo signed that he would
bring a wagon of orphans directly to the de la Vega hacienda by the
shortest possible route. Diego nodded absently, thinking of what needed to be
He and his
father instructed the servants to prepare for their guests. Then, after he had
gathered the vaqueros and given them their instructions, he thought about
Bernardo's comments and went to see his father, who was in the library.
"Father, is there not a road between here and San Gabriel that you have
mentioned always washes out when we have rains like this?"
Diego, the one that goes from the Mountain of the Black Bears and near the pass
just east of the boundary of our property. Why do you ask?" Alejandro
asked, seeing the look of concern on his son's face.
blanched. "That is where Bernardo said he was going to take a wagon load of
children. He was going to bring them directly here by the shortest route. I must
ride quickly and head him off. I have a bad feeling about this, Father, I should
have paid more attention."
my son, they would have warned him at the mission."
going, nonetheless, and by the fastest means. Tornado." Diego was out of
the room almost before the words had left his lips.
Soon he and the great black stallion were galloping up the road, Tornado's sure feet keeping a firm purchase on the wet, slick surface. Zorro watched the road ahead, thankful that his hat kept the worst of the rain out of his eyes. The cape was left at home to avoid the added weight the rainwater would give it. Even as he cantered through the pass, Zorro heard the distant thundering of displaced mud and rocks, but he couldn't push the horse any faster. The way was becoming more slippery as they ascended ever higher toward the Mountain of the Black Bears.
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