Peace on Earth

 

 

Part Three

 

 

“I want to thank you… Señor Zorro, is it?” she said.

Zorro bowed.  “You are entirely welcome.  Now we must go to the hacienda of your new benefactor,” he said, grimacing at the burning sensation in his arm.  Not all bullets missed, he thought wryly.  He felt the warm sticky flow of his blood trickling down his arm.  The woman looked puzzled, but following his lead, nodded and began gathering up their few meager belongings.  Zorro whistled and was rewarded with the thundering hoof beats that heralded the approach of Tornado.   The three Americanos gazed in wonder at the coal black stallion that pranced in front of them.

“Jeremy, go and get three horses from the picket,” Zorro instructed.  The boy scampered off to do his bidding and soon appeared leading what looked to be three draft horses. 

As the masked man scrutinized the animals, Jeremy explained, “These are our own horses.  They were three of the team that brought us to California.  We will not be accused of being horse thieves.” 

Zorro nodded, sheathed his sword, and then helped the children mount their horses.  As he helped Jeremy’s mother onto her horse, their eyes met and he felt a thrill he had not experienced in a great many years.  He felt drawn to her.  Her auburn hair lay in disheveled layers around her face, almost like a halo.  Her blue eyes held great courage and strength.  Her face was dirty, her hands calloused and coated with the grime of the trail, but there was great dignity in her demeanor that no amount of trail dust could diminish.  Zorro had to resist the temptation to wipe a spot of charcoal from her cheek. 

Her gaze, on the other hand, was one of intense scrutiny, as though she was trying to figure him out, as though she were trying to guess who he was and why he was doing this for them. 

When they had all mounted, they turned to the north, leaving the moaning soldiers lying on the ground to take care of themselves.  Zorro had already determined that all of them would be able to make it to a local hacienda without too much difficulty.  

For several miles they rode in silence.  Then the woman stopped her horse, calling out to him.  Zorro halted Tornado and gazed at her.  “I will go no further until I find out two things,” she said, her face a study in resolute dignity.

“And those are?” Zorro asked. 

“I want to find out about this other benefactor you mentioned.  And I also want to find out the extent of your injury,” she stated, motioning for him to dismount.

“Let us get further away from the main road, señora, and then I will comply,” he answered, feeling the blood continuing to soak his sleeve, and knowing that she was right.   In a hidden arroyo, they dismounted and Zorro watched as the American woman dug into saddlebags for various supplies.   He judged her to be in her early thirties or late twenties.

“Why do you go masked, Señor Zorro?” she asked a bit later while she worked on his arm.  The two boys stood close behind her, watching every move their mother made.

“It became necessary to hide my true… aah!” he cried out as she prodded the wound to see the extent of the damage.  “…identity to fight a corrupt comandante,” he continued.  “Justice was best served by disguise.”

“And you have been doing it ever since,” she said evenly, continuing to work.  After a few minutes, she added, “You are very fortunate, señor, the bullet caused some damage to the flesh, but it went all the way through and managed to miss the bone.  Somehow it managed to miss you as well.”   She pointed to the exit hole on the inside of his sleeve, and then felt the skin under his shirt to make sure there had been no further injury. 

Her proximity exhilarated him.  The touch of her fingers exhilarated him.  Clamping down on his emotions, Zorro said nothing for a moment.   He continued to watch her hands at work.  “There is always injustice, it would seem.  But I do not ride as often as I once did.”

“If this is any indication, it is a good thing,” she responded evenly, but with a slight smile on her lips.

Zorro began to chuckle softly and then to laugh.  “I suppose you are right, Señora….”  He paused, not knowing her name.  “I am sorry, but Jeremy told me no more than his and his brother’s names.”  For some reason, the continued touch of her fingers as she bandaged his arm seemed to make him feel light-hearted, joyful, and slightly excited.  How could someone he barely knew make him feel like a giddy college boy, he asked himself, bewildered. 

“I am Sarah Hamilton.  And you?” she asked, mischievously.

“No fair, señora.  I have kept this secret for twenty years, I will keep it for a while longer.”

Sarah laughed with him as they remounted.  “And this mysterious benefactor?”

“Simply an honest and just dealing hacendado who will keep you safe until you can figure out what you want to do next.  Diego de la Vega owns a rancho near Los Angeles,” he explained. 

“You can speak for him?  And what about Señora de la Vega?”  Her face darkened into a frown.

Sensing her anxiety, Zorro spoke quickly to ease her fears.  “I believe I have learned the character of those living in Los Angeles well by now.  And there is no Señora de la Vega.”  Señora Hamilton finished and they remounted and continued toward Los Angeles.

The children plied him with questions before they, too, fell quiet and everyone rode along in silence.  The afternoon sun was almost resting on the backs of the western hills before they stopped at a small lake and rested.  “It is a fairly short distance to the de la Vega hacienda, but the boys looked tired and I thought it best to let everyone refresh themselves,” Zorro said.  Not only did they look tired, but he knew that they were hungry as well.  The boys had long since eaten the meager trail rations that had been brought with them from the camp.

“Gracias,” Sarah said, with a grateful sigh.  She had been trying to use some Spanish words during the ride and Zorro had accommodated her by naming things as they rode.   While the boys splashed at the edge of the pond, the adults watched.  “It seems so strange, but I have been so afraid and angry since I lost James.  It is so lonely being in a place where there are no kinfolk, no friends and where you can’t even speak or understand the language.  But I have felt safe with you, Señor Zorro.  So protected.  I will miss you when we reach this hacienda.  I don’t want to be afraid again.”

“You need not fear.  Don Diego will keep you safe and I will always be near to help, if you need me,” Zorro answered softly. 

“You must come to see me, so I can take care of your wound,” she said and then looked puzzled, as though not understanding something.

“I promise,” Zorro promptly said, happy at the prospects of a private meeting with this spirited woman.  

She looked up into his hazel eyes and then turned away again, walking over to the horses and calling the boys.  Reluctantly, Jeremy and Henry trudged toward their mother.  Zorro understood their reluctance even while knowing it was not for the same reason as his own. 

A few hours after dark, they rode to the front gate of the casa grande.  Zorro truly could not say that he had ever seen anything that looked so good in his life.  The stamina that he had when he was twenty-three was somewhat diminished at forty-three.  Two days and a night of constant riding, coupled with several months of comparative inactivity had taken their toll.  He was exhausted.   “Hola, de la Vega hacienda!” he called out. 

There was a pattering of feet, exclamations of surprise, and then the creaking of the gate.  One of the house servants, Juan, stared at him, open-mouthed.  “Señor Zorro!  We thought that you were…”

“Dead?  It seems to be a common misconception.  This is the Lady Sarah Hamilton and her children.  Don Diego is their benefactor until they decide where they want to go.  They have been cruelly mistreated by soldiers who were supposed to be escorting them.  Please see that they are given a hot dinner and comfortable beds.”

“Sí, Señor Zorro, but Don Diego has not returned home from the pueblo yet,” Juan said, holding his lantern up to more closely examine the late night arrivals. 

“No matter, you just do as I have requested.  I will find and inform Don Diego of his guests,” he replied as he wheeled Tornado around.  Turning to Sarah, he added, “Juan will take care of you.  And Don Diego will most likely be here when you awaken in the morning.  Adios, Señora Hamilton.” 

Putting his heels to Tornado’s side, he galloped over the hill, riding the perimeter of the de la Vega lands.  It was in his mind to make sure that no one had followed the little family.  He wasn’t sure why.  Surely no one in either San Diego or San Fernando cared what happened to the Americanos, and he didn’t feel that the soldiers would have the stomach to look for the woman and her children, even if they hadn’t been injured.   But he felt a compulsion to make sure that nothing and no one would upset the little family’s newfound peace and safety.

After some time, he felt reassured and returned to the cave.  It was empty, as he thought it would be.  Pulling out his clothing from the saddlebag, he changed, and then slowly remounted.  After spending all that time in a compact mass, his clothing looked disheveled enough to appear that he had spent time drinking a bit of wine and riding in the hills. 

A few hours before dawn, he rode to the stables.  A sleepy stable boy came out from the tack room, stretching and yawning.  “Don Diego, you have returned!  I will take your horse.”

“Gracias, Paco.  Just take off his saddle and bridle and let him go into the pasture,” Diego told him.  The boy’s yawning was infectious.  Turning, he made his way to his room, changed yet again, this time to his bedclothes, and, with a sigh, lay down on his bed.  After awhile, Diego realized that while he was physically drained, he was no longer sleepy.   Remembrances of the past two days began parading in his mind and he lay watching the fire, pondering their meaning.  His arm throbbed, making him a bit restless, and he got up and paced his room.   It was just as the sun was peeking over the eastern hills before his mind gave him rest and Diego finally fell asleep.

The soft sounds of someone entering his room woke him several hours later.  Opening his eyes, he gazed into the dark eyes of Isadora.  She was staring at him, concern easily discernable on her face.  “Oh, Don Diego, you are awake.  I was beginning to worry about you.   I have some corn porridge for you,” she bantered, her joy making her words exit her mouth faster and faster, until the words, ‘cornporridgeforyou’ merged into one unbroken word. 

Diego smiled indulgently.  “Gracias, Isadora,” he said, sitting up and accepting the bowl that she handed him.   She stood quietly as he ate.  “What time is it?” he finally asked.

“It’s late morning, about ten o’clock, I believe.  You are supposed to meet with Don Lorenzo at the noon hour.”

Diego thought, remembered and almost choked on his breakfast.  “Don Lorenzo?”

“Sí, patrón.  Are you feeling better now?”

“Sí.  I am,” he lied, wiping up the last of the porridge with a tortilla.  His head felt as though a Posada procession had walked through it, his arm still throbbed, and he still felt the numbness of the exhausted. 

“Would you like some more porridge?” 

In chagrin, Diego realized that he had wolfed his food down in a most ungentlemanly manner.  But he had been hungry.  It had been over a day since he had eaten.  His stomach insisted on answering yes, but he shook his head no.  It was his duty to get ready and meet Don Lorenzo.    “Thank you, Isadora.”   When the girl had left the room, he slowly, stiffly got up and began cleaning up and dressing for his meeting.

 

                              ____________________________

 

Sarah watched the sun settle on the hills.  The day had been pleasant and restful.   She had been shown a room the night before after a hastily prepared but delicious meal.  The servants showed the boys a room as well, but both had insisted that they would sleep with their mother.  She didn’t argue with them.   This was a strange house and they had been through much. 

Late in the morning, smiling servants brought bowls of corn mush to their bedrooms for breakfast.  Smiling in return she began asking them questions.  “Where is your master?”

The two servants looked at one another and shook their heads.  They apparently didn’t understand English.  Sarah tried again, this time in the little bit of Spanish that she knew, “Don Diego de la Vega?  Where is he?” 

“Don Diego!”  And then came a rattled string of sentences that didn’t make sense.  A few signs followed and Sarah took them to mean that the master of the house was not home.  This was an interesting household, she thought wryly.  This de la Vega was not at home late last night and was not home now.  Did he not live in his own home? 

“Mama, what are we going to do here?” Henry asked.  He was sitting on the bed staring at the two servants.  Jeremy just sat quietly.

“I don’t know, my dear.  I suppose we will eat the breakfast, clean up and wait for Don Diego to come back.”

“What if he doesn’t want us here either?   What will we do then?” Henry asked plaintively.  The tenor of his voice bit into her heart and made her breath catch in her throat.  

“Henry, Señor Zorro assured us that Don Diego would allow us to stay.   Don’t you worry yourself about that,” she told him soothingly.   He looked visibly relieved and with outstretched hands, took the warm bowl of food offered him.  “Graciás,” she said to the servants as they headed toward the door.  The young girl nodded and smiled, making signs to show that she would be back later. 

“Who is this Zorro, Mama?” Jeremy asked when they were alone again.

“Our protector.  Our one true friend in all this strange land,” she said vehemently.

Later in the day, when they had taken baths, had dressed in clean clothes and had been shown around the hacienda, Sarah marveled that there was so much house and so few occupants.  There were only a few house servants.  A young woman named Isadora seemed to be in charge of the other two, and she had taken it upon herself to make sure they had everything that they needed.  Lunch had come and gone and there was still no sign of the enigmatic Don Diego. 

A vaquero came into the sala where she and the boys were sitting.  Bowing, he asked in very broken English, if they wanted to go for a ride on the de la Vega lands.  “Mama, may we?” Jeremy asked, hope rising from his boredom.  Looking toward Henry, she saw that he, too, wanted to go out.  She nodded and he beckoned for them to follow him. 

Several hours later, Sarah marveled anew at the beauty and expanse of the land owned by just one family, or rather one man.  She had seen hillsides of grapevines sitting dormant until spring, pastures and hills filled with cattle and horses, and woodlands, arroyos and grassy knolls with nothing more than native plant and animal life.  They had picnicked by a small pond and she had laughed at the antics of the boys playing and splashing near the shore.   But she wished that Zorro could be here as he was the day before at the other pond.

“Good boys,” the vaquero had said to her in his limited English, and then turned to Isadora, who had come along, apparently as a chaperone of some sort, and said something.  The girl nodded and pointed toward Jeremy, making signs to show that he would grow tall someday.  Smiling, Sarah nodded in agreement.  The congenial atmosphere almost made her forget that she had still not met the elusive Don Diego.  She then thought of the bandit, Zorro, and wondered what he was doing at the moment.  She worried about his wound.

 

 

Chapter Four                   
Chapter One
Holiday Zorro Stories
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