Ramón: a Good Samaritan Story

 

 

 

 

Part Three

 

   

Bernardo was checking a little closer to home.  He made his way north to the way station one day's journey from Los Angeles, which was also about halfway between the pueblo and Santa Barbara.  There he tried to sign his query to the innkeeper as to whether anyone matching Don Diego's description had shown up in the last three weeks.  The innkeeper was irritable and didn't want to listen, but another man watched very closely, and motioned to Bernardo after he had finished.  "Señor," the man said. "Are you deaf as well as mute?"  Everyone here was a stranger, but this man seemed to have understood what he was saying.  The problem was that the man wasn’t adept at signing.  On the chance that he knew Don Diego's whereabouts, the manservant decided to try another ruse.

Bernardo signed that he was learning to read lips and indicated that the man could also talk to him and he would stop him if he didn't understand something.  "Señor, I am Doctor Bartona, from Santa Barbara.  I could not help but be interested when you were signing about the missing man.  Your patrón, maybe?"  Bernardo nodded and motioned for him to continue.

"A little more than three weeks ago, a man was brought to me.  He had been savagely beaten, robbed of everything he had and left by the road to die. For several days he lay unconscious.  When he woke up he was unable to understand what was being said, nor could he speak.  He recovered remarkably well in the next several days, but he was still unable to communicate, and I had no idea who he was," the doctor explained. 

Bernardo signed for him to describe the man for him. 

The doctor did so, and realized from the stricken look on the deaf-mute's face that it was his patrón being described.  "Señor, I believe that your patrón can fully recover, given time.  He could not be staying with better people than the de Cordoba's.  Would you like me to draw you a map to their hacienda?" he asked.  “It is not too far from here.”  Bernardo nodded, as he signed his gratitude. 

Early the next morning, Bernardo set out toward Santa Barbara.  Anxious, he wondered how much Don Diego would have recovered from his injuries in the two and a half weeks since the doctor had last seen him.  He also mused at the bad luck that had put his master in such a position.  Such things as that were not uncommon, but it happened to the other person, not to someone you cared about.

 

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Several days after his excursion as Zorro, Diego and Hernando went out with the vaqueros, herding the last of the branded horses into the hills.  Diego now felt ready to return home.  In the past few days, much to his delight, he had regained full understanding of the spoken word, and expressing his thoughts had become much easier also.  What gave him even more pleasure was the absence of any headaches.

Riding well ahead of the vaqueros, Diego turned to his companion.  "Hernando, tomorrow I must return home.  I can stay no longer, but I have need of a horse.  Do you think I can borrow one from your father?"  Seeing Hernando's stricken look, he said softly,  "Hernando, I have a family also.  Your family has been very good to me and I am grateful, but I must go.  I have duties, as you know."

Hernando nodded.  "I know, Ramón, and I am so glad that you have recovered.  It is just that I am going to miss you."

"I will miss you also, as well as your family," Diego said.  "Shall we return to your hacienda and talk to your father about the loan of a horse?"

 

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The same gang of bandits that robbed rich hacendados after the auctions decided to do the same at their haciendas.  The thieves had lately been targeting ranchos about one day's journey from Santa Barbara and riding in when most of the hired hands were out on the rangelands.  Usually they came in quickly, took what they wanted just as quickly, and were gone within an hour.  Those who cooperated were usually only left with a few bruises. 

It was during the lunch hour that the bandits decided to raid the de Cordoba rancho.  When a thundering of horses' hooves came to their ears, the family thought the vaqueros had returned early, but were shocked to see a dozen armed and masked men burst through the gate. Doña Loreeta noted with gratitude that the children had been eating in the room next to the kitchen.  Hopefully, the bandits wouldn't even know of their presence.

"Do not try to do anything foolish.  We will take what we want and leave as quickly as we came, Señora and Señor," the bandit growled at the couple.  Miguel seethed as the highwaymen went through the house, putting anything of value into cloth sacks.  They also found the pesos that he had received from the sale of the cowhides and tallow as well. 

It was at that moment that Diego and Hernando came in from the ranges.  Diego saw the horses outside the gate and the one man guarding them, and another burst of memory went off like a pistol shot in his mind.  Swinging his horse in Hernando's path, he turned to the boy.  "Those are the bandits who beat me.  Get the vaqueros, quickly."  Hernando gaped at him.  "Hernando, go now, NOW!"  Hernando complied and raced back to the range. 

Diego took a more circuitous route to the back of the hacienda.  He felt it was fortunate that the guard had not seen them as they approached.  Climbing over the wall, he stealthily made his way to Hernando's room and changed into the makeshift costume.  Quietly, he went out the window and then into the library where he had seen sabers hanging on the wall along with two pistols, which hung over the fireplace.  Amazingly, on the mantel was also a whip.   It seemed that Don Miguel was a bit of a fighter when he was younger, Zorro thought with a smile. The pistols went into his waistband, the whip over his shoulder, and the sword in its sheath was belted around his waist. 

Looking out the window that opened onto the patio he saw the bandits perusing the items they had stolen, and berating Dona Loreeta and Don Miguel over their lack of the finer things in life.   One of the bandits began harassing the Señora.  Zorro was alarmed when he saw Miguel starting to get up.  Aiming the pistols out the window, Zorro fired.  The bandit who was bothering Dona Loreeta fell to the ground, writhing with a gunshot wound in his shoulder.  Another soon followed with a gunshot wound to the leg, and Zorro quickly discarded both weapons.

A bandit came in from the sala and seeing him, drew his pistol.  The whip snaked out and caught his opponent around the wrist, causing the weapon to slide across the floor.  The whip whistled again and wrapped around the man's ankles, dumping him.  The bandit's head hit a cabinet and he went limp.   Three down, Zorro thought wryly.  It always paid to keep count when the odds were that much against you.

Peering out of the window again, the outlaw saw several robbers come into the hacienda to investigate.  They raced to the library, where they found only their unconscious compatriot and an open door, through which Zorro had vanished.  The first bandit who ventured in got the hilt of Zorro's sword against the back of his head.  The rest backed out.  Four down, Zorro thought, laughing out loud.   A small window offered a quick exit and he slipped out.

Reconnoitering, he realized that he needed to do something that would disconcert the bandits and make it easier for Don Miguel to get his wife to safety.  Using his whip as a rope, he climbed to a second story balcony and from there to the roof, where he nimbly ran across the red clay tiles to the front of the hacienda.  Lying on his stomach and peering over the edge, Zorro smiled in satisfaction when he saw a hanging planter swinging just below him and a bandit standing just below the flowerpot.   Pulling it off of its hook, he aimed for a few seconds before letting it drop.

Zorro noticed Doña Loreeta staring at him, and he smiled at her as he released the planter.  Before the pottery hit its target, the masked man was already running across the roof.  He untied the cloak, which was fast becoming a hindrance, being heavier than his own cape.  It floated slightly on the breeze as the bandits noticed him and started shooting.  The first two shots hit the cloak as it fell from the roof.  The rest whizzed above his head.

Bent over, Zorro raced just under the peak of the roof, pausing only slightly to pull tiles up and toss them onto the flagstones, where they exploded with resounding crashes, showering anyone nearby with dust and bits of clay.  The bandits were unable to reload, dodging the strange shaped missiles.  Straightening up only slightly, he motioned to Don Miguel to get his wife to safety.  The hacendado was quick to comply and the pair ducked into the sala.  

Suddenly, he heard the quick, piercing cry of a child.  “Ferdinand!” Zorro cried, recognizing the boy's voice.  Racing back over the roof, he leaped to the balcony and then to the ground, climbing into the window of the room the children used for meals. There directly in front of him, he saw two bandits.  The nearest one was hanging on to Ferdinand with an iron grip, and swinging his other arm to strike the child.  The other was standing in the doorway of the little room.  Incensed, Zorro grabbed the man’s arm, and then laid him out cold with a blow from his fist that snapped the bandit’s head back. 

Immediately unsheathing his blade, the masked man engaged the other bandit, who was rushing toward him with his own sword drawn.  This bandit had only minimal skill, but Zorro had to be careful with the children almost underfoot in the little room. Nevertheless, in only a few short minutes, the man was disarmed with a quick flick of Zorro’s sword and backed up against the wall, the point of the blade resting at the base of his throat.   "You fight children, Señor?" he asked the robber, whose eyes rolled in terror. “How very brave of you!” Without turning his head away from his prisoner, the outlaw addressed the girl, "Lucinda, find something with which to bind him."  The girl complied and they quickly had the man tied up.  Jorge could only stare wide-eyed at the black clad figure.

"Stay here.  Shut the window and lock it," he admonished the children in short staccato sentences.  "And lock the door when I am gone.  Let no one in except your mother or father." Zorro dragged the two men out, and the children followed his instructions, locking the door behind him.  Leaving the prisoners in the hallway, he stealthily worked his way back to the patio area.  Peering through a crack in the door, Zorro saw that there were five men on the patio.  Deducing that most, if not all of the bandit gang was represented, he took a moment to consider his next move.  Hearing a slight noise behind him, Zorro swung around, his sword at ready.

"Señor Zorro," Miguel whispered.  The second sword from the mantel place was in his hand.  "Loreeta thought she heard Ferdinand cry out.  I must go and check.”

“The children are safe, Señor de Cordoba.  They have locked themselves in a side room.”

Visibly relieved, Don Miguel said,  “Thank you, Señor Zorro.  The odds are much better now, thanks to you.  Shall we take them now?" he asked with a wolfish grin on his face. 

Zorro smiled broadly back at him and nodded.  The outlaw quietly pushed the door open, and then both men burst out, shouting, startling the remaining robbers.  Each man chose an opponent and they fought close to one another, almost back to back.  Zorro's adversary was joined by another and his blade flashed swiftly as he advanced on one man and then the other.  A quick riposte disarmed one of the bandits and a slash on the arm put the other one out of the fight. 

Miguel had similarly disarmed his opponent.  The two remaining bandits decided that retreat was their best option and were running toward the gate.  Zorro, picking up a stool, threw it underhanded and tripped up one of the men, who fell against the other. Miguel had been right behind Zorro and had his blade pointed at the prostrate men.  Opening the gate, the outlaw saw the bandit guard fleeing on his horse, right into the hands of the returning vaqueros.

Laughing heartily, he vaulted onto a horse and rode away, guiding the horse to the rear of the hacienda once he was out of sight of the vaqueros. 

 

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Climbing over the wall, Zorro dashed through the house, replaced the sword and whip, changed quickly and then ran outside of Hernando's room.  There he got into the position of one who had been overpowered and tied up.  Soon Miguel 'found' him as he inspected the house for hidden bandits.   

"Ramón!" Miguel exclaimed as helped him get the ropes off.  "Are you all right?"

"Sí, señor, but I am afraid that I was of little help.  I hope your wife and children are safe," Diego said.

"Sí, thanks to Zorro, who seemed to appear from nowhere."

"Zorro, here?" Diego feigned surprise.

"Yes, again he has helped our family.  He protected my oldest daughter just before her wedding in Los Angeles.  Now I have four more reasons to be grateful," Miguel said.

By the time he reached the patio, all of the bandits were bound and awaiting a trip to the Presidio of Santa Barbara.  Miguel sent servants for a wagon to transport the outlaws.  Diego saw that Hernando had discreetly hidden the cloak behind a planter and he smiled his thanks to the young man.  However, he thought in amusement, that it might be interesting for Hernando, having to sew up at least two holes in his father’s cloak.

A sudden thought came to Diego and he walked over to where the leader of the bandits lay bound.  "Señor, do you remember me?" 

The bandit looked up at him and then his eyes widened in the shock of recognition.  "In Santa Barbara," he hissed.  "You are alive."

"Sí, no help from you." Diego glared at him.   Work, tongue, he told himself.   "Where is the money you stole from me?"  The man clamped his lips together.  Diego just laughed at him.  "I find that bandits, when caught, do not all keep quiet.  The comandante will find out."

The next morning, Diego and Hernando walked to the corral, where Diego whistled for the horse that he had spent so much time training.  It came promptly, and Hernando, suddenly realized the implication of the fact that the gelding was a deep, dark brown, almost black in color.  The color and its disposition had apparently drawn Ramón to it the very first night after his arrival.  Finding an old, but serviceable saddle and bridle, Diego prepared the horse for his journey home.  Returning to the hacienda, he found the rest of the family waiting.

"Doña Loreeta, Don Miguel, you have been my good Samaritans.  You have cared for me when you had no idea who I was.  I am grateful."  Further words suddenly escaped him and he could say no more. 

Loreeta recognized his discomfiture.  "Ramón, did I not tell you it would come?  And I was right.  I am so happy for you, even though we will miss you terribly.   You know the gratitude in my heart for saving Lucinda.  You are welcome here any time."

The children were less sedate in their good-byes.  Miguel finally had to peel his two youngest sons from Diego's legs.  Hernando had received permission to ride a short distance with him. As they rode, Hernando turned to him.  "Ramón, I know I have told you this, but I want to reassure you that I will never divulge your secret."

"I know, Hernando," Diego said quietly.  "And I know that someday you will accomplish great things.  Much more than a masked swordsman could.  Keep working for it, Hernando.  Work hard, study hard."

"Come back and visit me again, Ramón, under better circumstances, hopefully," Hernando said with a smile.  Diego laughed as he urged his horse into a canter and rode toward the King's Highway.

 

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As the sun reached its zenith, Diego squinting, was surprised to see Bernardo approaching.  "Bernardo!"  Diego shouted.  Exchanging exuberant greetings, Bernardo signed an inquiry as to Don Diego's head injury.  "How did you know?" Diego asked, surprised.  Bernardo explained his meeting with the doctor and kept making sidelong glances at his patrón, delighted in his recovery. Even though they kept the pace easy, the pair arrived at the way station well before nightfall.

Diego ordered a room for them, where they rested during the heat of the afternoon.  Later, as the pair sat down to enjoy a quiet supper, the stage rolled in.  "So much for a quiet meal, Bernardo," Diego quipped, but his jaw dropped when his father walked in the door.  "Father!" he exclaimed, and suddenly he found himself at a temporary loss for words.

"Diego, my son, what happened to you?  I have been worried sick and when I went to Santa Barbara, I could find out nothing," Alejandro told him.

Silently admonishing his brain and tongue to work together, Diego explained briefly what happened to him.  Finally he said,  "I am very fortunate, Father.  I had very good people caring for me."

"Sí, the Saints be praised," Alejandro said fervently, grateful for the return of his son.

 

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Several weeks later, Diego and Bernardo rode into the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Sergeant Garcia, having seen his friend's arrival, crossed the plaza to meet the caballero.  "Don Diego, how are you today?" 

"Muy bien, Sergeant," Diego answered.  "Have you seen the horses that were brought in from San Pedro yet?"

"Sí, Don Diego, they are fine horses, enough to increase the value of any man's stock. Are you planning on buying any?"  Garcia queried.

"Sí, since I was unable to in Santa Barbara.  I have also finally received the money stolen from me," Diego answered, brightly.

Across the plaza, a boy was waiting for his father to finish haggling over the price of the saddle he was purchasing for him.   Hernando had been excited about his father's present, bought from the best saddle shop in southern California.  Now he was even more excited about seeing his friend, Ramón again.  No, Don Diego, he told himself.   He had known all along that Ramón was a caballero, and it seems he was a hacendado as well, like Hernando's father. 

Smiling broadly, the boy started out of the shop and then stopped.  Ramón had refused to reveal his name to him for a very good reason.  It was a dangerous business, being a hacendado and Zorro at the same time.  Hernando would honor Diego’s decision.  He watched his friend stride over to the holding corral for the new horses, and then the boy turned and walked back in the shop where his father was waiting.

 

 

 

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