Zorro and Bernardo rode clear of the beach and
then turned inland, toward the de la Vega hacienda. In a secluded arroyo, the mozo stopped his master.
‘Something for you to change into,’ he signed, pulling out
clothing he had packed in his saddlebag.
They appeared to be for one of the de la Vega vaqueros.
“By all the saints, what possessed you to bring
along these?” Zorro asked, taking the nondescript, but serviceable
‘Something that I thought might be needed,’
Bernardo signed in reply. ‘Oresta
had just washed and hung them up to dry and I did not know if we would
have to follow the bandits into the day….’
He stopped when he saw Zorro looking at him with a wry smile on his
face. ‘Will they do?’ he added.
“Will they do?” Zorro repeated. “Of course they will do!
I was thinking I might have to wait until dark to return to the
cave.” He laughed and
clapped Bernardo on the shoulder before dismounting.
“As before, it is not terribly healthy to be seen as Zorro these
days. You have thought of
everything, my friend.”
Bernardo returned the grin and then signed that he would scout the area to make sure that no one was in the vicinity. Zorro nodded and began changing.
Soon the two men were riding through the hills to the de la Vega lands. Don Diego said nothing and Bernardo knew his master was musing over the experience of the night before. He imagined that the feelings of utter helplessness weighed greatly on the young man’s mind.
Finally, as they neared the hacienda, Diego
rode into a heavily wooded thicket and stopped.
“Even though it is daylight, we will go in through the cave.
I suspect that Father will be there waiting.”
Bernardo nodded, realizing that as late as it was
in the afternoon, Don Alejandro would most likely be worried sick.
He had not liked Don Diego’s plan from the outset and this long
delay would not improve his temper at all.
As the men rode into the cave, they were indeed
met by Don Diego’s father. “By
the Saints, Diego, I have been beside myself with worry.
Are you all right?”
“Yes, Father, I am all right now,” Diego said,
dismounting. Bernardo led the
stallion to his stall and pulled off the saddle. “We had a bit of
trouble, but we are both safe.”
clapped his hand on his son’s shoulder and smiled, as much to reassure
himself as his son. “Diego,
you appear to have had quite an adventure.
I am only glad that you are back from it in one piece.
I was concerned about you. There
is something about all of this that does not seem right.”
It is as I thought. This
is more than just a plan to discredit Zorro,” Diego said with a nod. “I want to discuss this with you and see if all three of us
can make sense of it and decide the best way to resolve it.”
“Would you like to wait until you have rested,
Diego? You look exhausted.”
“No, Father. You deserve to know what happened and perhaps you will be able to help me figure out how to stop this man,” Diego said, sitting on a rock by the tiny pool. Bernardo got a stool for Don Alejandro to sit on and then he began brushing Tornado. While Diego knew he was free of the paralyzing effects of the curare, he nonetheless felt some lingering effects. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep. But he couldn’t sleep now. He had to try and figure all of this out. This bandit had to be stopped before he did anything else in his quest for revenge.
As they sat in the tranquility of the dimly lit cave, Diego, with Bernardo’s help told the story of the strange night to Don Alejandro, who sat silent during much of the narration, only occasionally asking questions.
During a silent interval, Diego sat watching his fingers curl and uncurl for several minutes, pondering pensively. He could not rid himself of the feelings of helplessness, despair and even fear that had gripped him during the previous night.
Placing his hand on his son's arm, Alejandro queried, "My son, are you all right? This seems to have affected you greatly."
Without looking up, Diego murmured, "Dante forgot one, Father."
Alejandro looked puzzled. "What?"
When he gazed up at his father, his eyes still had the slightly haunted look they contained when he and Bernardo rode in only an hour earlier. "Dante forgot one of the possible torments in Hell. I think I just experienced it," he said.
As he sat quietly for a few more minutes, a sudden thought crossed Diego's mind and he began to laugh. And he continued laughing, much to the dismay of Alejandro, who was wondering about the state of his son's mind. Finally the laughter died to a chuckle. "Father, I think I know how to catch this bandit.”
"How is that, Diego?" Alejandro asked.
“I am going to clean up and change into something more appropriate, and then Bernardo and I will go into the pueblo. I need to talk to Sergeant Garcia about a certain eight hundred peso deal.” Turning to the manservant, he said, “Bernardo, you will circulate around the plaza and the tavern, and when you see anyone from last night that you recognize, let me know. Between you and I, we should be able to recognize almost everyone from the imposter’s gang.” The haunted look had changed, and now his eyes had a dangerous gleam in them. “From here on out, everywhere this impostor goes and whoever he tries to rob or assault, I will be there."
"But you cannot ride as Zorro!" Alejandro exclaimed.
"In what other guise would Diego de la Vega be unrecognized?" Diego queried with a chuckle. He pulled out his mask and held it up to his face. "Now tell me, do I look like a hacendado or a vaquero with the mask on?" Bernardo signed that no one would guess who he was. "And once our impostor decides to come into the pueblo, then he will face the real Zorro." Diego smiled broadly at his father and Bernardo.
A short time later, the pair rode sedately into the Pueblo de Los Angeles. It was early evening and the inn was crowded. Diego signed for Bernardo to begin circulating around the plaza, while he talked with Sgt. Garcia. As he walked into the inn, the sergeant promptly and enthusiastically greeted him. "Don Diego," he boomed. "I have been wondering where you were. You know that scoundrel did not leave a note on the sign post this morning as he promised he would." Diego sat down at the table with Sgt. Garcia and Cpl. Reyes.
Diego feigned surprise. "I wonder why?" he murmured. He ordered a bottle of wine and three glasses. Garcia quaffed down a glassful and expressed his appreciation for the patrón’s hospitality.
Bernardo was gesturing from the doorway. "Excuse me, Sergeant. You and Corporal Reyes go ahead and finish the bottle. I remember an important errand my father asked me to do." Striding quickly out of the dining area, he followed Bernardo to the stable. There inside, getting his horse shod, was one of the six men from the imposter's gang.
"Keep an eye on him, I will be right back," Diego ordered in a low voice. Soon after the man finished his business in the pueblo, he left, followed discreetly by a disreputable looking vaquero, whose hat was pulled down, keeping the face in shadows. The bandit rode casually in the direction of the abandoned Breales hacienda. There, in a decrepit stable, the group of nine bandits met. Diego muttered under his breath when he saw his double putting on his mask, having missed seeing his identity by the barest of seconds. One of the gang members looked like someone he should remember, and it bothered him a bit, but he relegated the thought to the back of his mind.
"The hacienda of Don Bartolomae Juarez is the next one we'll rob. If we do nothing else, we will turn every caballero and peon against Señor Zorro. Last night was unfortunate. It would have been the perfect opportunity to get revenge on Zorro and get rid of him at the same time. But the opportunity for revenge will afford itself in the near future." The masked bandit called one of the other men to accompany him, and mounting, they rode for the Juarez hacienda. Diego followed unobserved at a distance.
The robbery was already in progress when Diego reached the hacienda. The impostor had the older hacendado backed up against the wall, his black-gloved fist slowly choking him as the fraudulent Zorro loudly proclaimed his intentions. A young servant girl cowered in the corner. The other bandito held a knife to Doña Briana’s throat demanding all of her jewelry. Doña Briana’s eyes held a fiery gleam, but one look toward her husband caused her to acquiesce to the demands.
So engrossed were the two bandits in their robbery that Diego was able to simply walk in through the open door. Both of the assailants’ backs were to him, he saw with satisfaction, and noting the doña’s and the servant’s eyes on him, he simply put his finger to his lips, and silently slid his sword out of its sheath. Walking up behind Doña Briana’s captor, he whispered softly, “You will release the lady, or you will not take another breath, Señor.” The knife swung away from the señora’s throat and toward Diego. A quick flick of his wrist and the bandit was suddenly gasping in pain and watching the blood drip from his slashed hand. The knife clattered into the corner.
So quiet had been Diego’s entrance, that the impostor stared at the knife for a few seconds before pivoting around to face him. “Who are you?” the dark clad man demanded.
"Señor Impostor, no more will you harm the innocent and rob and plunder just for revenge against me," Diego answered, laughing.
The impostor gazed intently at him, and then roughly pushing the old don aside, drew his sword and engaged his poorly dressed opponent. "So, you managed to make it through the night, señor. I hope you enjoyed the experience," the impostor laughed. Diego seethed at the reference to the nightmare of the previous night, but he was a good enough swordsman to not let anger influence his moves.
Easily parrying his opponent's thrust, he advanced and quickly scored a cut on the man's upper arm. He saw a scar just below his cut. Now he would have another, Diego thought wryly. Smiling broadly, he continued to control the contest, even though he noted that the man was a very, very good swordsman. Finally his opponent, realizing that he was being bested, threw a stool at Diego and ran out the door in flight. The wounded man was soon bound to await the arrival of lancers from the cuartel.
Diego turned to the couple. "I trust that you are unhurt?" he asked. They both nodded, expressing their gratitude.
“Who are you, Señor?” Don Bartholomae asked, his curiosity piqued by their disreputable looking rescuer.
In answer, Diego walked over to the mantel and
with his sword, carved a small 'Z' in the mantelpiece.
"My honor will not be maligned by an impostor who wears my
disguise," he told them as they gaped in astonishment.
Sheathing his sword, he smiled and was soon following his enemy
The next morning when the stage from Santa Barbara was five miles outside of Los Angeles, it was met by a lone soldier on a pitch-black horse. His hat was pulled down low, shadowing the upper part of his face, but the driver felt no concern.
"Señor, it is my understanding that Zorro plans to rob you of your payroll," the private stated. Before the driver could express his surprise at such a declaration, the lancer dismounted and continued, "I will ride with you to help prevent this from occurring." The driver just nodded.
As he entered the coach, the lancer made hand signs to his horse, which wheeled and galloped away from the King's Highway. The driver cracked his whip and the team sprang forward. Again the soldier kept his hat down as he greeted the passengers. Under the brim of the sombrero, he noted that his fellow passengers were a lovely señorita and her duena, and a middle-aged caballero. The señorita looked at him curiously. She could have sworn that she saw the hint of a mask on his face. "Private, are you from the Pueblo de Los Angeles?"
"Sí, Señorita. Under the command of Sgt. Garcia," he answered non-committally. "And you?"
"From San Diego," she said lightly. There was a musical lilt to her voice. "I am returning home, after visiting relatives in Monterey."
Shots interrupted the conversation and the stage halted in a flurry of dust. Glancing quickly out the window, the lancer counted four bandits, including the counterfeit Zorro, who kept looking up and down the highway as though expecting someone. The duena was moaning in fear, but the señorita sat quietly, only her eyes showing the intense anxiety she felt. The caballero started to draw his pistol, but was stopped with a hand signal from the soldier.
A bandit grasped the door handle. Instantly, the mysterious lancer threw his shoulder against the door and the bandit was knocked senseless to the ground. A previously unseen whip suddenly appeared in the private's hand. It snaked through the air, and with a crack, relieved a second robber of his pistol. Almost instantly, the whip cracked again, this time lightly touching the flank of the imposter's mount. The animal immediately leaped into the air and bucked violently, dumping the black-costumed outlaw onto the road. A well-aimed pistol shot unhorsed the last bandit before he could fire on the soldier. The injured man moaned, clutching his shoulder.
The second robber rushed him with drawn knife, which the lancer easily sidestepped, while at the same time grabbing the man's outstretched arm. Using his opponent's momentum, he flipped the bandit solidly on the ground, wresting the knife from his grasp. The knife was tossed upward where it quivered in the seat next to the driver, who looked at the lancer in shocked amazement. It had been his understanding that the King's soldiers in Los Angeles were a bit lax and incompetent.
The impostor had quickly recovered from his ignominious fall and lunged with drawn saber before the knife had left the lancer's hand. The soldier sidestepped this attack also, and smashed his fist into the false Zorro's face. Staggering back, the black-clad masked man shook his head, and then rushing to a loose horse, mounted. The lancer had thrown back his hat revealing a mask similar to his opponent's. "Señor Impostor, I told you that I would not allow you to rob and plunder in my name. If you persist, you will regret seeking vengeance on me," he shouted to the fleeing bandit. One of his gang members had also mounted and was galloping away.
Diego turned to the driver. "Señor, if I tie these two up for you, will you take them to Sgt. Garcia? And please tell him they are a present from El Zorro."
"Sí....," the driver said with a puzzled look on his face. "Who...who are you?"
Diego whistled and heard an answering whinny from Tornado. While waiting for the horse, he drew his sword and slashed a 'Z' on the door of the coach. The caballero's pistol was drawn, but Diego reached in with the point of his saber and deftly removed it from his grasp.
"Señor, if you are Zorro, then who was the other?" the señorita asked in amazement. The fame of El Zorro had even reached San Diego, but she had never expected to meet him. Even in a threadbare soldier’s uniform, he was impressive. She imagined how much more impressive he would be in the black outfit that the impostor was wearing.
"He is a man so filled with hate, that he is willing to hurt the innocent to get revenge," was his simple answer. The driver threw him a rope, which he used to tie the two men up. The caballero pulled the men into the stage, as Diego pushed them up to him. "Please tell Sgt. Garcia that one of his lancers is several miles north of here, clad only in his underwear and boots." Diego laughed as he mounted Tornado and with a great flourish of his hand to his hat, he shouted a farewell and swiftly rode down the highway ahead of the stage. As the stage rolled the final distance to the pueblo, the passengers noted with amusement the presence of the lancer's jacket and accouterments lying in intervals on the side of the road.
|Hernando Chronicles Introduction|