The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 10
A Hint at Jealousy
WITHIN THE SPACE OF HALF AN hour Captain Ramón's wounded shoulder had been cleansed of blood and bandaged, and the captain was sitting at one end of the table, sipping wine and looking very white in the face and tired.
Doña Catalina and Señorita Lolita had shown much sympathy, though the latter could scarcely refrain from smiling when she remembered the captain's boast regarding what he purposed doing to the highwayman, and compared it to what had happened. Don Carlos was outdoing himself to make the captain feel at home since it was well to seek influence with the army, and already had urged upon the officer that he remain at the hacienda a few days until his wound had healed.
Having looked into the eyes of the Señorita Lolita, the captain had answered that he would be glad to remain at least for a day and, despite his wound, was attempting polite and witty conversation, yet failing miserably.
Once more there could be heard the drumming of a horse's hoofs, and Don Carlos sent a servant to the door to open it so that the light would shine out, for they supposed that it was one of the soldiers returning.
The horseman came nearer and presently stopped before the house, and the servant hurried out to care for the beast.
There passed a moment during which those inside the house heard nothing at all, and then there were steps on the veranda, and Don Diego Vega hurried through the door.
"Ha!" he cried, as if in relief. "I am rejoiced that you all are alive and well!"
"Don Diego!" the master of the house exclaimed. "You have ridden out from the pueblo a second time in one day?"
"No doubt I shall be ill because of it," Don Diego said. "Already I am feeling stiff, and my back aches. Yet I felt that I must come. There was an alarm in the pueblo, and it was noised abroad that this Señor Zorro, the highwayman, had paid a visit to the hacienda. I saw the soldiers ride furiously in this direction, and fear came into my heart. You understand, Don Carlos, I feel—sure."
"I understand, caballero," Don Carlos replied, beaming upon him and glancing once at Señorita Lolita.
"I—er—felt it my duty to make the journey. And now I find that it has been made for nought—you all are alive and well. How does it happen?"
Lolita sniffed, but Don Carlos was quick to make reply.
"The fellow was here, but he made his escape after running Captain Ramón through the shoulder."
"Ha!" Don Diego said, collapsing into a chair. "So you have felt his steel, eh, captain? That should feed your desire for vengeance. Your soldiers are after the rogue?"
"They are," the captain replied shortly, for he did not like to have it said that he had been defeated in combat. "And they will continue to be after him until he is captured. I have a big sergeant, Gonzales—I think he is a friend of yours, Don Diego—who is eager to make the arrest and earn the governor's reward. I shall instruct him, when he returns, to take his squad and pursue this highwayman until he has been dealt with properly."
"Let me express the hope that the soldiers will be successful, señor. The rogue has annoyed Don Carlos and the ladies—and Don Carlos is my friend. I would have all men know it."
Don Carlos beamed, and Dona Catalina smiled bewitchingly, but the Señorita Lolita fought to keep her pretty upper lip from curling with scorn.
"A mug of your refreshing wine, Don Carlos," Don Diego Vega continued. "I am fatigued. Twice today have I ridden here from Reina de Los Angeles, and it is about all a man can endure."
"'Tis not much of a journey—four miles," said the captain.
"Possibly not for a rough soldier," Don Diego replied, "but it is for a caballero."
"May not a soldier be a caballero?" Ramon asked, nettled somewhat at the other's words.
"It has happened before now, but we come across it rarely," Don Diego said. He glanced at Lolita as he spoke, intending that she should take notice of his words, for he had seen the manner in which the captain glanced at her, and jealousy was beginning to burn in his heart.
"Do you mean to insinuate, señor, that I am not of good blood?" Captain Ramon asked.
"I cannot reply as to that, señor, having seen none of it. No doubt this Señor Zorro could tell me. He saw the color of it, I understand."
"By the saints!" Captain Ramon cried. "You would taunt me?"
"Never be taunted by the truth," Don Diego observed. "He ran you through the shoulder, eh? 'Tis a mere-scratch, I doubt not. Should you not be at the presidio instructing your soldiers?"
"I await their return here," the captain replied. "Also, it is a fatiguing journey from here to the presidio, according to your own ideas, señor."
"But a soldier is inured to hardship, señor."
"True, there are many pests he must encounter," the captain said, glancing at Don Diego with meaning.
"You term me a pest, señor?"
"Did I say as much?"
This was perilous ground, and Don Carlos had no mind to let an officer of the army and Don Diego Vega have trouble in his hacienda, for fear he would get into greater difficulties.
"More wine, señores!" he exclaimed in a loud voice, and stepping between their chairs in utter disregard of proper breeding. "Drink, my captain, for your wound has made you weak. And you, Don Diego, after your wild ride—"
"I doubt its wildness," Captain Ramon observed.
Don Diego accepted the proffered wine mug and turned his back upon the captain. He glanced across at Señorita Lolita and smiled. He got up deliberately and picked up his chair and carried it across the room to set it down beside her.
"And did the rogue frighten you, señorita?" he asked.
"Suppose he did, señor? Would you avenge the matter? Would you put blade at your side and ride abroad until you found him, and then punish him as he deserves?"
"By the saints, were it necessary, I might do as much. But I am able to employ a raft of strong fellows who would like nothing better than to run down the rogue. Why should I risk my own neck?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, exasperated.
"Let us not talk further of this bloodthirsty Señor Zorro," he begged. "There are other things fit for conversation. Have you been thinking, señorita, on the object of my visit earlier in the day?"
Señorita Lolita thought of it now. She remembered again what the marriage would mean to her parents and their fortunes, and she recalled the highwayman, too, and remembered his dash and spirit, and wished that Don Diego could be such a man. And she could not say the word that would make her the betrothed of Don Diego Vega.
"I—I have scarcely had time to think of it, caballero," she replied.
"I trust you will make up your mind soon," he said.
"You are so eager?"
"My father was at me again this afternoon. He insists that I should take a wife as soon as possible. It is rather a nuisance, of course, but a man must please his father."
Lolita bit her lips because of her quick anger. Was ever girl so courted before? she wondered.
"I shall make up my mind as soon as possible, señor," she said finally.
"Does this Captain Ramón remain long at the hacienda?"
A little hope came into Lolita's breast. Could it be. possible that Don Diego Vega was jealous? If that were true, possibly there might be stuff in the man after all. Perhaps he would awaken, and love and passion come to him, and he would be as other young men.
"My father has asked him to remain until he is able to travel to the presidio," she replied.
"He is able to travel now. A mere scratch."
"You will not return tonight?" she asked.
"It probably will make me ill, but I must return. There are certain things that must engage my interest early in the morning. Business is such a nuisance."
"Perhaps my father will offer to send you in the carriage."
"Ha! It were kindness if he does. A man may doze a bit in a carriage."
"But, if this highwayman should stop you?"
"I need not fear, señorita. Have I not wealth? Could I not purchase my release?"
"You would pay ransom rather than fight him, señor?"
"I have lots of money, but only one life, señorita. Would I be a wise man to risk having my blood let out?"
"It would be the manly part, would it not?" she asked.
"Any male can be manly at times, but it takes a clever man to be sagacious," he said.
Don Diego laughed lightly, as if it cost him an effort, and bent forward to speak in lower tones.
On the other side of the room, Don Carlos was doing his best to make Captain Ramón comfortable, and was glad that he and Don Diego remained apart for the time being.
"Don Carlos," the captain said, "I come from a good family, and the governor is friendly toward me, as no doubt you have heard. I am but twenty-three years of age, else I would hold a higher office. But my future is assured."
"I am rejoiced to learn it, señor."
"I never set eyes upon your daughter until this evening, but she has captivated me, señor. Never have I seen such grace and beauty, such flashing eyes! I ask your permission, señor, to pay my addresses to the señorita."