The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 18

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Chapter 18

Don Diego Returns

SEÑORITA LOLITA HAD TO TELL HER PARENTS, of course, what had happened during their absence, for the despensero knew and would tell Don Diego when he returned, and. the señorita was wise enough to realize that it would be better to make the first explanation.

The despensero, having been sent for wine, knew nothing of the love scene that had been enacted, and had been told merely that Señor Zorro had hurried away. That seemed reasonable, since the señor was pursued by the soldiers.

So the girl told her father and mother that Captain Ramón had called while they were absent, and that he had forced his way into the big living-room to speak to her, despite the entreaties of the servant. Perhaps he had been drinking too much wine, else was not himself because of his wound, the girl explained, but he grew too bold, and pressed his suit with ardor that was repugnant, and finally insisted that he should have a kiss.

Whereupon, said the señorita, this Señor Zorro had stepped from the corner of the room—and how he came to be there, she did not know—and had forced Captain Ramón to apologize, and then had thrown him out of the house. After which —and here she neglected to tell the entire truth—Señor Zorro made a courteous bow and hurried away.

Don Carlos was for getting a blade and going at once to the presidio and challenging Captain Ramón to mortal combat; but Doña Catalina was more calm, and showed him that to do that would be to let the world know that their daughter had been affronted, and also it would not aid their fortunes any if Don Carlos quarreled with an officer of the army; and yet again the don was of an age, and the captain probably would run him through in two passes and leave Dona Catalina a weeping widow, which she did not wish to be.

So the don paced the floor of the great living-room and fumed and fussed and wished he were ten years the younger, or that he had political power again, and he promised that when his daughter should have wedded Don Diego, and he was once more in good standing, he would see that Captain Ramón was disgraced and his uniform torn from his shoulders.

Sitting in the chamber that had been assigned to her, Señorita Lolita listened to her father's ravings, and found herself confronted with a situation. Of course, she could not wed Don Diego now. She had given her lips and her love to another, a man whose face she never had seen, a rogue pursued by soldiery—and she had spoken truly when she had said that a Pulido loved but once.

She tried to explain it all to herself, saying that it was a generous impulse that had forced her to give her lips to the man; and she told herself that it was not the truth, that her heart had been stirred when first he spoke to her at her father's hacienda during the siesta hour.

She was not prepared yet to tell her parents of the love that had come into her life, for it was sweet to keep it a secret; and, moreover, she dreaded the shock to them, and half feared that her father might cause her to be sent away to some place where she never would see Señor Zorro again.

She crossed to a window and gazed out at the plaza—and she saw Don Diego approaching in the distance. He rode slowly, as if greatly fatigued, and his two native servants rode a short distance behind him.

Men called to him as he neared the house, and he waved his hand at them languidly in response to their greeting. He dismounted slowly, one of the natives holding the stirrup and assisting him, brushed the dust from his clothes, and started toward the door.

Don Carlos and his wife were upon their feet to greet him, their faces beaming, for they had been accepted anew into society the evening before, and knew it was because they were Don Diego's house guests.

"I regret that I was not here when you arrived," Don Diego said, "but I trust that you have been made comfortable in my poor house."

"More than comfortable in this gorgeous palace!" Don Carlos exclaimed.

"Then you have been fortunate, for the saints know I have been uncomfortable enough."

"How is that, Don Diego?" Dona Catalina asked.

"My work at the hacienda done, I rode as far as the place of Fray Felipe, there to spend the night in quiet. But as we were about to retire, there came a thundering noise at the door, and this Sergeant Gonzales and a troop of soldiers entered. It appears that they had been chasing the highwayman called Señor Zorro, and had lost him in the darkness!"

In the other room, a dainty señorita gave thanks for that.

"These are turbulent times," Don Diego continued, sighing and mopping the perspiration from his forehead. "The noisy fellows were with us an hour or more, and then continued the chase. And because of what they had said of violence, I endured a horrible nightmare, so got very little rest. And this morning I was forced to continue to Reina de Los Angeles."

"You have a difficult time," Don Carlos said. "Señor Zorro was here, caballero, in your house, before the soldiers chased him."

"What is this intelligence?" Don Diego cried, sitting up straight in his chair and betraying sudden interest.

"Undoubtedly he came to steal, else to abduct you and hold you for ransom," Doña Catalina observed. "But I scarcely think that he stole. Don Carlos and myself were visiting friends, and Señorita Lolita remained here alone. There—there is a distressing affair to report to you—"

"I beg of you to proceed," Don Diego said.

"While we were gone, Captain Ramón, of the presidio, called. He was informed we were absent, but he forced his way into the house and made himself obnoxious to the señorita. This Señor Zorro came in and forced the captain to apologize and then drove him away."

"Well, that is what I call a pretty bandit!" Don Diego exclaimed. "The señorita suffers from the experience?"

"Indeed, no," said Dona Catalina. "She was of the opinion that Captain Ramón had taken too much wine. I shall call her."

Doña Catalina went to the door of the chamber and called her daughter, and Lolita came into the room and greeted Don Diego as became a proper maiden.

"It makes me desolate to know that you received an insult in my house," Don Diego said. "I shall consider the affair."

Doña Catalina made a motion to her husband, and they went to a far corner to sit, that the young folk might be somewhat alone, which seemed to please Don Diego, but not the señorita.