The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 21
THE NATIVES JEERED AND APPLAUDED. Don Diego's face went white, and for an instant his eyes met those of Fray Felipe, and in the face of the latter he saw resignation.
The office was cleared, and the soldiers led the fray to the place of execution in the middle of the plaza. Don Diego observed that the magistrado was grinning, and he realized what a farce the trial had been.
"These turbulent times!" he said to a gentleman of his acquaintance who stood near.
They tore Felipe's robe from his back and started to lash him to the post. But the fray had been a man of great strength in his day, and some of it remained to him in his advanced years; and it Came to him now what ignominy he was to suffer.
Suddenly he whirled the soldiers aside and stooped to grasp the whip from the ground.
"You have removed my robe!" he cried. "I am man now, not fray! One side, dogs!"
He lashed out with the whip. He cut a soldier across the face. He struck at two natives who sprang toward him. And then the throng was upon him, beating him down, kicking and striking at him, disregarding even the soldiers' orders.
Don Diego Vega felt moved to action. He could not see his friend treated in this manner despite his docile disposition. He rushed into the midst of the throng, calling upon the natives to clear the way. But he felt a hand grasp his arm, and turned to look into the eyes of the magistrado.
"These are no actions for a caballero," the judge said in a low tone. "The man has been sentenced properly.-When you raise hand to give him aid, you raise hand against his excellency. Have you stopped to think of that, Don Diego Vega?"
Apparently Don Diego had not. And he realized, too, that he could do no good to his friend by interfering now. He nodded his head to the magistrado and turned away.
But he did not go far. The soldiers had subdued Fray Felipe by now and had lashed him to the whipping-post. This was added insult, for the post was used for none except insubordinate natives. The lash was swung through the air, and Don Diego saw blood spurt from Fray Felipe's bare back.
He turned his face away then, for he could not bear to look. But he could count the lashes by the singing of the whip through the air, and he knew that proud old Fray Felipe was making not the slightest sound of pain and would die without doing so.
He heard the natives laughing and turned back again to find that the whipping was at an end.
"The money must be repaid within two days, or you shall have fifteen lashes more," the magistrado was saying.
Fray Felipe was untied and dropped to the ground at the foot of the post. The crowd began to melt away. Two frailes who had followed from San Gabriel aided their brother to his feet and led him aside while the natives hooted. Don Diego Vega returned to his house.
"Send me Bernardo," he ordered his despensero.
The butler bit his lip to keep from grinning as he went to do as he was bidden. Bernardo was a deaf-and-dumb native servant for whom Don Diego had a peculiar use. Within the minute he entered the great living-room and bowed before his master.
"Bernardo, you are a gem," Don Diego said: "You cannot speak or hear, cannot write or read, and have not sense enough to make your wants known by the sign language. You are the one man in the world to whom I can speak without having my ears talked off in reply. You do not 'Ha!' me at every turn."
Bernardo bobbed his head as if he understood. He always bobbed his head in that fashion when Don Diego's lips ceased to move.
"These are turbulent times, Bernardo," Don Diego continued. "A man can find no place where he can meditate. Even at Fray Felipe's night before last there came a big sergeant pounding at the door. A man with nerves is in a sorry state. And this whipping of old Fray Felipe—Bernardo, let us hope that this Señor Zorro, who punishes those who work injustice, hears of the affair and acts accordingly."
Bernardo bobbed his head again.
"As for myself, I am in a pretty pickle," Don Diego went on. "My father has ordered that I get me a wife, and the señorita I selected will have none of me. I shall have my father taking me by the ear in short order.
"Bernardo, it is time for me to leave this pueblo for a few days. I shall go to the hacienda of my father, to tell him I have got no woman to wed me yet, and ask his indulgence. And there, on the wide hills behind his house, may I hope to find some spot where I may rest and consult the poets for one entire day without highwaymen and sergeants and unjust magistrados bothering me. And you, Bernardo, shall accompany me, of course. I can talk to you without your taking the words out of my mouth."
Bernardo bobbed his head again. He guessed what was to come. It was a habit of Don Diego's to talk to him thus for a long time, and always there was a journey afterward. Bernardo liked that, because he worshiped Don Diego, and because he liked to visit the hacienda of Don Diego's father, where he always was treated with kindness.
The despensero had been listening in the other room and had heard what was said, and now he gave orders for Don Diego's horse to be made ready and prepared a bottle of wine and water for the master to take with him.
Within a short time Don Diego set out, Bernardo riding mule a short distance behind him. They hurried along the highroad and presently caught up with a small carreta, beside which walked two robed Franciscans, and in which was Fray Felipe, trying to keep back moans of pain. Don Diego dismounted beside the carreta as it stopped. He went over to it and clasped Fray Felipe's hands in his own.
"My poor friend," he said.
"It is but another instance of injustice," Fray Felipe said. "For twenty years we of the missions have been subjected to it, and it grows. The sainted Junipero Serra invaded this land when other men feared, and at San Diego de Alcala he built the first mission of what became a chain, thus giving an empire to the world. Our mistake was that we prospered. We did the work, and others reap the advantages."
Don Diego nodded, and the other went on:
"They began taking our mission lands from us, lands we had cultivated, which had formed a wilderness and which my brothers had turned into gardens and orchards. They robbed us of worldly goods. And not content with that they now are persecuting us.
"The mission empire is doomed, caballero. The time is not far distant when mission roofs will fall in and the walls crumble away. Some day people will look at the ruins and wonder how such a thing could come to pass. But we can do nought except submit. It is one of our principles. I did forget myself for a moment in the plaza at Reina de Los Angeles, when I took the whip and struck a man. It is our lot to submit."
"Sometimes," mused Don Diego, "I wish I were a man of action."
"You give sympathy, my friend, which is worth its weight in precious stones. And action expressed in a wrong channel is worse than no action at all. Where do you ride?"
"To the hacienda of my father, good friend. I must crave his pardon and ask his indulgence. He has ordered that I get me a wife, and I find it a difficult task."
"That should be an easy task for a Vega. Any maiden would be proud to take that name."
"I had hoped to wed with the Señorita Lolita Pulido, she having taken my fancy."
"A worthy maiden! Her father, too, has been subjected to unjust oppression. Did you join your family to his, none would dare raise hand against him."
"All that is very well, fray, and the absolute truth, of course. But the señorita will have none of me," Don Diego complained. "It appears that I have not dash and spirit enough."
"She is hard to please, perhaps. Or possibly she is but playing at being a coquette with the hope of leading you on and increasing your ardor. A maid loves to tantalize a man, caballero. It is her privilege."
"I showed her my house in the pueblo and mentioned my great wealth and agreed to purchase a new carriage for her," Don Diego told him.
"Did you show her your heart, mention your love, and agree to be a perfect husband?"
Don Diego looked at him blankly, then batted his eyes rapidly, and scratched at his chin, as he did sometimes when he was puzzled over a matter.
"What a perfectly silly idea!" he exclaimed after a time.
"Try it, caballero. It may have an excellent effect."