The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 25
: A League is Formed
THE SONG CEASED; THE LAUGHTER WAS stilled. They bunked their eyes and looked across the room. Señor Zorro stood just inside the door, having entered from the veranda without them knowing it. He wore his long cloak and his mask, and in one hand he held his accursed pistol, and its muzzle was pointed at the table.
"So these are the manner of men who pursue Señor Zorro and hope to take him," he said. "Make not a move, else lead flies. Your weapons, I perceive, are in the corner. I could kill some of you and be gone before you could reach them."
"'Tis he! 'Tis he!" a tipsy caballero was crying.
"Your noise may be heard a mile away, señores. What a posse to go pursuing a man! Is this the way you attend to duty? Why have you stopped to make merry while Señor Zorro rides the highway?"
"Give me my blade and let me stand before him!" one cried.
"If I allowed you to have blade, you would be unable to stand," the highwayman answered. "Think you there is one in this company who could fence with me now?"
"There is one!" cried Don Alejandro, in a loud voice, springing to his feet. "I openly say that I have admired some of the things you have done, señor; but now you have entered my house and are abusing my guests, and I must call you to account!"
"I have no quarrel with you, Don Alejandro, and you have none with me," Señor Zorro said. "I refuse to cross blades with you. And I am but telling these men some truths."
"By the saints, I shall make you!"
"A moment, Don Alejandro! Señores, this aged don would fight me, and that would mean a wound or death for him. Will you allow it?"
"Don Alejandro must not fight our battles!" one of them cried..
"Then see that he sits in his place, and all honor to him."
Don Alejandro started forward, but two of the caballeros sprang before him and urged him to go back, saying that his honor was safe, since he offered combat. Raging, Don Alejandro complied.
"A worthy bunch of young blades," Señor Zorro sneered. "You drink wine and make merry while injustice is all about you. Take your swords in hand and attack oppression! Live up to your noble names and your blue blood, señores! Drive the thieving politicians from the land! Protect the frailes whose work gave us these broad acres! Be men, not drunken fashion plates!"
"By the saints!" one cried and sprang to his feet.
"Back, or I fire! I have not come here to fight you in Don Alejandro's house. I respect him too much for that. I have come to tell you these truths concerning yourselves.
"Your families can make or break a governor! Band yourselves together in a good cause, caballeros, and make some use of your lives. You would do it, were you not afraid. You seek adventure? Here is adventure a plenty, fighting injustice."
"By the saints, it would be a lark!" cried one in answer.
"Look upon it as a lark if it pleases you, yet you would be doing some good. Would the politicians dare stand against you, scions of the most powerful families? Band yourselves together and give yourselves a name. Make yourselves feared the length and breadth of the land."
"It would be treason—"
"It is not treason to down a tyrant, caballeros! Is it that you are afraid?"
"By the saints—no!" they cried in chorus.
"Then make your stand!"
"You would lead us?" .
"But stay! Are you of good blood?"
"I am a caballero, of blood as good as any here," Señor Zorro told them.
"Your name? Where resides your family?"
"Those things must remain secrets for the present. I have given you my word."
"Must remain masked for the time being, señores." They had lurched to their feet now, and were acclaiming him wildly.
"Stay!" one cried. "This is an imposition upon Don Alejandro. He may not be in sympathy, and we are planning and plotting in his house—"
"I am in sympathy, caballeros, and give you my support," Don Alejandro said.
Their cheers filled the great room. None could stand against them if Don Alejandro Vega was with them. Not even the governor himself would dare oppose them. "It is a bargain!" they cried. "We shall call ourselves the Avengers! We shall ride El Camino Real and prove terrors to those who rob honest men and mistreat natives! We shall drive the thieving politicians out!"
"And then you shall be caballeros in truth, knights protecting the weak," Señor Zorro said. "Never shall you repent this decision, señores! I lead, and I give you loyalty and expect as much. Also, I expect obedience to orders."
"What shall we do?" they cried.
"Let this remain a secret. In the morning return to Reina de Los Angeles and say you did not find Señor Zorro—say rather that you did not catch him, which will be the truth. Be ready to band yourselves together and ride. I shall send word when the time arrives."
"In what manner?"
"I know you all. I shall get word to one, and he can inform the others. It is agreed?"
"Agreed!" they shouted.
"Then I will leave you here and now. You are to remain in this room, and none is to try to follow me. It is a command. Buenos noches, caballeros!" He bowed before them, swung the door open, and darted through it and slammed it shut behind him.
They could hear the clatter of a horse's hoofs on the driveway. And then they raised their wine mugs and drank to their new league for the suppression of swindlers and thieves and to Señor Zorro, the Curse of Capistrano, and to Don Alejandro Vega, somewhat sobered by the agreement they had made and what it meant. They sat down again and began speaking of wrongs that should be righted, each' of them knowing half a dozen.
And Don Alejandro Vega sat in one corner, by himself, a grief-stricken man because his only son was asleep in the house and had not red blood enough to take a part in such an undertaking, when by all rights. he should be one of the leaders.
As if to add to his misery, Don Diego at that moment came slowly into the room, rubbing his eyes and yawning and looking as if he had been disturbed.
"It is impossible for a man to sleep in this house tonight," he said. "Give me a mug of wine, and I shall take my place with you. Why was the cheering?"
"Señor Zorro has been here—" his father began.
"The highwayman? Been here? By the saints! It is as much as a man can endure."
"Sit down, my son," Don Alejandro urged. "Certain things have come to pass. There will be a chance now for you to show what sort of blood flows in your veins."
Don Alejandro's manner was very determined.