The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 26
THE REMAINDER OF THE NIGHT WAS spent by the caballeros in loud boasts of what they, intended doing, and in making plans to be submitted to Señor Zorro for his approval; and, though they appeared to look upon this thing as a lark and a means to adventure, yet there was an undercurrent of seriousness in their manner. For they knew well the state of the times and realized that things were not as they should be, and in reality they were exponents of fairness to all; they had thought of these things often, but had made no move because they had not been banded together and had no leader, and each young caballero waited for another to start the thing. But now this Señor Zorro had struck at the psychological moment, and things could be done.
Don Diego was informed of the state of affairs, and his father informed him, likewise, that he was to play a part and prove himself a man. Don Diego fumed considerably and declared that such a thing would cause his death, yet he would do it for his father's sake.
Early in the morning the caballeros ate a meal that Don Alejandro caused to be prepared, and then they started back to Reina de Los Angeles, Don Diego riding with them at his father's order. Nothing was to be said about their plans. They were to get recruits from the remainder of the thirty who had set out in pursuit of Señor Zorro. Some would join them readily, they knew, while others were the governor's men pure and simple, and would have to be kept in the dark concerning the thing contemplated.
They rode leisurely, for which Don Diego remarked that he was grateful. Bernardo was still following him on the mule, and was a little chagrined because Don Diego had not remained longer at his father's house. Bernardo knew something momentous was being planned, but could not guess what, of course, and wished that he was like other men, and could hear and speak.
When they reached the plaza, they found that the other two parties already were there, saying that they had not come up with the highwayman. Some declared that they had seen him in the distance, and one that he had fired a pistol at him, at which the caballeros who had been at Don Alejandro's put their tongues in their cheeks and looked at one another in a peculiar manner.
Don Diego left his companions and hurried to his house, where he donned fresh clothing and refreshed himself generally. He sent Bernardo about his business, which was to sit in the kitchen and await his master's call. And then he ordered his carriage around. That carriage was one of the most gorgeous along El Camino Real, and why Don Diego had purchased it had always been a mystery. There were some who said he did it to show his wealth, while others declared a manufacturer's agent had worried him so much that Don Diego had given him the order to be rid of him.
Don Diego came from his house dressed in his best; but he did not get into the carriage. Again there was a tumult in the plaza, and into it rode Sergeant Pedro Gonzales and his troopers. The man Captain Ramón had sent after them had over-taken them easily, for they had been riding slowly and had not covered many miles.
"Ha, Don Diego, my friend!" Gonzales cried. "Still living! in this turbulent world?"
"From necessity," Don Diego replied. "Did you capture this Señor Zorro?"
"The pretty bird escaped us, caballero. It appears that he turned toward San Gabriel that night, while we went chasing him toward Pala. Ah, well, 'tis nothing to make a small mistake. Our revenge shall be the greater when we find him."
"What do you now, my sergeant?"
"My men refresh themselves, and then we ride toward San Gabriel. It is said the highwayman is in that vicinity, though some thirty young men of blood failed to find him last night after he had caused the magistrado to be whipped. No doubt he hid himself in the brush and chuckled when the caballeros rode by."
"May your horse have speed and your sword arm strength," Don Diego said and got into his carriage.
Two magnificent horses were hitched to the carriage, and a native coachman in rich livery drove them. Don Diego stretched back on the cushions and half closed his eyes as the carriage started. The driver went across the plaza and turned into the highway and started toward the hacienda of Don Carlos Pulido.
Sitting on his veranda, Don Carlos saw the gorgeous carriage approaching, and growled low down in his throat, and then got up and hurried into the house, to face his wife and daughter.
"Señorita, Don Diego comes," he said. "I have spoken words regarding the young man, and I trust that you have given heed to them as a dutiful daughter should."
Then he turned and went out to the veranda again, and the señorita rushed into her room and threw herself upon a couch to weep. The saints knew she wished that she could feel some love for Don Diego and take him for a husband, for it would help her father's fortunes, yet she felt that she could not.
Why did not the man act the caballero? Why did he not exhibit a certain measure of common sense? Why did he not show that he was a young man bursting with health, instead of acting like an aged don with one foot in the grave?
Don Diego got from the carriage and waved to the driver to continue to the stable yard. He greeted Don Carlos languidly, and Don Carlos was surprised to note that Don Diego had a guitar beneath one arm. He put the guitar down on the floor, removed his sombrero, and sighed.
"I have been out to see my father," he said.
"Ha! Don Alejandro is well, I hope?"
"He is in excellent health, as usual. He has instructed me to persist in my suit for the Señorita Lolita's hand. If I do not win me a wife within a certain time, he says, he will give his fortune to the Franciscans when he passes away."
"He said it, and my father is not a man to waste his words. Don Carlos, I must win the señorita. I know of no other young woman who would be as acceptable to my father as a daughter-in-law."
"A little wooing, Don Diego, I beg of you. Be not so matter-of-fact, I pray."
"I have decided to woo as other men, though it no doubt will be much of a bore. How would you suggest that I start?"
"It is difficult to give advice in such a case," Don Carlos replied, trying desperately to remember how he had done it when he had courted Doña Catalina. "A man really should be experienced, else be a man to whom such things come naturally."
"I fear I am neither," Don Diego said, sighing again and raising tired eyes to Don Carlos's face.
"It might be an excellent thing to regard the señorita as if you adored her. Say nothing about marriage at first, but speak rather of love. Try to talk in low, rich tones, and say those meaningless nothings in which a young woman can find a world of meaning. 'Tis a gentle art—saying one thing and meaning another."
"I fear that it is beyond me," Don Diego said. "Yet I must try, of course. I may see the señorita now?"
Don Carlos went to the doorway and called his wife and daughter, and the former smiled upon Don Diego in encouragement, and the latter smiled also, yet with fear and trembling. For she had given her heart to the unknown Señor Zorro, and could love no other man, and could not wed where she did not love, not even to save her father from poverty.
Don Diego conducted the señorita to a bench at one end of the veranda, and started to talk of things in general, plucking at the strings of his guitar as he did so, while Don Carlos and his wife removed themselves to the other end of the veranda and hoped that things would go well.
Señorita Lolita was glad that Don Diego did not speak of marriage as he had done before. Instead, he told of what had happened in the pueblo, of Fray Felipe's whipping, and of how Señor Zorro had punished the magistrado, and fought a dozen men, and made his escape. Despite his air of languor, Don Diego spoke in an interesting manner, and the señorita found herself liking him more than before.
He told, too, of how he had gone to his father's hacienda, and of how the caballeros had spent the night there, drinking and making merry; but he said nothing of Señor Zorro's visit and the league that had been formed, having taken his oath not to do so.
"My father threatens to disinherit me if I do not get my wife within a specified time," Don Diego said then. "Would you like to see me lose my father's estate, señorita?"
"Certainly not," she replied. "There are many girls who would be proud to wed you, Don Diego."
"But not you?"
"Certainly, I would be proud. But can a girl help it if her heart does not speak? Would you wish a wife who did not I love you? Think of the long years you would have to spend beside her, and no love to make them endurable."
"You do not think, then, that you ever could learn to love me, señorita?"
Suddenly the girl faced him and spoke in lower tones, and earnestly.
"You are a caballero of the blood, señor. I may trust you?"
"To death, señorita."
"Then I have something to tell you. And I ask that you let it remain your secret. It is an explanation in a way."
"If my heart bade me do so, nothing would please me more than to become your wife, señor, for I know that it would mend my father's fortunes. But perhaps I am too honest to wed where I do not love. There is one great reason why I cannot love you."
"There is some other man in your heart?"
"You have guessed it, señor. My heart is filled with his image. You would not want me for wife in such case. My parents do not know. You must keep my secret. I swear by the saints that I have spoken the truth."
"The man is worthy?"
"I feel sure that he is, caballero. Did he prove to be otherwise, I should grieve my life away, yet I never could love another man. You understand now?"
"I understand fully, señorita. May I express the hope that you will find him worthy and in time the man of your choice?"
"I knew you would be the true caballero."
"And if things should go amiss, and you need a friend, command me, señorita."
"My father must not suspect at the present time. We must let him think that you still seek me, and I will pretend to be thinking more of you than before. And gradually you can cease your visits—"
"I understand, señorita. Yet that leaves me in bad case. I have asked your father for permission to woo you, and if I go to wooing another girl now, I will have him about my ears in just anger. And if I do not woo another girl, I shall have my own father upbraiding me. It is a sorry state."
"Perhaps it will not be for long, señor."
"Ha! I have it! What does a man do when he is disappointed in love? He mopes, he pulls a long face, he refuses to partake of the actions and excitements of the times. Señorita, you have saved me in a way. I shall languish because you do not return my love. Then men will think they know the reason when I dream in the sun and meditate instead of riding and fighting like a fool. I shall be allowed to go my way in peace, and there shall be a romantic glamour cast about me. An excellent thought!"
"Señor, you are incorrigible!" the Señorita Lolita exclaimed, laughing.
Don Carlos and Dona Catalina heard that laugh, looked around, and then exchanged quick glances. Don Diego Vega was getting along famously with the señorita, they thought
Then Don Diego continued the deception by playing his guitar and singing a verse of a song that had to do with bright eyes and love. Don Carlos and his wife glanced at each other again, this time in apprehension, and wished that he would stop, for the scion of the Vegas had many superiors as musician and vocalist, and they feared that he might lose what ground he had gained in the señorita's estimation.
But if Lolita thought little of the caballero's singing, she said nothing to that effect, and she did not act displeased.; There was some more conversation, and just before the siesta hour Don Diego bade them buenos dias and rode away in his gorgeous carriage. From the turn in the driveway, he waved back at them.