The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 3
Señor Zorro Pays a Visit
THE NATIVE HURRIED forward to fasten the door against the force of the wind, and then retreated to his corner again. The newcomer had his back toward those in the long room. They could see that his sombrero was pulled far down on his head, as if to prevent the wind from whisking it away, and that his body was enveloped in a long cloak that was wringing wet.
With his back still toward them, he opened the cloak and shook the raindrops from it and then folded it across his breast again as the fat landlord hurried forward, rubbing his hands together in expectation, for he deemed that here was some caballero off the highway who would pay good coin for food and bed and care for his horse.
When the landlord was within a few feet of him and the door the stranger whirled around. The landlord gave a little cry of fear and retreated with speed. The corporal gurgled deep down in his throat; the soldiers gasped; Sergeant Pedro Gonzales allowed his lower jaw to drop and let his eyes bulge.
For the man who stood straight before them had a black mask over his face that effectually concealed his features, and through the two slits in it his eyes glittered ominously.
"Ha! What have we here?" Gonzales gasped finally, some presence of mind returning to him.
The man before them bowed.
"Señor Zorro, at your service," he said.
"By the saints! Señor Zorro, eh?" Gonzales cried.
"Do you doubt it, señor?"
"If you are indeed Señor Zorro, then have you lost your wits!" the sergeant declared.
"What is the meaning of that speech?"
"You are here, are you not? You have entered the inn, have you not? By all the saints, you have walked into a trap, my pretty highwayman!"
"Will the señor please explain?" Señor Zorro asked. His voice was deep and held a peculiar ring.
"Are you blind? Are you without sense?" Gonzales demanded. "Am I not here?"
"And what has that to do with it?"
"Am I not a soldier?"
"At least you wear a soldier's garb, señor."
"By the saints, and cannot you see the good corporal and three of our comrades? Have you come to surrender your wicked sword, señor? Are you finished playing at rogue?"
Señor Zorro laughed, not unpleasantly, but he did not take his eyes from Gonzales.
"Most certainly I have not come to surrender," he said. "I am on business, señor."
"Business?" Gonzales queried.
"Four days ago, señor, you brutally beat a native who had won your dislike. The affair happened on the road between here and the mission at San Gabriel."
"He was a surly dog and got in my way! And how does it concern you, my pretty highwayman?"
"I am the friend of the oppressed, señor, and I have come to punish you."
"Come to—to punish me, fool? You punish me? I shall die of laughter before I can run you through! You are as good as dead, Señor Zorro! His excellency has offered a pretty price for your carcass! If you are a religious man, say your prayers! I would not have it said that I slew a man without giving him time to repent his crimes. I give you the space of a hundred heartbeats."
"You are generous, señor, but there is no need for me to say my prayers."
"Then must I do my duty," said Gonzales, and lifted the point of his blade. "Corporal, you will remain by the table, and the men also. This fellow and the reward he means are mine!"
He blew out the ends of his mustache and advanced carefully, not making the mistake of underestimating his antagonist, for there had been certain tales of the man's skill with a blade. And when he was within the proper distance he recoiled suddenly, as if a snake had warned of a strike.
For Señor Zorro had allowed one hand to come from beneath his cloak, and the hand held a pistol, most damnable of weapons to Sergeant Gonzales.
"Back, señor!" Señor Zorro warned.
"Ha! So that is the way of it!" Gonzales cried. "You carry that devil's weapon and threaten men with it! Such things are for use only at a long distance and against inferior foes. Gentlemen prefer the trusty blade."
"Back, señor! There is death in this you call the devil's weapon. I shall not warn again."
"Somebody told me you were a brave man," Gonzales taunted, retreating a few feet. "It has been whispered that you would meet any man foot to foot and cross blades with him. I have believed it of you. And now I find you resorting to a weapon fit for nothing except to use against red natives. Can it be, señor, that you lack the courage I have heard you possess?"
Señor Zorro laughed again.
"As to that you shall see presently," he said. "The use of this pistol is necessary at the present time. I find myself pitted against large odds in this tavern, señor. I shall cross blades with you gladly when I have made such a proceeding safe."
"I wait anxiously," Gonzales sneered.
"The corporal and soldiers will retreat to that far corner," Señor Zorro directed. "Landlord, you will accompany them. The native will go there also. Quickly, señores. Thank you. I do not wish to have any of you disturbing me while I am punishing this sergeant here."
"Ha!" Gonzales screeched in fury. "We shall soon see as to the punishing, my pretty fox!"
"I shall hold the pistol in my left hand," Señor Zorro continued. "I shall engage this sergeant with my right, in the proper manner, and as I fight I shall keep an eye on the corner. The first move from any of you, señores, means that I fire. I am expert with this you have termed the devil's weapon, and if I fire some men shall cease to exist on this earth of ours. It is understood?"
The corporal and soldiers and landlord did not take the trouble to answer. Señor Zorro looked Gonzales straight in the eyes again, and a chuckle came from behind his mask.
"Sergeant, you will turn your back until I can draw my blade," he directed. "I give you my word as a caballero that I shall not make a foul attack."
"As a caballero?" Gonzales sneered.
"I said it, señor!" Zorro replied, his voice ringing a threat.
Gonzales shrugged his shoulders and turned his back. In an instant he heard the voice of the highwayman again.
"On guard, señor!"