The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 37
The Fox at Bay
HE DARTED TO THE WINDOW and glanced out. The troopers were surrounding the building. He could see the governor stalking across the plaza, crying his orders. Down the San Gabriel trail came the proud Don Alejandro Vega, to pay his visit to the governor, and he stopped at the plaza's edge and began questioning men regarding the cause for the tumult.
"All are in at the death," Señor Zorro said, laughing. "I wonder where my brave caballeros are, those who rode with me?"
"You expect their aid?" she asked.
"Not so, señorita. They would have to stand together and face the governor, tell him their intentions. It was a lark with them, and I doubt whether they take it seriously enough to stand by me now. It is not to be expected. I fight it out alone."
"Not alone, señor, when I am by your side."
He clasped her in his arms, pressed her to him.
"I would we might have our chance," he said. "But it would be folly for you to let my disaster influence your life. You never have seen my face even, señorita. You could forget me. You could walk from this place and surrender, send word to Don Diego Vega that you will become his bride, and the governor then would be forced to release you and clear your parents of all blame."
"Think, señorita. Think what it would mean. His excellency would not dare stand an instant against a Vega. Your parents would have their lands restored. You would be the bride of the richest young man in the country. You would have everything to make you happy—"
"Everything Except love, señor, and without, love the rest is as nought."
"Think, señorita, and decide for once and all. You have but a moment now!"
"I made my decision long ago, señor. A Pulido loves but once, and does not wed where she cannot love."
"Cara!" he cried, and pressed her close again.
Now there came a battering at the door.
"Señor Zorro!" Sergeant Conzales cried.
"Well, señor?" Zorro asked.
"I have an offer for you from his excellency the governor."
"I am listening, loud one."
"His excellency has no wish to cause your death or injury to the señorita you have inside with you. He asks that you open the door and come out with the lady."
"To what end?" Señor Zorro asked.
"You shall be given a fair trial, and the señorita also. Thus you may escape death and receive imprisonment instead."
"Ha! I have seen samples of his excellency's fair trials," Señor Zorro responded. "Think you I am an imbecile?"
"His excellency bids me say that this is the last chance, that the offer will not be renewed."
"His excellency is wise not to waste breath renewing it. He grows fat, and his breath is short"
"What can you expect to gain by resistance, save death?" Gonzales asked. "How can you hope to offstand a score and a half of us?"
"It has been done before, loud one."
"We can batter in the door and take you."
"After a few of you have been stretched lifeless on the floor," señor Zorro observed. "Who will be the first through the door, my sergeant?"
"For the last time—"
"Come in and drink a mug of wine with me," said the highwayman, laughing.
"Meal mush and goat's milk!" swore Sergeant Gonzales. There was quiet then for a time, and Señor Zorro, glancing through the window cautiously, so as not to attract a pistol shot, observed that the governor was in consultation with the sergeant and certain of the troopers.
The consultation ended, and Señor Zorro darted back from the window. Almost immediately, the attack upon the door began. They were pounding at it with heavy timbers, trying to smash it down. Señor Zorro, standing in the middle of the room, pointed his pistol at the door and fired, and as the ball tore through the wood and somebody outside gave a shriek of pain, he darted to the table and started loading the pistol again.
Then he hurried across to the door, and observed the hole where the bullet had gone through. The plank had been split, and there was quite a crack in it. Señor Zorro put the point of his blade at this crack, and waited.
Again the heavy timber crashed against the door, and some trooper threw his weight against it, also. Señor Zorro's blade darted through the crack like a streak of lightning, and came back red, and again there was a shriek outside. And now a volley of pistol balls came through the door, but Señor Zorro, laughing, had sprung back out of harm's way.
"Well done, señor!" Señorita Lolita cried.
"We shall stamp our mark on several of these hounds before we are done," he replied.
"I would that I could aid you, señor."
"You are doing it, señorita. It is your love that gives me my strength."
"If I could use a blade—"
"Ah, señorita, that is for a man to do. Do you pray that all may be well."
"And at the last, señor, if it is seen that there is no hope —may I then see your dear face?"
"I swear it, señorita, and feel my arms about you, and my lips on yours. Death will not be so bitter then."
The attack on the door was renewed. Now pistol shots were coming through it regularly, and through the one open window also, and there was nothing for Señor Zorro to do except stand in the middle of the room and wait, his blade held ready. There would be a lively few minutes, he promised, when the door was down and they rushed in at him.
It seemed to be giving way now. The señorita crept close to him, tears streaming down her cheeks, and grasped him by the arm.
"You will not forget?" she asked.
"I'll not forget, señorita."
"Just before they break down the door, señor. Take me in your arms and let me see your dear face and kiss me. Then I can die with good grace, too."
"You must live—"
"Not to be sent to a foul cárcel, señor. And what would life be without you?"
"There is Don Diego—"
"I think of nobody but you, señor. A Pulido will know how to die. And perhaps my death will bring home to men the perfidy of the governor. Perhaps it may be of service."
Again the heavy timber struck against the door. They could hear his excellency shouting encouragement to the troopers, could hear the natives shrieking and Sergeant Gonzales crying his orders in his loud voice.
Señor Zorro hurried to the window again, chancing a bullet, and glanced out. He saw that half a dozen troopers had their blades ready, were prepared to rush over the door the moment it was down. They would get him—but he would get some of them first! Again the ram against the door.
"It is almost the end, señor," the girl whispered.
"I know it, señorita."
"I would we had had better fortune, yet I can die gladly since this love has been in my life. Now—señor—your face and lips. The door—is crashing in!"
She ceased to sob, and lifted her face bravely. Señor Zorro sighed, and one hand fumbled with the bottom of his mask.
But suddenly there was a tumult outside in the plaza, and the battering at the door ceased, and they could hear loud voices that they had not heard before.
Señor Zorro let go of his mask, and darted to the window.