The Curse of Capistrano/Chapter 39
"Meal Mush and Goat's Milk!"
THEY CROWDED FORWARD—troopers, natives, caballeros, surrounding Don Diego Vega and the señorita who clutched at his arm and looked up at him from proud and glistening eyes.
"Explain! Explain!" they cried.
"It began ten years ago, when I was but a lad of fifteen," he said. "I heard tales of persecution. I saw my friends, the frailes, annoyed and robbed. I saw soldiers beat an old native who was my friend. And then I determined to play this game.
"It would be a difficult game to play, I knew. So I pretended to have small interest in life, so that men never would connect my name with that of the highwayman I expected to become. In secret, I practiced horsemanship and learned how to handle a blade—"
"By the saints, he did," Sergeant Gonzales growled.
"One half of me was the languid Don Diego you all knew, and the other half was the Curse of Capistrano I hoped one day to be. And then the time came, and my work began.
"It is a peculiar thing to explain, señores. The moment I donned cloak and mask, the Don Diego part of me fell away. My body straightened, new blood seemed to course through my veins, my voice grew strong and firm, fire came to me! And the moment I removed cloak and mask I was the languid Don Diego again. Is it not a peculiar thing?
"I had made friends with this great Sergeant Gonzales, and for a purpose."
"Ha! I guess the purpose, caballeros!" Gonzales cried. "You tired whenever this Señor Zorro was mentioned, and did not wish to hear of violence and bloodshed, but always you asked me in what direction I was going with my troopers—and you went in the other direction and did your confounded work."
"You are an excellent guesser," said Don Diego, laughing, as did the others about him. "I even crossed blades with you, so you would not guess I was Señor Zorro. You remember the rainy night at the tavern? I listened to your boasts, went out and donned mask and cloak, came in and fought you, escaped, took off mask and cloak, and returned to jest with you."
"I visited the Pulido hacienda as Don Diego and a short time later returned as Señor Zorro and held speech with the señorita here. You almost had me, sergeant, that night at Fray Felipe's—the first night, I mean."
"Ha! You told me there that you had not seen Señor Zorro."
"Nor had I. The fray does not keep a mirror, thinking that it makes for vanity. The other things were not difficult, of course. You can easily understand how, as Señor Zorro, I happened to be at my own house in town when the comandante insulted the señorita.
"And the señorita must forgive me the deception. I courted her as Don Diego, and she would have none of me. Then I tried it as Señor Zorro, and the saints were kind, and she gave me her love.
"Perhaps there was some method in that, also. For she turned from the wealth of Don Diego Vega to the man she loved, though she deemed him, then, an outcast and outlaw.
"She has showed me her true heart, and I am rejoiced at it. Your excellency, this señorita is to become my wife, and I take it you will think twice before you will annoy her family further."
His excellency threw out his hands in a gesture of resignation.
"It was difficult to fool you all, but it has been done," Don Diego continued. "Only years of practice allowed me to accomplish it. And now Señor Zorro shall ride no more, for there will be no need, and moreover a married man should take some care of his life."
"And what man do I wed?" the Señorita Lolita asked, blushing because she spoke the words where all could hear.
"What man do you love?"
"I had fancied that I loved Señor Zorro, but it comes to me now that I love the both of them," she said. "Is it not shameless? But I would rather have you Señor Zorro than the old Don Diego I knew."
"We shall endeavor to establish a golden mean," he replied, laughing again. "I shall drop the old languid ways and change gradually into the man you would have me. People will say that marriage made a man of me."
He stooped and kissed her there before them all.
"Meal mush and goat's milk!" swore Sergeant Gonzales.