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The Mark of Zorro
By Johnston McCulley, Jim Miller
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
PEDRO, THE BOASTER
Again the sheet of rain beat against the roof of red Spanish tile and the wind shrieked like a soul in torment. Smoke puffed from the big fireplace as the sparks were showered over the hard dirt floor.
"It's a night for evil deeds!" declared Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, grasping the hilt of his sword in one hand and a mug filled with thin wine in the other. He stretched his great feet in their loose boots toward the roaring fire and continued, "Devils howl in the wind, and demons are in the raindrops! It is an evil night, indeed — eh, señor?"
"It is!" The fat landlord agreed. And he quickly filled the wine mug again, for Sergeant Pedro Gonzales had a terrible temper that was always aroused when wine was too slow in coming.
"An evil night," the big sergeant repeated, and drained the mug without stopping to draw breath. This feat had gained the sergeant a certain reputation up and down El Camino Real, as they called the highway that connected the missions in one long chain.
Gonzales sprawled closer to the fire. He did not care that he robbed other men of some of its warmth. Sergeant Pedro Gonzales often had expressed his belief that a man should look out for his own comfort before considering others. Being of great size and strength, and having great skill with the sword, he found few who had the courage to contradict him.
Outside the wind shrieked, and the rain dashed against the ground in a solid sheet. It was a typical February storm for southern California. At the missions the friars — the religious brothers — had cared for the stock and had closed the buildings for the night. At every great hacienda big fires were burning in the houses. The Indians kept to their little adobe huts, glad for shelter.
And here in the village, the little pueblo of Reina de Los Angeles, where, in years to come, a great city would grow, the tavern stood on one side of the plaza. Tonight it housed men who would sprawl before the fire until the dawn rather than face the beating rain.
Sergeant Pedro Gonzales hogged the fireplace. A corporal and three soldiers from the military post — the presidio — sat at a table behind him, drinking their thin wine and playing at cards. An Indian servant crouched on his heels in one corner.
Just now conversation had died out. This fact annoyed the fat landlord and caused him some fear there would be trouble. He knew that Sergeant Pedro Gonzales in an argument was Sergeant Gonzales at peace. If the sergeant was not arguing, he might feel moved to action and start a brawl.
Twice before Gonzales had done so, to the great damage of furniture and men's faces. When the landlord had complained to the commandant of the presidio, Captain Ramón, he got no help. Captain Ramón had replied that running the tavern was the landlord's problem, not the captain's.
So the landlord cautiously watched Gonzales. Edging closer to the long table, he spoke in an attempt to start a general conversation and so head off trouble.
"They are saying in the pueblo," he announced, "that this Señor Zorro has appeared again."
His words had an unexpected effect. Sergeant Pedro Gonzales hurled his half-filled wine mug to the hard dirt floor and crashed his huge fist down on the table, causing wine mugs and cards to scatter in all directions.
The corporal and the three soldiers retreated a few feet in fright. The red face of the landlord turned pale. The Indian sitting in the corner started to creep toward the door, preferring the storm outside to the big sergeant's anger.
"Señor Zorro, eh?" Gonzales cried in a terrible voice. "Must I always hear that name? Señor Zorro, eh? Mr. Fox, in other words! He imagines, I take it, that he is as cunning as one. By the saints, he makes as much trouble as a fox!"
Gonzales turned to face the others and continued his tirade.
"He runs up and down the length of El Camino Real like a goat of the high hills! He wears a mask, and he flashes a pretty blade, they tell me. He uses the point of it to carve his hated letter Z on the cheek of his foe! Ha! The mark of Zorro they are calling it! But Señor Zorro will not do me the honor of letting me see his flashing sword! His sly attacks never occur in the vicinity of Sergeant Pedro Gonzales! Perhaps this Señor Zorro can tell us the reason for that? Ha!"
He glared at the men before him.
"They are calling him the Curse of Capistrano now," the fat landlord observed, stooping to pick up the wine mug and cards.
"Curse of the entire highway and the whole mission chain!" Sergeant Gonzales roared. "A cutthroat, he is! A thief! Ha! A common fellow trying to get him a reputation for bravery because he robs a hacienda or so and frightens a few women! Señor Zorro, eh? Here is one fox it gives me pleasure to hunt! Curse of Capistrano, eh? I know I have led an evil life, but I only ask of the saints one thing now — that they forgive me my sins long enough to let me stand face to face with this pretty highwayman!"
"There is a reward —" the landlord began.
"You snatch the very words from my lips!" Sergeant Gonzales growled.
"There is a pretty reward for the fellow's capture, offered by his excellency the governor. And what good fortune has come to my blade? I am away on duty at San Juan Capistrano, and the fellow makes his play at Santa Barbara. I am at Reina de Los Angeles, and he takes a fat purse at San Diego de Alcala! A pest, he is! Once I met him —"
Sergeant Gonzales reached for the wine mug, which the landlord had filled again and placed at his elbow. He gulped down the contents.
"Well, he never has visited us here," the landlord said with a sigh of relief.
"Good reason, fat one! We have a presidio here and a few soldiers. He keeps far away from any military post, does this pretty Señor Zorro! He is like a fleeting sunbeam — and with about as much real courage!"
Sergeant Gonzales relaxed on the bench again. The landlord looked and began to hope that there would be no broken mugs and furniture this rainy night.
"Yet this Señor Zorro must rest at times — he must eat and sleep," the landlord said. "He must have some hiding place. Some fine day the soldiers will trail him to his den."
"Ha!" Gonzales replied. "Of course the man has to eat and sleep. And you know what he claims now? He says that he is no real thief, by the saints! He is just punishing those who mistreat the men of the missions, he says. Friend of the oppressed, eh? He left a note at Santa Barbara recently stating as much, did he not? Ha! The friars of the missions are shielding him, hiding him, giving him his meat and drink! Shake down a robed friar and you'll find some trace of this pretty highwayman's whereabouts!"
"I have no doubt that you speak the truth," the landlord replied. "I wouldn't put it past the friars to do such a thing. But may this Señor Zorro never visit us here!"
"And why not, fat one?" Sergeant Gonzales cried in a voice of thunder. "Am I not here? Have I not a sword at my side? By the saints —"
"I mean," said the landlord quickly, "that I have no wish to be robbed."
"To be — robbed of what, fat one? Of a jug of weak wine and a meal? Have you riches, fool? Ha! Let this bold and cunning Señor Zorro but enter that door and step before us! Let him bow, as they say he does, and let his eyes twinkle through his mask! Let me but face the fellow for an instant — and I will claim the generous reward offered by his excellency!"
"He perhaps is afraid to come so near the presidio," the landlord said.
"More wine!" Gonzales howled. "More wine, fat one, and place it to my account! When I have earned the reward, you shall be paid in full. I promise it on my word as a soldier! Ha! If only this brave and cunning Señor Zorro, this Curse of Capistrano, were to step through that door now —" The door suddenly was opened!CHAPTER 2
ON THE HEELS OF THE STORM
In came a gust of wind and rain and a man with it. The candles flickered, and one went out. This sudden entrance startled them all. Gonzales drew his sword halfway from its scabbard as his words died in his throat. The Indian quickly closed the door again to keep out the wind.
The newcomer turned and faced them. The landlord gave another sigh of relief. It was not Señor Zorro, of course. It was Don Diego Vega, a handsome young man from an important family. He was twenty-four and was known the length of El Camino Real for his lack of interest in the really important things of life.
"Ha!" Gonzales cried, and slammed his sword back into its scabbard.
Don Diego glanced around the big room and nodded to the men before him. "Did I startle you, señores?" he asked politely and in a thin voice.
"If you did, señor, it was because you entered on the heels of the storm," the sergeant replied. "Your own energy is not enough to startle any man."
"Hm!" grunted Don Diego, throwing aside his sombrero and flinging off his soaked serape. "Your remarks border on insulting, my rowdy friend."
"Can it be that you intend to make me pay for my remarks?"
"It is true," continued Don Diego, "that I do not have a reputation for riding like a fool at risk of my neck, fighting like an idiot with every newcomer, and playing the guitar under every woman's window like a simpleton. I know you think of these things as shortcomings. Nevertheless, I do not care to have them thrown in my face."
"Ha!" Gonzales cried, half in anger.
"We have an agreement, Sergeant Gonzales, that we can be friends. I can forget the wide difference in birth and breeding that yawns between us only as long as you curb your tongue and stand as my comrade. Your boasts amuse me, and in exchange I buy you wine — it is a pretty arrangement. But if you make fun of me again, señor, either in public or private, then the agreement is at an end. I may mention that I have some small influence —"
"Your pardon, caballero and my very good friend!" the alarmed Sergeant Gonzales cried. "There's no need to get angry just because my tongue happened to slip. From now on, if any man asks, you are quick with a blade and always ready to fight or to make love. You are a man of action, caballero! Ha! Does any dare doubt it?"
He glared around the room, half drawing his blade again. Then he slammed the sword home, roared with laughter, and slapped Don Diego on the back. The fat landlord hurried with more wine, knowing that Don Diego Vega would pay the bill.
This peculiar friendship between Don Diego and Sergeant Gonzales was the talk of El Camino Real. Don Diego came from a family of noble blood that ruled over thousands of broad acres, countless herds of horses and cattle, great fields of grain. Don Diego, in his own right, had a hacienda that was like a small empire, and a house in the pueblo also. And he would inherit from his father more than three times what he had now.
But Don Diego was unlike the other young nobles — the caballero — of the times. It appeared that he disliked action. He seldom wore his sword, except as a matter of style. He was extremely polite to all women yet he courted none.
He sat in the sun and listened to the wild tales of other men — and now and then he smiled. He was the opposite of Sergeant Pedro Gonzales in all things, and yet they were together frequently. It was as Don Diego had said — he enjoyed the sergeant's boasts, and the sergeant enjoyed the free wine. What more could either ask in the way of a fair arrangement?
Now Don Diego went to stand before the fire and dry himself, holding a mug of red wine in one hand. He was only medium in size, but he was healthy and good-looking. All of the proud duennas thought he would make a fine husband for the daughters they protected. But, to their sorrow, he would not give a second glance at the pretty señoritas.
Gonzales was afraid that he had angered his friend and that the free wine would be at an end. He was anxious to make peace.
"Caballero, we have been speaking of this notorious Señor Zorro — this fine Curse of Capistrano, as some fool has seen fit to name the pest."
"What about him?" Don Diego asked, putting down his wine mug and hiding a yawn behind his hand.
"I have been remarking, caballero," said the sergeant, "that this fine Señor Zorro never appears in my vicinity. I am hoping the good saints will grant me the chance of facing him some fine day. Then I can claim the reward offered by the governor. Señor Zorro, eh? Ha!"
"Let us not speak of him," Don Diego begged, turning from the fireplace. "Must the talk always be of bloodshed and violence? Would it be possible in these turbulent times for a man to listen to words of wisdom regarding music or the poets?"
"Meal mush and goat's milk!" snorted Sergeant Gonzales in disgust. "If this Señor Zorro wishes to risk his neck, let him. It is his own neck, by the saints! A cutthroat! A thief! Ha!"
"I have heard much about his work," Don Diego went on to say. "No doubt, the fellow is sincere in his purpose. The only people he has robbed are officials who have stolen from the missions and the poor. And the only people he has punished are brutes who mistreat Indians. He has killed no one, I understand. Let him have his little day of fame, my sergeant."
"I would rather have the reward!"
"Earn it," Don Diego said. "Capture the man!"
"Ha! Dead or alive, the governor's proclamation says. I myself have read it."
"Then stand you up to him and run him through, if it pleases you," Don Diego replied. "And tell me all about it afterward — but spare me now."
"It will be a pretty story!" Gonzales cried. "And you shall have it entire, caballero, word by word! How I played with him, how I laughed at him as we fought, how I pressed him back after a time and ran him through —"
"Afterward — but not now!" Don Diego cried, exasperated. "Landlord, more wine! The only manner in which to stop this noisy boaster is to make his wide throat so slick with wine that the words cannot climb out of it!"
The landlord quickly filled the mugs. Don Diego sipped at his wine slowly, as a gentleman should. Sergeant Gonzales took his in two great gulps. Then the son of the house of Vega stepped to the bench and reached for his sombrero and his serape.
"What?" the sergeant cried. "You are leaving us at such an early hour, caballero? You are going to face the fury of that beating storm?"
"At least I am brave enough for that," Don Diego replied, smiling. "I only ran over from my house for a pot of honey. Get me one, landlord."
"I shall escort you safely home through the rain!" Sergeant Gonzales cried. He knew full well that Don Diego had excellent wine there.
"You shall remain here before the roaring fire," Don Diego told him firmly. "I do not need an escort of soldiers from the presidio to cross the plaza. I am going over accounts with my secretary. I may return to the tavern after we have finished. I wanted the pot of honey that we might eat as we worked."
"Ha! And why did you not send that secretary of yours for the honey, caballero? Why be wealthy and have servants, if a man cannot send them on errands on such a stormy night?"
"He is an old man and feeble," Don Diego explained. "He also is secretary to my aged father. The storm would kill him. Landlord, serve everyone here with wine and put it on my bill. I may return when my books have been straightened out."
Don Diego Vega picked up the pot of honey, wrapped his serape around his head, opened the door, and plunged into the storm and darkness.
"There goes a fine man!" Gonzales cried. "He is my friend, that caballero, and I would have all men know it! He seldom wears a sword, and I doubt whether he can use one — but he is my friend! Music and the poets, eh? Ha! Has he not the right, if such is his pleasure? Is he not Don Diego Vega? Has he not blue blood? He may do as he pleases. And he is my friend!"
The fat landlord served them with another round since Don Diego would pay. The landlord knew it was beneath a Vega to look at his bill in a public tavern, and he had taken advantage of this fact many times.
"If only," Sergeant Gonzales continued, "I had his youth and good looks and riches — Ha! There would be a stream of broken hearts from San Diego de Alcala to San Francisco de Asis!"
"And broken heads!" the corporal offered.
"Ha! And broken heads, comrade! I would rule the country! No youngster should stand long in my way. Out with blade and at them! Cross Pedro Gonzales, eh? Ha! Through the shoulder — neatly! Ha! Through a lung!"
Gonzales was on his feet now, his sword in his hand. He swept it back and forth through the air, thrust, parried, lunged, advanced, and retreated, shouted his oaths, and roared his laughter as he fought with shadows.
Excerpted from The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley, Jim Miller. Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Pedro, the Boaster 7
On the Heels of the Storm 12
Señor Zorro Pays a Visit 18
Swords Clash—And Pedro Explains 22
A Ride in the Morning 29
Diego Seeks a Bride 33
A Different Sort of Man 39
Don Carlos Plays a Game 44
The Clash of Blades 50
A Hint at Jealousy 56
Three Suitors 61
A Visit 66
Love Comes Swiftly 73
Captain Ramón Writes a Letter 81
At the Presidio 85
The Chase That Failed 92
Sergeant Gonzales Meets a Friend 96
Don Diego Returns 101
Captain Ramón Apologizes 105
Don Diego Shows Interest 111
The Whipping 115
Swift Punishment 120
More Punishment 125
At the Hacienda of Don Alejandro 130
A League is Formed 137
An Understanding 141
Orders for Arrest 148
The Outrage 153
Don Pulido Feels Ill 160
The Sign of the Fox 165
The Rescue 169
Close Quarters 174
Flight and Pursuit 181
The Blood of the Pulidos 187
The Clash of Blades Again 191
All Against Them 201
The Fox at Bay 206
The Man Unmasked 210
“Meal Mush and Goat's Milk!” 215