The next morning, Felipe rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The noisy bugle blast had disrupted a very pleasant dream he was having about Ana Maria. He hastily put on his uniform, his cold fingers fumbling with the unfamiliar buttons.
Yawning, he emerged from his tent into the early morning light. He started for the morning inspection when someone stepped into his path.
"Hola, muchacho," sneered Tomas Quiñones. He, along with his friends Pablo and Juan, had voluntarily joined up, not waiting into until the last minute to be inducted as had most of the men. Tomas thought it would be great fun to fight for their King. Of course the other two youths were there, standing on either side of their friend. They were never too far way from their leader.
Felipe did not wish to get involved with Tomas and his cronies again and tried to move around the trio. But they held their ground, causing Felipe to bump into Tomas and knocking him back a few feet. The bully grabbed Felipe by his jacket with one hand and made a fist with the other which he waved menacingly.
"Not so tough now, eh, without Zorro protecting you?" Tomas challenged with a snarl. Felipe's hands were clenched as well and he intended to prove the other man wrong.
But before either of them could throw a punch, Carlos emerged from his tent. "What is going on here, Private?" he questioned although he had already summed up the situation correctly. Tomas immediately released Felipe's jacket.
"Nothing, Lieutenant, sir." he saluted smartly, "de la Vega and I are old friends."
"Get back to your unit, pronto," commanded Carlos, "before I report you for assaulting a superior officer."
Tomas glanced quickly at Felipe's uniform and noted the stripe indicating the other man was a corporal. Felipe wished that Carlos had kept quiet as Tomas sneered threateningly at him. He motioned for his two companions to follow him.
Felipe and Carlos walked briskly to join the rest of their regiment. "Who was that?" the young lieutenant inquired. He nodded in understanding at Felipe's signed response.
"Ah, Tomas Quiñones. Your old rival for the fair Ana Maria's affections." Carlos waved his hand. "Hurry or we will be late."
Now Felipe knew who had vandalized
his tent. Somehow Tomas had found out he was here and arranged the
little greeting for him. He decided not to say anything to Carlos
about the incident, preferring to deal with the other man on his own.
He quickened his pace, catching up to his friend.
Z Z Z
Victoria awoke earlier that morning to the sound of a loud groan emanating from her bed. She had been dozing in a chair opposite the bed. She jumped up to examine her patient.
Zorro was drenched with sweat and thrashing his head from side to side. Victoria laid a hand on his stubbled cheek. He was burning with fever.
She poured out a glass of water and brought it to his parched lips. He moved his head, nearly spilling the liquid. "No, no," he moaned.
Victoria speedily undid the bandages to check his wound. Angry red streaks told her that it had become infected. She cleansed it again and wrapped it with fresh cloth. Stroking her hand on his face, she tried to get him to calm down.
"Shh, shh," she soothed. "Your arm is infected. Perhaps I should get Doctor Hernandez."
"No," the masked man said with surprising force. "No doctor. No."
"All right, no doctor," promised Victoria reluctantly. She bit her lip with worry. She said a little prayer that the infection would not turn into anything more serious, like gangrene. She shuddered at the thought of what might happen then.
She sat by the bedside, wiping his face and neck with cool water, trying to break the fever. Zorro slept fitfully, mumbling things Victoria could not quite catch. She did hear a noise in the kitchen that startled her. Assured that the man in her bed would be fine for a few minutes, she rushed out of the room.
Luckily it was only Pilar, who had dropped by to see if her employer was still ill. One look at Victoria gave her the answer. The usually lovely innkeeper had dark purple circles under her eyes that stood out in stark contrast to her pale skin. The fact that she was still dressed in the skirt and blouse she had worn the day before was testament enough she was unwell.
"I am sorry, Pilar," Victoria apologized. "Perhaps tomorrow."
"All right, Victoria, " the other woman agreed. "Hasta luego."
"Adios." Victoria closed the
door behind Pilar. And just in time too as Zorro let out a very loud
moan. She hurried to be with him.
Z Z Z
Don Alejandro and two of his remaining ranch hands were loading a wagon with crates filled with oranges, lemons and limes to take to the market in the pueblo. The elder de la Vega was getting quite perturbed with his only son. There had been no response when he had knocked on Diego's door at dawn.
Probably he had been up all night reading some dull book or working on some pointless experiment. Although it had been the result of one of the younger de la Vega's ideas to grow citrus fruit in the first place. Diego had rattled on about the climate, soil conditions, etc, being similar to those in the Mediterranean. Don Alejandro had to admit it had been a smart move. The young trees were bearing their first fruits and the harvest was plentiful.
Well, Diego was not going to miss out on this, the old don vowed. He marched back into the hacienda. Rapping loudly on his son's bedroom door, he called out, "Diego, wake up!" Getting no response he continued, "Come on, Son, I do not want to hear any of your excuses. I need your help today, Diego."
Still receiving no reply, Don Alejandro opened the door and stomped into the room. "Diego, where are you?" he queried upon seeing the neatly made empty bed. He could not possibly be up and gone this early, the elder de la Vega wondered in puzzlement.
He paused and tried to remember the last time he had seen his offspring. Had it been the day before yesterday? Surely Diego had been home for supper last evening. Don Alejandro shook his head in confusion.
He stopped Maria, the de la Vega housekeeper, on his way outside. She informed him that she had not seen Don Diego for the past two days, confirming his suspicions.
Where in the world could his son be? He hoped it was a simple explanation and not something dire. A niggling thought in the back of Don Alejandro's mind was that Diego had a mistress. Certainly no one from Los Angeles, but perhaps somewhere like San Pedro or San Gabriel. That would explain his son's mysterious disappearances and also why he was reluctant to marry. It was probably some sophisticated, beautiful older woman who appreciated his poetry and music. The old don wondered if she was the woman Diego claimed to be in love with when he tried to avoid marrying the Delgado girl. That was probably it.
Don Alejandro hoped his heir would soon become disenchanted with this woman and find a suitable wife. A short while later he and the old vaquero Miguel were on their way to the pueblo with their wagon of fruit.
As on any market day in Los Angeles, the plaza filled with people buying and selling wares. It had been an especially good harvest that year for all the farmers. This morning's mood was not as bright as it should have been though. The absence of the young men who had been drafted cast a somber pall over the mercado.
Ana Maria sighed wearily as she tended the stall she and her mother had set up. Señora Ortega sold what she called fripperies, lace trimmed handkerchiefs, fringed shawls, lace collars and other items to help supplement their income. Today she was busy sewing a dress for one of the don's wives, who needed it soon to wear to a niece's wedding.
This is so boring, the younger Ortega thought. Although business had been brisk, Ana Maria's mind was elsewhere. She was very worried about Felipe, especially since there had been no word from him as yet. She missed him so much.
Some of the younger boys had tried to flirt with her. They were just children, Ana Maria thought scornfully. The ones who made her nervous were the older men. She did not like the way they stared at her. The young woman could not understand why she attracted so much unwanted attention from the opposite sex. What she did not realize that it was her indifference to her beauty that drew men to her.
Sighing again, she glanced over at the tavern.
Ana Maria had not seen Victoria at all in the last several days but she
had heard odd noises coming from the landlady's quarters. She decided
it was none of her business and went back to pining over Felipe.
She twirled the silver ring around her finger and exhaled sadly.
Z Z Z
The object of her thoughts was about one hundred miles to the south. Felipe was beginning to get used to all the rules and regulations of army life. Unfortunately, there was still a lot to learn yet.
Pretending to be deaf was a times a blessing and a curse. The drills were the hardest part. He tried to be always a step behind as if he were waiting to see what the others did first. The stout sergeant Melendez like to single Felipe out to criticize and call names. Felipe stood silently, taking the abuse without flinching. His hands were becoming sore from having to clench his fists so often.
But the pain in his hands were no match for the aching of his feet. The constant marching had produced large blisters and his boots felt like they were two sizes too small.
It was a relief at noon to sit down and eat lunch. The food here was all right, not as good as Señorita Victoria's but then whose was? He began to devour hungrily the bowl of stew and bread on his tray.
At first he did not notice that the other soldiers seated around him were pointing and whispering to each other. Whatever was being repeated brought angry and disgusted looks to the faces of those who heard it. Felipe glanced up from his meal to see several sneering men staring at him.
Now what, the young man thought. No doubt Tomas and his pals were causing more mischief, spreading some rumor about him. Felipe scraped the last bit of stew from his bowl and shoved the rest of his bread into his mouth. He had intended to use the rest of his lunch break to write more letters home.
He had not walked very far with his tray when he went sprawling face first on the ground. Someone had tripped him. Picking himself up, he gathered his scattered utensils angrily. Most of the soldiers were paying attention to their meals but several were chuckling and smirking at him.
Burning with embarrassment, Felipe strode away from the mess area. He realized another confrontation with Quiñones was inevitable, it was only a matter of when and where. Well, he was ready to put an end to this. Ana Maria was his and nothing the other man could do would ever change that. Remembering the missives he meant to pen, Felipe quickened his step.
The rest of the afternoon he was kept busy, driving thoughts of anything else out of his mind. Carlos had assigned him several duties then spent time explaining how to complete them. Felipe indicated that most of them were pointless but the lieutenant just laughed.
"You are in the army now, mi amigo," he repeated. "Almost everything we do is without reason."
Actually Felipe was impressed by his friend's leadership abilities. He was well liked and respected by both his fellow officers and those under his command. He was hardly the vain, spoiled lad he had once been, but he still had his cutting sense of humor. Carlos often had Felipe holding back his laughter.
It was early evening before the young corporal finally completed his assignments. He stopped at the mess to pick up some cold tamales to eat while he completed penning his letters. Felipe did not want a repeat of what happened at lunch either.
He was passing by a circle of tents when he heard a loud voice he would recognize anywhere.
"I am tired of all this endless marching," declared Tomas hotly. "When are we going to fight? I want to kill some of those French frogs."
"I hear we might not go to Spain after all," Pablo volunteered. "A Colonel Santa Ana is trying to get the Viceroy to raise an army to take on the Americans settling in Texas."
"Where did you hear that?" demanded Tomas. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "Maybe we should volunteer to serve under this Santa Ana. I would not mind killing me a few of those Yankees either."
Pablo and Juan looked at each other nervously. It had not been their idea to join the army at all as deep down they were both cowards
"I think we should go find this colonel," Tomas said after thinking it over. "We will leave as soon as possible."
"But what about de la Vega?" queried Juan. "I thought you were going to. . ."
Tomas cut him short. "Do not worry about him," he sneered. "He might just become the first casualty of this war." He laughed evilly. His companions joined in half heartedly.
Felipe stumbled away from the tents and blindly made his way back to his own canvas shelter. So Tomas was planning to kill him then desert to join a rebel faction. His first instinct was to report what he had overheard. But he changed his mind.
He did not need Carlos' help or indeed anyone's,
including Zorro's. This was a problem he could take care of himself.
Z Z Z
"TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS"-CHAPTER FOUR