A worried Victoria had spent most of the day tending to the feverish masked man. She sponged him with cool water, tried to get him to take sips of wine and strengthening broth. His wound still looked infected every time she changed the bandages but so far there had been no putrid odor emitting from it.
Victoria had seen a case of gangrene only once before and it still made her shiver. The poor man had lost his leg. She would never forgive herself if Zorro had to lose his arm because of her inadequate nursing skills.
She wonder if she should have Doctor Hernandez examine the masked man, no matter what she had promised. Her patient was unconscious most of the time and the rest of time he murmured incoherently. Making up her mind, Victoria draped her fringed rebozo around her shoulders.
"Victoria, no!" Zorro groaned loudly, halting her exit. She rushed to his side and saw that he was still delirious with fever. She threw off the shawl, sat on the edge of the bed and dipped a cloth in a bowl of tepid water that was on the bedside table.
She wiped the lower half of his face and neck. Then she boldly moved the cloth over his broad shoulders and chest muscles causing a low moan from the injured man.
If she could only remove his mask and cool his brow. It had to be uncomfortably hot under the black silk. But Victoria had given her word. She moistened the fabric again and sponged his face again.
"Victoria," mumbled Zorro, this time with the beginning of a smile on his lips. He said something else she did not quite catch, then began to thrash wildy. "Father, no!" he cried worriedly.
Father? Victoria puzzled as she attempted to calm the agitated man. So, Zorro had a father about whom he was concerned. She thought he had said he had no family. Was that a lie to protect them?
He had settled down, muttering something about the Alcalde. A glance out the window told Victoria that darkness had fallen once again. How many days had it been since Zorro had shown up at her door? Two? Three? She had lost count.
She wearily removed her shoes and laid down
next to her patient. Just a quick nap, she promised herself.
Victoria kissed Zorro's cheek, then closed her eyes.
Z Z Z
Don Alejandro was now beginning to worry. Diego still had not returned to the hacienda. And no one seemed to know where he might be. All day, the old don had inquired around the pueblo. About the only person he had not spoken to was Victoria. Ana Maria Ortega had informed him that the señorita was unwell and had not left the tavern in days.
He had knocked on the inn's locked doors earlier that afternoon but there had been no response. Perhaps she had been asleep. A crazy thought had crossed Don Alejandro's mind, one so loco, it made him laugh out loud. Surely he was putting two and two together and coming up with five. Just because Diego was missing at the same time no one had seen Victoria for several days. The notion was too absurd. Diego and Victoria. As far as he knew, Victoria only had eyes for Zorro and Diego. . . Well, his son had showed no interest in anything but poetry and science.
He had once thought Victoria would have made Diego an excellent wife. Alfonso Escalante had been a good friend of his. He and his wife Elena had been hard workers, a trait they had passed down to their only daughter.
The elder de la Vega shook his head and chuckled. Diego was no match for Victoria . It would be easy to see who wear the trousers of that couple.
He and Miguel had finished loading the empty crates back into the wagon. It had been a good day selling their fruit. Too bad Diego had missed it. If his son did not arrive back by tomorrow morning, he was going to form a posse to search for him. He had already spoken to several of his amigos and had even extracted a promise from Mendoza that the garrison would help.
Flicking the reins, he and the old ranch
hand headed out of the pueblo.
Z Z Z
Felipe had only been asleep a couple of hours when a clanking sound and cursing right outside his tent woke him with a start. Again, he recognized the voice right away, although now its speech was slurred.
Oh, great, Tomas had been drinking, groaned Felipe. The other man was mean enough sober, being drunk just made him worse. The young corporal wondered where Tomas had gotten the alcohol. It was one of the items that were strictly forbidden at the camp. Of course, trust Quiñones to find some.
"Damn it, Juan, watch where you're going," Tomas growled.
"He cannot hear us." The other youth reminded his friend.
"Shut up anyway," was the reply. "That lieutenant friend of his can hear perfectly."
Felipe slowly reached under cot, feeling for the gun he had placed there before he had gone to sleep. He had taken the precaution of loading it, having a premonition that Tomas would strike tonight. The young bully was impulsive, thinking he was smarter than he really was. Although hanging around with Juan and Pablo would make anyone feel superior.
Felipe watched as the trio's shadows crept by the side of his tent. Raising his musket in preparation, he nervously waited for them to enter.
"Private!" came a loud shout. "What is going on here?" An angry Sergeant Melendez had just happened to come around the corner as he was making his nightly rounds.
"Uh. . . Ah. . ." Even Tomas was intimidated by the portly sergeant. "We were just. . ."
"Out of your quarters after curfew," Melendez finished for him. He leaned over and sniffed. "And drunk as well," he added. "Guards!"
Felipe was peering through the slit of his tent flaps. Other soldiers had stumbled out of their beds upon hearing all the commotion. Carlos emerged from his tent as well and strode over to where the sergeant was keeping the three troublemakers in their place with sharp point of his musket's bayonet.
"What is the problem, Sergeant?" Carlos asked sleepily, letting out a big yawn.
The burly man quickly filled in the young lieutenant as the sentries arrived to take the violators to the stockade. Tomas glanced over his shoulder as he was being escorted away and saw Felipe's head sticking out his tent.
"I am going to get you, muchacho!" he shouted, struggling with the soldier grasping his arm. "You better watch out."
"My, what a nasty temper," stated Carlos. Noticing all the onlookers standing around shivering, he added, "All right, back to bed now. On the double."
There was a mad scramble as the soldiers headed back to their tents. Carlos turned to see his friend's worried face through the flaps.
"Think they were after you?" he inquired. Felipe nodded as he emerged from his quarters.
"Do not fret, amigo," reassured his old friend. "A few days in the stockade should cool his temper and make him think twice about bothering you again." Carlos laughed as Felipe arched his eyebrows in doubt.
"You will see. Now let's get some sleep." The young officer yawned again and made his way back to his own tent.
Felipe stood in front of his canvas shelter for a moment. Shaking his head, he went inside to lie down, knowing it would be impossible to sleep much more tonight. A couple of days of being locked up would only make Tomas angrier. And Felipe knew his wrath would be directed at him.
He sighed in resignation and closed his eyes.
He would never get used to waking up to the blaring blast of the bugle, Felipe thought as he sat up in his cot. He finally had drifted off to sleep a couple of hours earlier. His head was aching and he doubted if it would improve as the day wore on. At least Tomas and his cohorts would be out of his way today.
Donning his uniform, Felipe wished he could go back home. Diego had been right, army life was not what he thought it would be. It was tedious with endless drills and so many strict rules to follow. Salute this person, button that button, stand at attention...
Maybe this training would be over soon and he and the others would be on their way to Spain. That would be exciting. He loved to listen to tales of Diego's time there. It would take several months to sail to Europe with a few stops along the way. He would be able to visit exotic places he had just heard of from others.
Felipe only wished he could bring Ana Maria
with him to share this adventure with her. He finished fastening
up his blue jacket and headed out to take his place at the morning inspection.
Z Z Z
At the de la Vega hacienda, Don Alejandro also was getting ready to face the day. He had stayed up until midnight, working on his accounts and keeping a lookout for his son's return. A quick check of Diego's room before he had headed for his own showed the still neatly made bed and no sign of his errant offspring.
Now he had to waste time to go out searching for him. There were more orchards to harvest yet. In a couple of days the sheep shearing would begin. Every available hand was needed and Diego was well aware of that.
Don Alejandro dressed hastily and went out to the stables to saddle his horse. Already the vaqueros were up and about, getting ready for the long day ahead of them.
It did not take long for the elder de la Vega to cover the two miles to the pueblo. When he arrived, he noted there were no signs of activity at the cuartel. He pounded on the Alcalde's office door for several minutes before it was finally answered by a very sleepy Mendoza.
The sergeant and the remaining lancers had decided to raid their commandante's liquor cabinet and smoke his Cuban cigars. They had stayed up until quite late, swapping stories and getting drunk.
Don Alejandro was extremely upset with the stout officer. The old don glared at the bleary eyed Mendoza. "Sergeant, I will give you ten minutes for you and your men to be dressed and on your horses by the time I get back," he ordered sternly. He strode out of the building, slamming the door behind him.
It dawned on the confused Mendoza that he had promised Don Alejandro he and the other soldiers would help look for Don Diego that morning.
"Oh, my aching head," groaned the portly sergeant. He felt awful and he imagined his fellow lancers were fairing no better. Still a promise was a promise, especially to Don Alejandro.
Across the plaza, the first light of dawn glimmered through Victoria's bedroom window. A singing bird right outside the glass caused the masked man in the bed to stir. He did not open his eyes, wanting to savor the remnants of the dream he had been having before being disturbed. It had felt so very real...
A little too real, he thought with a start. Opening his eyes, he saw Victoria cuddled beside him. Her warm body was molded to his side and her small hand lay possessively on his bare chest.
Dios mio! Zorro tried to sit up but a stabbing pain in his left arm prevented him from doing so. He remembered now he had been shot and Victoria had tended his wounds. But how had they ended up sleeping together in her bed? Madre de Dios, what had he done?
Zorro realized he was still holding Victoria with his good arm when she snuggled even closer to him. Looking down, he noticed that she was still fully clothed and lying atop the quilt. Gracias a Dios. He had not taken advantage of her.
Victoria too was in the middle of the most delicious dream. Zorro had her in his strong arms and they were flying through the air on Toronado's back. Mm...it felt so wonderful.
Her eyes flew open and met the masked man's gaze. A soft "oh" was all she could manage to say.
"Oh, indeed," Zorro responded with a wicked grin.
"Your fever, it's gone?" Victoria's nursing instincts kicked in. She felt his whiskered face and it was cool.
"Fever?" So that was why he did not remember what had happened. He must have been delirious. "How long have I been here?" His father must be frantic with worry.
"Three days," Victoria replied. Neither of them had moved and both seemed reluctant to do so. They stared at one another as if to see who would make the first move and what it would be.
"Victoria!" A loud banging noise accompanied the shout. "Victoria, are you all right?" The pounding sounded again.
"Don Alejandro." Victoria rose from the bed in alarm. "He must not find you here. I will go speak with him." She hurried from the room before Zorro had a chance to respond. Dios mio, he thought, she was right. He could not be found here, especially by his father.
He tried to rise once again from the soft
mattress but his left arm was too painful to be of any assistance.
Struggling, he finally sat up, gritting his teeth to keep from crying out.
Footsteps sounded right outside the bedroom door. He tried to swing
his legs off the bed but it made him dizzy and he fell back against the
Z Z Z
"TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS"-CHAPTER FIVE