An hour later, after Felipe had dined with the de la Vegas, Don Diego strolled toward the ebony-colored piano. As Don Alejandro leaned against the wall and listened, Felipe perched on the edge of the polished dining table, studiously ignoring the cigar stub that lay on a small silver tray next to him.
He's a good piano player, the boy thought. Like my Don Diego! A rush of homesickness swept through him. I wish I was home! With the de la Vegas I know! They must really be worried about me.
Suddenly, Felipe yawned. Don Alejandro glanced at him and smiled. "Diego, I think our young houseguest needs some sleep. And since we have to go to town in the morning, so do we." He clasped his hands behind his back as he spoke.
Diego rose to his feet. "You're right, Father." He squeezed Felipe's shoulder. "Come with me, and I'll take you to your room."
Don Alejandro cupped his fingers under the boy's chin. "Have a good night's sleep, Felipe." The boy smiled and nodded. Chuckling, the aged don told his son, "He's an appealing boy, Diego. Honest and good. I can see it in his eyes."
Smiling bashfully, Felipe shrugged. At that moment, Bernardo entered the room. His hairline receded directly above his ears, and his brown, wavy hair formed a ring around the back of his head. He had a chubby frame, a round face, and an engaging smile.
"Bernardo, would you find Felipe a nightshirt?" Don Diego asked.
Nodding, the mozo left. Don Diego turned to Felipe.
"All right, amigo, come with me." He put an arm around Felipe's shoulder as he spoke.
Minutes later, in his guest room, Felipe donned an unbleached cotton nightshirt Bernardo had just brought him. He gazed at the bedroom for a long moment as the flickering candles cast shadows on the walls, illuminating the furniture and other objects. An adobe-brick fireplace stood at one end of the bedroom, and a pine desk stood at the other end. Three armchairs stood against the paneled walls. Two oil paintings of 16th-century aristocrats hung on the walls, one next to the fireplace and the other above the desk.
The canopy bed's light-green silk bedspread, snow-white linen sheets, and plump pillows invited occupancy. Stifling a yawn, the boy perched on the edge. The mattress sagged and creaked underneath his weight.
I mustn't go to sleep, Felipe thought. I've got to go back downstairs and look for Zorro's cave. He glanced at the rosary he had laid on the nightstand. Meanwhile, I need to say my prayers.
The boy knelt at the bedside, praying with his rosary as it dangled from his fingers. His late mother had bequeathed it to him shortly before she and his father were killed trying to escape the battle. Silently, Felipe prayed that he would be able to find his way back to the de la Vegas he knew. When he had finished, he blew out the candles and crawled under the soft bedcovers.
An hour passed as the young boy lay awake on his back. When he was convinced that the whole household had gone to sleep, he climbed out of bed and put on his white, unbleached cotton shirt and trousers, his brown woolen sash, and his woven leather sandals. Quietly, he tiptoed out the door and minced down the stairs to the patio.
When Felipe stepped into the drawing room, he stood quietly for a long moment, to let his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness. If he was to have any chance of finding the cave without being caught, he had to be able to conduct his search in the dark. Silently, he just stood there, thinking while grasping his left arm.
When he could see as well as he could expect to, he began to feel the walls for hidden levers. Felipe could just barely see the outlines of furniture and other objects, and the only sound in the otherwise silent room was his sandals clicking on the wooden floor. Yet, he persevered in his hunt. Felipe was bound and determined to find out if this Don Diego was also Zorro.
A sudden instinct prompted the boy to go to the library and mince toward the tall bookcase that stood next to a tapestry and bench. Sometimes, he knew, bookcases, highboys, and cupboards concealed hidden passages. He pressed his palms against its left wall and pushed.
To his joy, the bookcase slid toward the right. A doorway stood exposed, revealing pitch-blackness. This is it! the servant boy thought.
Silently, he slipped into the secret hallway. Complete darkness surrounded him. After a moment of indecision, he tiptoed toward his right, till he came to a turning in the dark adobe-brick corridor. As he stood there, shivering in the cold hallway, he pressed his fingertips into the corner where ice-cold adobe bricks met.
Where does it go? he wondered, mincing onward. Where's Zorro's cave? How many secret passages does this hacienda have?
A faint thud from somewhere behind him startled him. What was that? he thought.
Felipe stood stock-still for a long moment, listening, but the sound did not repeat itself. Cautiously, he tiptoed onward.
Moments later, he halted when he reached out his right foot and set it down on...empty space. Drawing it back, Felipe carefully leaned forward to feel the wall. Sure enough, a railing had been fastened there.
Stairs! he thought. I'd better be careful, since I can hardly see them.
Slowly, carefully, he stepped down the circular stairway till he reached the bottom. Felipe then tiptoed down another secret passage, also made of ice-cold adobe bricks. Within minutes, he found himself in a cave tunnel. The bumps in the limestone wall felt frigid when he pressed his hand against it.
A faint whinny from far down the tunnel startled the boy. He trotted toward the source of that whinny. Could it be--?
Yes! Felipe froze. This is it! Here's the cave, and there's Toronado!
As he approached the horse, it backed up and snorted. The boy stopped when he had drawn near. This Toronado did not know him as the other one did; it would not be wise to spook the stallion.
At least, now I know where Zorro's cave is, Felipe thought. But where's his costume? His swords and whips? And where's the science equipment? All I can see--barely--is a tiny pond and hay on the ground! Bewildered, he rubbed the back of his neck and scanned the cave.
Felipe's Don Diego loved to dabble in science. He kept a laboratory in his cave. When he wasn't out riding as Zorro, he often performed experiments in the privacy of the secret laboratory and gave Felipe science lessons. So often, as Zorro, he used the results of his experiments to fool the soldiers when he rode to the rescue of some innocent victim of the alcalde's tyranny. It was especially easy to fool Sergeant Mendoza.
A hand grabbed his shoulder. The boy whirled around and froze. To his horror, Don Diego and Bernardo stood there!
Don Diego picked up a lantern and lit it. Beams of light illuminated the cave and the two horrified men. Don Diego had put on a blue satin bathrobe, and Bernardo had thrown on a brown woolen one. Their hair looked disheveled. Don Diego handed the lantern to Bernardo before speaking sharply to Felipe.
"Felipe, what are you doing down here? And how did you find this place?!" Don Diego crossed his arms.
Taking a deep breath, Felipe told the caballero, via signs, that he hadn't been able to sleep, so he had gone downstairs to find a book to read. He had accidentally pushed the one of the bookcases sideways, thus finding the secret passage, and had decided to explore it. In the course of his exploration, he had found the cave. When he had finished explaining, he held his breath, hoping that the two men believed him.
Still crossing his arms, Don Diego looked at Bernardo, and Felipe could see the silent debate going on between them. Finally, Don Diego turned his attention back to the young boy. Wearing an angry frown, he demanded, "Do you recognize that horse?"
Felipe considered lying, but his quick glance in Toronado's direction gave him away. Don Diego exhaled loudly and ran his fingers through his hair, letting it fall in disarray across his forehead. Felipe watched closely as the man thought about what to do.
Finally, he simply said, "Can you keep a secret, Felipe?"
Felipe, thinking of all the secrets he had kept over the years for his Don Diego, quickly nodded. The man stared at him intently. Then, finally, crossing his arms once more, he smiled at the apprehensive boy. "I do not know why, but I'm going to trust you. I don't really have a choice, but something about you tells me that I can."
Felipe exhaled slowly. Don Diego looked around the cave again and walked over to pet Toronado's neck. "You know that I am Zorro, and you know that there is a price on my head." Felipe nodded, even though it really wasn't a question. "You must never share what you know with anyone! For your sake, as well as my own." Diego wagged his finger for emphasis.
Felipe nodded his acquiescence. Diego glanced at his manservant. "Since you already know my secret, you may as well know his. Bernardo is not really deaf--he just pretends to be, so he can spy for Zorro."
Felipe nodded. That was just what he had expected. With signs, he revealed that he, too, could hear, but played deaf. He added that, at one time, he really had been deaf, but had miraculously regained his hearing.
Don Diego and Bernardo stared at each other. "That is truly amazing!" Diego commented. Felipe grinned. "Amigo, I have a question for you. Can you read, in fact, lips?" Felipe nodded. "Well, amigo, you've got one skill Bernardo lacks. Since he's never been deaf, he's never had to acquire that skill."
Felipe nodded his understanding. He signed a couple of questions.
Don Diego smiled at the mozo. "I hired him in Madrid." He chuckled, and Bernardo grinned. "I was a student at Madrid University, at the time, and I needed a manservant. And yes, he can read and write."
His face turned grim. "I never got to graduate, alas. My father wrote me and asked me to come home, when I was a year short of graduation. Los Angeles was under the grip of a tyrant at the time, and he needed my help to fight him. Capitan Enrique Sanchez Monastario was the most evil comandante any pueblo ever had the misfortune to have!" Diego pursed his lips as he spoke.
"Fortunately, he's gone now, but Zorro is still needed. And probably always will be."
Felipe shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't believe how similar the two Diegos were, or how similar he and Bernardo were. Or how similar this Capitan Monastario had been to Alcalde Ramon.
Bernardo sure is loyal to this other Don Diego, Felipe thought. He shook his head. Poor man! He can't read lips, and can't pretend to. That means he can't communicate with anyone but Don Diego and Don Alejandro! The boy sighed. At least, I can talk with other people besides the de la Vegas, because when I was deaf, I learned to read lips, and everyone knows I can do that.
Scratching his forearm, Felipe gazed at Bernardo, who smiled back. We're alike in several ways, Bernardo and me, the servant boy thought. We're both mute; we both pretend to be deaf; and we both help Zorro. Yet, he's a man and I'm just a boy. He was born in Spain, and I was born in Mexico. He's never been deaf, and I was at one time. This Don Diego hired him in Madrid, and my Don Diego found me in Mexico. Felipe shook his head again. They'd never believe if I told them about my Don Diego!
With a signs, he promised to keep both their secrets. Don Diego and Bernardo nodded, satisfied. "And we will keep you secret as well, Felipe." Don Diego patted his shoulder. "With your lipreading abilities, you might just be able to help us the next time Zorro's needed." Felipe grinned and nodded vigorously.
Felipe signed a question. Don Diego glanced at Bernardo. "Bernardo just happened to be in the secret passages. He saw you and went to my room to tell me."
Felipe nodded. So that was the sound I heard in the passage, he thought.
The caballero yawned. "Well, you two, we need our sleep, so let's go back to our beds, all right? Come with us, Felipe, and I'll show you where Zorro keeps his weapons and costume."
Felipe followed the two men back down the tunnel and up two flights of circular stairs. The second staircase ended in a small adobe-brick room.
Felipe gazed at the room. Bernardo opened a small wardrobe, revealing Zorro's costume. The Toledo-steel saber and the whip lay on a small trunk next to the wall. There was, however, no laboratory. Evidently, this Don Diego did not dabble in science.
Don Diego pulled a big metal ring attached to the wall; a door that stood opposite to the stairway entrance swung open. "That's my bedroom," the don explained.
Bernardo blew out the lantern and set it on a small table. Felipe stepped through the doorway, and the two men followed him. Diego smiled. "I'd better take you back to your quarters, Felipe. They can be hard to find in the middle of the night." He wagged his finger. "And no more middle-of-the-night excursions! Or you'll be tired and sleepy when we go to town tomorrow." Felipe nodded his acquiescence.
Back in his room, Felipe changed into the borrowed nightshirt. Now I know why he seemed like the Don Diego I know, he thought. He has the same passion for justice! And the same caring heart. He grinned. Same with Don Alejandro. He's a leader, and he's kind. I can tell!
Yawning, the exhausted boy snuggled under the soft bedcovers. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.