Felipe leaned against the plaza fountain outside the cuartel. Bernardo had agreed to go into the comandante's office to warn the emissary that Zorro had been sighted in the plaza. Hopefully, Don Alberto would send the soldiers out to search for the masked avenger, thus giving Zorro a chance to sneak into the cuartel and free Benito. Felipe would blow a whistle to warn Zorro if they returned. The whistle nestled inside his sash and pressed his skin.
As the mute manservant entered the cuartel courtyard, Felipe smiled wryly. My Don Diego likely would have used his science knowledge to play a trick on the soldiers, he thought, rubbing the back of his neck. The young boy glanced at the sky, dotted with glittering stars. A breeze brushed his cheek.
A few minutes passed, during which time Felipe scratched his wrist. Suddenly, he overheard the emissary shouting, "Lancers! Zorro is out there, and he intends to blow up the armory! After him, before he enters!"
Felipe crouched behind the fountain. Within minutes, a crowd of soldiers rushed into the plaza on horseback.
Good! he thought. Now he has a chance. Hurry, Zorro! He made the sign of the cross.
Several more minutes passed. Each moment felt like an eternity. The servant boy silently prayed that this Zorro would succeed in saving Benito and that both would escape unharmed. As he waited, Don Alberto shouted, "Zorro! I might have known it was a scurvy trick! Prepare to die, outlaw!"
Felipe rose to his feet and stood stock-still. As he held his breath, the faint clanging of swords reached his ears. You can do it! he thought. You can beat the emissary! You must! After all, you're Zorro!
After the swordfight had lasted for several minutes, Felipe heard the approach of galloping hoofbeats. The soldiers were returning!
"I must report to the emissary!" Sergeant Garcia's voice sounded distant.
Felipe snatched the whistle and inserted it between his teeth. As he blew, an earsplitting TWEEEEEEEEEEEE! filled the air.
Sudden silence, followed by a faint thud. As Felipe stepped backwards, the right side of his homespun cotton shirt snagged on the edge of the fountain. With a violent tug, he jerked it loose.
Santa Maria! I've torn my shirt. He stared at his shirt in dismay.
There was no time to worry about a torn shirt. He still had to get away before the soldiers saw him. Felipe raced toward the horse Bernardo had loaned him, leaped on its back, and galloped down a side street. He had done his job. The rest was up to Zorro, now.
Felipe and Bernardo had been waiting in the patio for a half-hour. Bernardo shifted his weight restlessly from one leg to the other as he leaned against a column supporting the balcony; Felipe paced nonstop. Would Zorro never return? What if he had been imprisoned--or shot? A knot formed in the boy's stomach. Unable to sit still, he wandered all over the patio.
Please, God, he silently prayed, protect him and Benito! Por favor, get them back safely. He made the sign of the cross. Watching him, Bernardo followed suit.
Suddenly, the manservant tapped Felipe's shoulder and motioned toward the candle that flickered ten feet behind them. Felipe followed him toward that candle. What was Bernardo going to do?
The mozo pantomimed shutting his eyes and pointed at Felipe. Shrugging, the boy did as he was told, wondering what this was about. Bernardo's boots clomped across the patio, then stopped. A long moment passed while Felipe waited, fidgeting.
At a tap on his shoulder, Felipe opened his eyes. Bernardo held his cotton handkerchief in one hand and a pencil-size twig in the other. As Felipe watched, the mute manservant wrapped the twig in the handkerchief, then, with gestures, told Felipe to break the twig. Puzzled as to what Bernardo intended, Felipe took the twig wrapped in the handkerchief and snapped it in two.
Bernardo took the broken twig back, still wrapped up in the handkerchief. A mysterious expression etched his round face. He waved his other hand directly over the handkerchief, then drew Felipe's right hand out, gently grasping his wrist. Silently, the manservant shook the handkerchief. One intact, pencil-sized twig dropped into Felipe's cupped hand.
Felipe gaped at the mozo and pointed at him, amazement flooding his heart. Looking innocent, Bernardo just shrugged and folded his handkerchief. Without volunteering an explantion, he inserted the handkerchief into his inside jacket pocket.
How did he do that? Felipe wondered. What other magic tricks does Bernardo know?
Don Diego raced down the balcony stairs. The boy sighed with relief, only to freeze again as Diego hurried toward him, worry creasing his forehead.
"Felipe, you must leave--immediately!" He grabbed the young boy's shoulder. "Yes, Benito is safe--Zorro saw to that. But you're not! The soldiers are on their way here even as we speak. Sergeant Garcia and another soldier saw you in the plaza and reported your presence to the emissary. And now, the emissary knows you probably read his lips this afternoon!"
Before a shocked Felipe had a chance to react, Don Diego grabbed his arm and propelled him toward the gate. "I told Benito to have a horse saddled and waiting outside the patio wall. Another vaquero should be out there with it right now. Come, we must hurry!"
Felipe darted out of the patio and practically leaped into the saddle of the horse the vaquero had brought. Without a farewell, Felipe dug his heels into the horse's sides, and it galloped off. Before he had gotten far, he heard the faint clomping of other hoofbeats and the emissary's distant shout.
"There's the boy!" Don Alberto sounded enraged. "I'll teach that brat to aid and abet that masked outlaw! He's going to tell me who Zorro is, if I have to torture every inch of his body to make him talk!"
The terrified boy urged the horse to greater speed. Minute after minute passed, as he galloped the horse over hill and dale. The wind whistled past his head.
I've got to find that cave! he thought, panting. I've got to hide! He scanned the darkened countryside desperately. The cave! Where is it? This is the area, but where is the cave?
A distant shot exploded faintly. A musket! Just in time, Felipe remembered not to flinch.
"No, baboso! Don't shoot him!" The emissary's voice sounded fainter, now. "I want that boy alive!"
As Don Alberto's voice died down, Felipe saw the hill up ahead, that held the cave. Looking backwards, he noticed that the hill behind him now hid him from the soldiers' view. The servant boy dismounted and slapped the horse's side; it galloped away. Felipe rushed into the cave and leaned against the frigid limestone wall, panting and shivering. The bumps pressed into his back.
The hoofbeats sounded nearer and nearer. Felipe squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath. His heart pounded, and his palms grew sweaty. Would the soldiers and the emissary find the cave? Would they dismount and search it?
Just as he felt he couldn't endure the suspense another second, the horses galloped past the cave. "Santa Maria, he's disappeared!" The emissary sounded furious. "Where IS he?! By the saints, I'll find that insolent pup!"
Felipe slowly opened his eyes. The clomping hoofbeats faded into the distance. The servant boy sighed in relief. At least they didn't see the cave!
Yawning, Felipe decided to spend the night in the cave, and try to find the hacienda in the morning. He curled up on the stone-cold limestone floor and laid his head on his left arm. As his eyelids grew heavy, he daydreamed about the events of the last two days.
Suddenly, his eyelids shot open. Reddish-orange sunbeams poured through the entrance, forming an oval of sunlight on the cave floor. It must be dawn, Felipe thought, stretching.
The young boy leaped to his feet. That voice sounded familiar! Could it be--?
Felipe's shirt snagged against a limestone point sticking out of the cave wall; he jerked it loose and darted outside. A familiar caballero wearing a familiar charro jacket had just dismounted an equally familiar stallion.
"Felipe!" Don Diego rushed toward the boy. "Are you all right, amigo? When your horse returned without you, my father and I were worried!"
Felipe rushed into his patron's arms. Ecstatic joy flooded his heart. This was HIS Don Diego! Felipe was back where he belonged! Without success, he tried to stop shaking.
"Shhh. It's all right, Felipe. You're safe, now." Don Diego's soft voice soothed him. "You're not hurt, and you're not lost anymore. That's all that matters." He patted the boy's back as he spoke.
When Felipe stepped back, after a long moment, he gazed at the countryside. The same rocks, trees, and shrubs he had seen before entering the cave filled the scenery once more, and the ground was wet and muddy. He noticed that the sun was in the west, not the east. The bewildered boy shook his head.
Did I dream it? he wondered. Or did it really happen?
He turned back toward Don Diego. As he gazed into the patron's kind blue eyes, Diego smiled at him comfortingly.
Felipe signed a question. "What time is it?" the young don asked. Felipe nodded.
Don Diego patted his shoulder. "I don't have my timepiece with me, but your horse returned to the stable less than an hour ago." He gazed at the reddish-orange sun, now dipping toward the horizon. "And now, it's time to get you home, my friend. It'll be dark, soon."
Felipe nodded his acquiescence. Reluctantly, he decided not to tell Don Diego about his adventure. He'd never believe me, the young man thought ruefully, as his patron mounted Esparanza. I'm not totally sure I believe it, myself! Maybe I dreamed it. And yet--and yet, it all seemed so real!
Suddenly, Don Diego bent sideways and frowned. "Felipe, you've torn your shirt." He fingered a small tear in the right side of the boy's cotton shirt. "When we get home, I want you to change your shirt and give this one to the seamstress to mend." He straightened his navy-blue charro jacket.
Felipe glanced down at his shirt and furrowed his eyesbrows. I snagged that side on the water fountain, he thought. But then, it also caught on the cave wall when Don Diego called me. How do I know where it happened? He shook his head, bewildered.
With an ease born of long practice, the mute boy mounted the horse, behind Diego. As soon as he got home, he was going to think about what had happened and try to determine whether the adventure had been real or a dream. I'll probably never really know, he thought. Not ever!