The sound of steel clattering across the stone brought Diego back to the present. He had been disarmed. It was not something that happened to him with great regularity even when fencing with his instructors. He looked with startled eyes into the face of Señor Delgado.
"Diego!" Delgado had retrieved the sword quickly and was already offering the hilt toward Diego. "Concentrate!" His face showed more concern than anger, but the fencing instructor had just about had it with his prize student. "Where are you, anyway? This is so unlike you. Where are the combinations, those sparkling techniques, that are the talk of all the underclassmen? I've not seen a one of them today!"
"Forgive me, I suppose I do have something on my mind. I'll try to do better, Sir" He returned to his guard stance. But Delgado did not.
"See that you do. Inattention such as that could cost you dearly in the real world. And it is that for which I prepare you."
"Yes, Sir. I realize that."
"Do you? Do you know what will await you when you return to your precious California? You may very well have need of all your skills when you return to take your place there. If all the reports are true, you will not have time for any distractions. Have you heard from your father lately?"
"Yes. But the long delay of the posts is frustrating. We are so very far from my home."
Diego was a little wistful. The fencing master sliced his saber downward in a quick salute. "We shall call it a day." He moved closer in and spoke in a low tone. "Is there anything I can help you with, Diego? I know there is something on your mind."
"No, Sir. No. It will work itself out. I hope."
"Women trouble, is it?" He laughed at Diego's raised eyebrow. "It always is." He turned to go.
"Isn't it just?" Diego mumbled to himself. He picked up his things and began walking to the entrance. But Señor Delgado had something more to say and turned back to his student.
"Diego, it wouldn't do for you to be forced to discontinue your studies because of some romantic indiscretion. Do you know what I mean?" Delgado spoke with a very pointed inflection. At Diego's wide-eyed look, he saw he must need go further in his warning. "To be caught with a young lady in one's room…well, it would not be a good thing, would it?"
"No, sir." A slow panic began to well up inside Diego and he swallowed hard. "No, sir, it would not."
"You will take care of your 'problem' then?"
"Yes, sir. I will do that." He closed his eyes in thanks. It was obvious that Señor Delgado was only giving him a warning and not planning on acting on his knowledge.
"Good. Then tomorrow we shall have a better lesson. Until then, Diego."
Bernardo met him before he got to the door. The deaf servant signed a quick greeting and gave his master an "all is well" sign before relieving him of his sword and paraphernalia.
"You heard? Yes, it has me worried. She's getting better and she's getting restless. We can't keep her locked up in the room much longer. And obviously if Señor Delgado knows she's there, others do too. We have to figure out what we're to do with her." He lifted a finger and pointed skywards. "Before I get expelled, hopefully!"
The two men found Brighid sleeping peacefully when they returned to the room. She lay on her stomach so it was easy for Diego to check the healing wounds on her back. The ointments had done their job well.
"Bernardo. We will need some more of this one. Here." Diego gave him a handful of coins. "The apothecary in the plaza should have more."
After Bernado had left, Diego sat at the desk and grabbed a quill and paper to begin a letter to his father. It would not reach Don Alejandro for months, but it might just help him get his own thoughts in some order and help him decide what he needed to do next. He looked over at the sleeping girl. Her soft breathing was the only sound in the still room.
So Señor Delgado knew she was here. His assumptions were wrong, of course. She was not a "romantic indiscretion". Diego smiled to himself. But there was no way anyone would believe that. Well, maybe there was one person who would believe it. Father de la Peña!
The good padre that heard his confessions. Yes, he would go to the padre and ask for his help. Perhaps there would be some family that Brighid could stay with temporarily.
A knock on the door drew Diego out of his reverie. He crossed to the door and opened it cautiously, being careful to obstruct the view into the room as best he could.
"Yes? Oh, Arturo, isn't it?" Diego smiled at the freshman. He had seen the young man about a few times. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes, Diego. There's been an accident. That servant of yours-"
"Yes, Bernardo. Well, they say he's been hurt."
"Hurt? Where? Where is he?" Diego stepped forward and pulled the door closed behind him, as he listened to Arturo describe the location of the accident.
"It sounds like the coach just knocked him down or something. He couldn't hear it coming, of course. I thought you'd want to ---" The young man's words hung in the air as Diego rushed past him.
"Thank you!" He called over his shoulder as he hurried down the steps and down the path he was sure Bernardo had taken. It would only take a few minutes to get there.
But once he arrived at the place Arturo had described, he found no evidence of any accident. It was strange and he felt at a loss as to what to do next. He was sure it was the right place. After asking a few questions of the shop owners in the area, he widened his search to the surrounding streets. He must have misunderstood Arturo.
Still nothing. No coach accidents had been seen that afternoon anyplace in the area.
Puzzled and still worried, he resigned himself to returning to his room. He would just have to send a messenger to find out more. He couldn't risk leaving Brighid alone in the room that much longer.
All the way back, he could not shake the feeling that something was dreadfully wrong.
By the time he opened the door to his room, he was certain the whole story had been a ruse to get him to leave the girl alone.
He was right. She was gone.