A black-cloaked figure rode a coal-black stallion toward the pueblo. Zorro was on his way to rescue Todd and Allison.
The moon had risen an hour before. Stars studded the sky like glittering diamonds. A cool breeze whispered as it caressed Zorro’s face. Zorro paid no attention to the moon, the stars, or the breeze, though. He was too intent on his mission.
As Zorro approached the pueblo, he slowed Toronado to a walk. He did not want to have to fight the soldiers, if he could help it. He decided to circle the town until he reached the back of the cuartel.
When he reached the back of the building, he dismounted and patted Toronado’s shoulder. He tiptoed around the cuartel toward the front, until he reached the corner.
He poked his head around the corner to make sure the coast was clear. To his dismay, three soldiers milled around in front of the alcalde’s office. Somehow, he was going to have to distract them so he could enter the jail.
He softly returned to the back of the building, where Toronado was waiting for him. "All right, boy," Zorro murmured. "We’re going to have to divert those soldiers, and you’re going to have to help me. Go!" He slapped Toronado’s back, and the stallion galloped toward the front.
Zorro hoped that Toronado would succeed. He had no intention of letting the americano children spend a single night in the alcalde’s jail. A second later, he heard the soldiers shout. "It’s Zorro’s horse! After him!"
Zorro hid behind some wooden crates as Toronado galloped past, with the soldiers in hot pursuit. Zorro then climbed to the red tile roof, and opened the skylight. Carefully, he lowered himself into the building.
To his left, the children were locked in the same cell. Todd sat at the foot of the cot, slumped against the wall, and staring morosely at the floor; his sister lay sleeping on the cot. Todd stared at Zorro and leaped to his feet.
"Allison!" Todd shook his sleeping sister. "Wake up! Zorro’s here!"
Allison sat up and rubbed her eyes; Zorro put a finger to his lips. "Shh! Don’t make a sound, either of you. I’ve got to get you children out of here." He picked the key ring up off its nail and unlocked the cell door.
"Come!" he whispered. "Follow me, and make no sound."
The children followed as Zorro led the way into the alcalde’s office. As they stepped outside, an approaching soldier spotted them and shouted, "Zorro is here! He’s freeing the children!"
"Run!" Zorro ordered the children. "Run and save yourselves!"
Todd and Allison were only too glad to obey. As they raced toward the mission, Allison overheard the alcalde’s angry voice shouting, "Shoot him! Shoot Zorro and get those children!"
Allison shoved the front door open and darted into the mission’s sanctuary; Todd paused to close the door behind them. "Come on!" Todd hissed. "We’ve gotta find a place to hide! The soldiers are going to look for us."
Allison felt scared. Suppose a soldier did find them?
The children hurried through the sanctuary toward the altars, and entered a hallway in the left wall. As they crept down the hall, Allison prayed silently for help. "Please, God!" she whispered. "Help us!"
A door opened ahead of the children, and the padre stepped into the hall. "Children!" he exclaimed. "You got away! Did Zorro rescue you?"
The children nodded. "Is there a place we can hide?" Allison asked.
The priest nodded. "Si. It’s a dirty, smelly place, but no soldier will look through it for that reason. Come with me, and I’ll take you there before the soldiers arrive."
Padre Benitez took the children outside and through another door into another part of the building. He took them into a back room and down into a cellar. Crates and tools littered the floor; a table stood in one corner, covered by a red cloth. In two corners stood huge piles of stinking garbage. The children made faces and held their noses.
"Do we have to go in there?" Todd pointed at one of the piles.
Padre Benitez nodded. "I’m afraid so. Breathe through your mouths, and you won’t smell it." He ruffled Allison’s blonde hair and squeezed her shoulder, then patted Todd’s back. "It’s either that, or return to your cells in the alcalde’s jail. The smell won’t kill you, I promise, but the alcalde just might. Come, now, crawl inside, and I’ll cover you up so no one will see that anyone’s hiding in that pile."
Wrinkling her nose, Allison crawled into the pile of garbage. "Phew!" she muttered. "I hate this stuff! It stinks! It smells awful!"
"It sure does!" Todd muttered back, as he followed.
The children lay side by side, facing each other and holding their noses, and the priest plugged the hole they had made crawling into the pile. "Remember," the padre’s muffled voice warned, "lie quietly and don’t make a sound. Don’t even whisper to each other; go to sleep. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out."
The children lay rigid and did not speak. Allison breathed through her mouth, to escape inhaling the fetid smell. Soon, she started yawning and relaxing; she felt sleepy.
Suddenly, she felt Todd shaking her, whispering, "Allison! Wake up!"
"Children, are you awake?" It was the priest’s muffled voice.
"We’re awake," Todd said.
"Good. Children, it’s early morning, now; the sun has just risen, and my people are attending Mass. The soldiers are here and they’re searching for you. I’ve just arranged things to hide you even better. Don’t move or make a sound; the soldiers will be in here to look before they leave. When they’re gone, I’ll come and tell you."
The priest left. The children lay still and dared not whisper. In fact, Allison hardly dared to breathe, she felt so scared. A hard knot formed in her stomach.
Minute after agonizing minute passed, as the children lay hidden in the pile of garbage. Allison prayed fervently that the soldiers would not find her or Todd.
Suddenly, the door banged open. Boots clumped on the floor. They’re here! Allison thought. I’m scared! She squeezed her eyes shut. I want to go home! I want my mom and dad! As she lay immobile beside Todd, she held her breath.
"Phew!" she heard a soldier complain. "This garbage smells terrible! Let’s make a quick search, then get out of here!"
"Si, si! We will," another soldier agreed.
A few minutes passed, as the soldiers picked up and slammed down objects. Allison lay stiff and prayed silently. She swallowed a sob; Todd grasped her hand and squeezed it.
"Well?" she heard a soldier say, at last. "Shall we search the piles of garbage?"
Allison froze and held her breath. Her heart pounded rapidly. She swallowed another sob, fearing to cry lest the soldiers overhear her. Todd’s grip on her hand tightened.
"No," the other soldier said. "It smells too bad; I could not stand it. If we can’t stand it, neither can two children. Let’s report to Sergeant Mendoza."
The door slammed shut; the clumping boots faded into the distance. Todd’s grip relaxed, but the children dared not move. The danger was not over, yet.
"I’m scared!" Allison whispered. "I’m hungry. I want to go home. What if the soldiers come back?"
"Shh!" Todd warned. "We’ll never go home if the soldiers hear us. There might be one on the other side of the door. Just lie still and don’t talk."
Minutes passed, as the children lay quietly. To get her mind off her predicament, Allison began to daydream. She thought about the good times she and Todd had had with their parents during past summer vacations.
Suddenly, the door slammed open again. Allison froze with terror and stifled a scream. Were the soldiers going to make one more try?
"It’s all right, children," the priest said. "It’s only me. You can come out, now. The soldiers have left. It’s too late to have you attend Mass, so I’m going to give you baths now, and have your clothes washed. And while they’re being washed, I’ll give you breakfast."
The children crawled out of the garbage pile. "Yuck! I smell awful!" Allison stared at her wrinkled, spattered clothes. Todd made a face.
Padre Benitez chuckled. "Well, then, you’d better take those baths now, haven’t you? Come along, now. This afternoon, when your clothes are clean and dry, I’ll take you on a tour of the mission."
The children bathed, and the priest loaned them dark-brown woolen bathrobes to wear until their clothes dried. They ate breakfast in the padre’s private quarters, then he assigned them bedrooms to stay in until they could get dressed.
Allison glanced around as she entered her bedroom. The walls were painted light beige. A single-size bed stood against the left wall; its dark-brown headboard leaned against the wall that faced the dull-red door. Two plump pillows, soft white cotton sheets, and a red woolen blanket invited occupancy.
A light-brown wooden chair stood next to the bed, facing the door; a metal candleholder was fastened to the wall on the door’s left. A shuttered window faced the left wall, and a wooden table and chair stood underneath. A wooden chest stood at the foot of the bed.
"We’ve got to go home before the alcalde finds us!" she told herself, out loud. "I hate that awful jail!" She glanced at her watch. It still read ten forty-five. I need to reset my watch, she thought. What time is it?
Allison stayed in the bedroom all morning. Victoria Escalante stopped by to visit, and spent the morning with her. She chatted with Allison and patiently answered her questions about Los Angeles, the de la Vegas, and Victoria’s own life and family. She learned that Victoria’s own parents had died in a recent revolution, and that her brothers lived in Mexico.
"Where do Felipe’s mom and dad live?" Allison asked, at one point. "Does he spend weekends with them?" She ran her fingers through her damp hair.
Victoria sighed. "No, Allison. They live in Heaven with their ancestors. They were killed in Mexico during the same revolution that took the lives of my parents, when Felipe was younger than you. Don Diego found him and brought him here, and the de la Vegas took him in. This was after my parents died, and before Don Diego went to the university in Spain—I was just a teenager, then."
Allison winced at the thought. "Wasn’t he frightened?"
Victoria nodded emphatically. "Very frightened! According to Don Diego, Felipe was terrified! And quite grief-stricken, as well. If Don Diego and his tutor had not found him, Felipe would not have long survived. As it is, it’s a miracle he wasn’t killed with his parents." Victoria shook her head. "Guardian angels must protect him."
"Why doesn’t Don Diego adopt him?" Allison frowned. "Why is he a servant?"
Victoria smiled wryly. "Felipe’s a peasant, Allison, that’s why; his parents were poor farmers. His late father was a peon."
Allison frowned, puzzled. "What’s a peon?"
"A peon is a poor farmer or laborer who repays a debt he owes his patron by working it off. Too often, the debt is not paid off—it is passed on from father to son." Victoria made a face as she spoke those words. "The de la Vegas, on the other hand, are caballeros—gentlemen. Wealthy landed aristocrats. It would not be fitting for a gentleman to adopt a peasant."
Victoria paused and glanced down at her hands. She smiled at Allison. "That doesn’t mean they never will, though. Only time will tell, of course, but I believe that they will adopt Felipe, someday. Especially if Don Diego never gets married, he will need someone to inherit the de la Vega money and lands. Otherwise, they will go to his cousin in Santa Barbara. Don Rafael."
"Oh." Allison scratched her nose. "Is Felipe a peon?"
"Under the de la Vegas?" Victoria laughed and shook her head. "Happily, no! The de la Vegas don’t believe in peonage."
When lunchtime arrived, Victoria served Padre Benitez and the children a meat enchilada dish she had made at the tavern. They ate in the priest’s private quarters. At the padre’s insistence, the children took a siesta in their rooms afterward.
"Miss Escalante sure is nice," Allison said, when she rejoined the priest following their siesta.
The padre smiled and nodded agreement. "She certainly is. She’s very kind and very caring. Furthermore, Senorita Escalante is a true lady and a strong, independent, strong-minded young woman."
"Is it true she’s going to marry Zorro?" Allison trotted next to Padre Benitez down the hall; Todd followed behind.
"Someday." Padre Benitez chuckled. "When Zorro no longer needs the mask."
When the children were given their clothes back, Padre Benitez took them on the promised tour. He took them through the various rooms and explained their functions. He introduced them to some of the remaining mission servants, and explained what those servant’s jobs were. He told the children what the function of the mission was—to lead the Indians to the Lord, to teach them the principles of the Catholic faith, and to teach them the ways of the Spanish—and in what ways the mission church helped them.
"We’re shorthanded right now, because the alcalde took so many of our Indians." The priest sighed and shook his head. "I hope Zorro rescues them soon. The alcalde is very cruel. I can’t take you outside to show you around; the alcalde or his soldiers will find you if I do. But I’ll keep you busy."
At last, he took them to the room where the mission school was held. A teacher was instructing fifteen children in the basics of reading. As Todd and Allison followed the padre in, everyone stared at their clothes, until the teacher ordered the children to pay attention to their lesson. For the next several minutes, Todd and Allison watched and listened attentively as the teacher taught the other children to read some two-syllable Spanish words.
At last Padre Benitez said he needed to get back to work. "I want you to stay with these other children," he told Todd and Allison. "School will soon be out, and then you may play with them if you wish."
"Don’t worry," the teacher assured him. "I’ll take good care of them. They are americanos, si?" Padre Benitez nodded.
For the next half-hour, Todd and Allison sat in the back of the room and listened. At last, the teacher dismissed the class. The children left the room and went outside. Ten of the children left immediately to go home; the other five remained inside.
"How come they have to go home right now, and you get to stay?" Allison asked one of the children, twisting her necklace.
"They live on farms," the little girl, Rosita, explained. She tossed back her long, black hair as she spoke. "They have to go home and do their chores. We are orphans, and we live here. Padre Benitez takes care of us and teaches us about Jesus. We will have to work later, but for now, we can play."
She knitted her eyebrows and pointed at Allison’s clothes. "Uh, where’d you get those funny clothes?"
Allison squirmed. "My mama buys our clothes. We—uh—dress different where we come from."
Allison scanned the hall for Todd; she found her brother chatting with three boys. "Can I see your toys?" Allison asked, turning back to Rosita.
"Si." Rosita smiled. "Come with Elena and me, and we’ll show them to you."
The two girls took Allison down the hall. They entered a bedroom that looked just like the one Padre Benitez had assigned to Allison. "Elena’s room is next to mine."
Rosita opened her chest and invited Allison to look inside. Allison squatted on the floor and rummaged through the chest’s contents. There was a rag doll with coal-black yarn braids, wearing a dull-green woolen skirt and a bright-red cotton blouse. There was a top, a jump rope, and a gaily-painted wooden cup that had a wooden ball fastened to it by a leather string.
"What’s this?" Allison picked up the cup.
"That’s my balero." Rosita took it from her. "Watch me, and I’ll show you how it works."
She yanked the cup upward. The ball flew up in the air, and then landed in the cup with a clink. "Now, you try it." Rosita handed the balero to Allison.
Allison yanked the cup upward. The ball flew up in the air, only to miss the cup by inches. "Try again," Rosita urged. "Sometimes, you have to try several times before it lands in the cup."
Allison tried again, and missed again. Then she tried a third time. This time, the ball landed in the cup. Allison grinned broadly.
"This is fun!" Allison wriggled. "Did Padre Benitez give it to you?"
"Si, after a caballero gave it to him." Rosita paused a moment and leaned against the side of the bed. "People give him toys for us, and he gives them out."
"I like Padre Benitez. He’s so nice."
"He sure is!" Elena agreed. "We have to work hard, but he takes good care of us. He tells us stories at night about God and Jesus and the saints. Tonight, he’s going to tell us a story about King David."
"Do you go to Sunday school?" Allison set the balero in the chest.
"Sunday school?" Rosita stared at Allison; she and Elena looked puzzled. "What’s that?"
Allison paused to think. "Well, on Sunday, Protestant churches give lessons about the Bible, before church starts. We call it Sunday school."
"Oh. Well, we have catechism class," Elena said. "That’s like Sunday school, I guess. We go every day but Sunday, to get ready for confirmation."
"What’s con—con—fir-mation?" Allison pronounced the unknown word slowly.
"It’s a ceremony that makes you a member of the church. When you’re 12." Rosita frowned. "Aren’t you going to get confirmed?"
Allison shook her head. "I’m already a church member. I became a member when I was baptized. Todd and I are Baptists."
For the next two hours, the three girls played in Rosita’s bedroom. Elena brought her own toys to Rosita’s bedroom so the girls could play with them. They jump-roped, played house with the two dolls, and played with the baleros.
Allison enjoyed herself thoroughly. Playing with the Indian children was such fun!
At last, a servant wearing a wooden rosary stepped in to tell Allison she was wanted in the priest’s study. "Padre Benitez says to tell you girls it’s time to do your tasks," he told Rosita and Elena.
"Si, Senor Fernandez," Rosita said, as the girls scrambled to their feet. The servant took Allison to the priest’s study, where she found Todd and Padre Benitez waiting for her.
"Todd, Allison, since we’re so shorthanded now, I’ve decided to assign you some tasks while you’re here," Padre Benitez told them. "I want you to go the laundry room and help the workers sort the laundry out. When you’re done, come back here, and I’ll tell you and the other children a story."
Todd and Allison nodded. "Carlos, will you take the ninos to the laundry room?" the padre asked the servant.
"Si, padre." Carlos grinned. "Come with me, children."
He took the children to a tiny, windowless room in the back of the mission, where some other children and three adults were already at work. For the next hour, Todd and Allison helped the others sort out the mounds of laundry piled in that room.
When they had finished, Todd and Allison joined the other children in Padre Benitez’s study. He told them a story about a kindness King David had once shown to a lame man named Mephibosheth.
After the story had been told, the children ate supper in a dining room with Padre Benitez and the remaining adult servants. Todd and Allison ate together; Rosita and Elena sat on Allison’s right. After supper, the children, Padre Benitez, and the remaining adult servants sang some hymns and fiesta songs. Unable to even recognize the Spanish words, let alone sing them, Todd and Allison sat quietly and listened.
When bedtime came, Allison put on the cotton nightgown Padre Benitez had loaned her. As she lay in bed, with the soft bedcovers piled over her, she started to worry. What if the alcalde decided to send his soldiers to search the church again? What if the soldiers found her and Todd in their bedrooms that night? Unless she and Todd could return to 1998 soon, they would remain in real danger!
She also worried about her aunt and uncle. Had they called the police? Had they called the children’s parents to report them missing? Allison wondered what their aunt and uncle would say when the children finally returned—if they returned. Would they believe the children’s explanation that they had gone back in time? Or would they accuse their niece and nephew of lying or imagining things?
A knock sounded on the door. "Come in," Allison called softly.
The door creaked open; Padre Benitez entered the room. "I’ve come to hear your prayers, and to give you a couple of souvenirs of your stay here." He handed her a doll that was very similar to Rosita’s and Elena’s, except that it had a pink blouse and a bright-red skirt. He then handed her a balero. It was painted bright-red, with rows of navy-blue lines that zigzagged in a circle around the cup.
"Now, when you play with Elena and Rosita, you’ll have your own toys to play with." The priest smiled. "They’re yours, to keep."
Allison squealed with joy. She flung her arms around the kind priest and hugged him. "Thank you! Thank you! I love them!" She hugged the doll to her bosom. "Did Todd get any presents, too?"
The priest nodded. "A balero and a toy soldier."
"Please, send him in here? I want to see them."
Padre Benitez nodded. "Yes, but only for a moment. It is almost bedtime; we all have to get up with the sun tomorrow. I want to hear your prayers, first."
Allison knelt by the side of the bed and cleared her throat. "Now, I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
"And God bless Todd and Mom and Daddy and Aunt Alice and Uncle Ted. And God bless Don Diego and Don Alejandro and Felipe and Miss Escalante and Padre Benitez, and make me a good girl forever and ever. In Jesus’ name, amen."
Allison paused. "And please, God, help Todd and me find our way home before the alcalde finds us. And help Zorro save the mission Indians. Amen, again."
She rose to her feet; the bed sagged and creaked under her as she sat down. She glanced at Padre Benitez, who looked astonished. "Well," he said, at last, "I must say I’ve never heard a prayer like that, before. Is that the way Protestants pray?"
"Pretty much." Allison glanced at her new doll. "We don’t pray to Mary and the saints, just to God and Jesus. My mom taught Todd and me that prayer."
"Oh." The priest turned toward the door. "Well, I’d better fetch your brother."
The priest left the room; minutes later, Todd entered, dressed in a cotton nightshirt. "Look what Padre Benitez gave me!" He displayed his balero, painted dark-green with straight yellow lines, and a carved wooden toy soldier, the uniform gaily-painted red and black. "Aren’t they cool?" He tossed his balero above his head and caught it.
"They sure are!" Allison snatched her toys and held them up. "And look what he gave me!"
Todd exclaimed over the doll and balero. "I can’t stay in here to play, or Padre Benitez’ll get mad. We’ve got to talk." He perched on the bed, set his toys on the bed and leaned forward.
Allison sat up straight. She sensed that what Todd wanted to talk about was serious.
"We can’t stay here," Todd said. "The alcalde might find us. Besides, we’ve got to find that cave, so we can go back to 1998. As long as we stay here in 1820, we’re in real danger from the alcalde."
"How are we going to find that cave?" Allison clutched her doll.
"We’ll just have to look for it. Let’s get dressed and meet in the back of the church when everyone’s asleep. Then, if the alcalde comes looking for us again, we’ll be gone. No one’ll know where we are."
Allison gulped. "Do we have to leave at night?"
Todd nodded, a grim expression on his face. "Yes, Allison, we have to. Padre Benitez’ll never be able to find our folks for us, ‘cause we’re not in our own time anymore. Our only hope is to find that cave and go back in it. They’ll stop us if we try to go in the daytime."
Allison paused to think. Todd was right. They would never get back to their own time if they relied on the priest, and to leave during the day would be too risky. She sighed.
"How will I know when to go in back?"
Todd thought a moment. "I guess I’ll have to come back here for you. I’ll go back to my room now, and get dressed. You go ahead and get dressed, too, and be ready when I come back."
"Are we taking our new toys with us?"
"Sure! I don’t want to leave them behind."
Todd picked up his toys and left the room. Allison took her clothes out of the chest at the foot of the bed, and put them back on. After dropping her nightgown in the chest, Allison blew out the candles, hopped into bed, and pulled the soft covers up to her neck. For a while, she lay curled on her side, eyes shut.
Suddenly, she felt a hand shaking her by the shoulder. "Allison! Wake up! It’s time to go. Everyone’s sleeping."
As Allison sat up in bed, the mattress creaked under her. She climbed out, grabbed her doll and balero, and left the room with Todd. The children cautiously tiptoed down the dark hall toward the back, and left the building. They walked in the direction of the north gate.
Minutes passed as the children tramped further into the countryside. The hills appeared as shadowy outlines against a dark background. Glittering stars dotted the sky. A cool breeze caressed Allison’s cheek, and blew her blonde hair out behind her.
"I wish we had our backpacks!" she complained.
"So do I, but we can’t go get them, now. We’ve got to find that cave."
"We’ve been in 1820 for two whole days," Allison said. "I bet Aunt Alice and Uncle Ted are real worried."
The children said nothing after that, for a long time. For a while, Allison twisted her necklace. Suddenly, she frowned. "Los Angeles sure is small. Why’s it so small in 1820 and so big in 1998?"
Todd frowned in his turn. "Gosh, I don’t know. But I sure wish I did. I’d like to know how a little village could get so big." He paused. "When we get back to 1998, let’s find out."
Allison smiled wryly. "It sure is different—going back in time—from reading a schoolbook or visiting some old, old place!" Todd agreed.
More time passed; Allison had no idea of how much. The moon slowly rose into the sky; twinkling stars dotted the sky thickly. Several times, Todd tossed and caught his balero. Allison tried to bite her fingernails; finding them too short to bite any further, she twisted her necklace with one hand and clutched her new toys with the other.
At last, exhausted, the children stopped to rest. "We’ll look again in the morning. It’ll be easier, then." Todd lay down on his side, in the shelter of a boulder. He laid his toys next to his head.
Allison plopped down next to her brother, and set her toys on the ground beside her legs. She slumped against the boulder, yawned, and closed her eyes. For some time, she listened to the breeze whisper. It ruffled her bangs and caressed her soft cheeks.
Suddenly, she opened her eyes. Daylight flooded her eyes. To her horror, two horses’ hooves stood right in front of her face!