Allison scrooged her eyes shut and whimpered. She reached toward her knees, grabbed her toys, and clutched them to her chest. She just knew the alcalde and his soldiers had found her and Todd!
"Todd! Allison!" The voice was Don Diego’s.
Allison opened her eyes and craned her head upward. Sure enough, Don Diego sat astride his horse just a few feet from her body. On a nearby horse sat Don Alejandro. To the east, the sun hung suspended over the hill. The cool breeze brushed Allison’s forehead.
Don Diego climbed off his horse and helped Allison to her feet. "My father and I have been searching for you children all night!" He hugged her tightly. "Padre Benitez sent a messenger to our hacienda last night, to ask if you had returned to our house."
"We were looking for our aunt and uncle," Todd said, as he scrambled to his feet.
"Well, you should have waited till daylight to conduct such a search," Don Alejandro chided him, as he embraced the boy. "Wild animals roam the desert at night."
"We need to take the children back to our hacienda, Father," Don Diego said. Don Alejandro nodded agreement.
The de la Vegas helped the children mount the horses, then took them back to the de la Vega home. Back at the hacienda, they fed the children sweet rolls and hot chocolate.
"At least, the children are safe, for now," Don Alejandro said, "but I’m still worried about the mission Indians."
"Why does the alcalde want them?" Todd set down his snow-white china cup; it clicked in its saucer. Across the dining table, Allison took a bite of her sweet roll and swallowed. Felipe leaned against the wall.
Don Alejandro leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Well, Todd, our alcalde is a wicked, corrupt, greedy man. To benefit himself, he exploits the people and hurts them. Once, not too long ago, he took many young men as slave labor to build a road he was naming after himself. Another time, during a drought, he tried to force the people to pay for the water in the plaza fountain."
Don Alejandro drank some coffee and wiped his mouth. His china coffee cup clinked in its saucer. "Time after time, he has levied taxes that the people couldn’t afford to pay, and when they couldn’t, the alcalde had them jailed and confiscated their lands—that means he took their lands for the government, Allison. He’s been doing that again, as of late. His cruelty and greed are the reasons Zorro defends us." Don Alejandro sighed. "Now he has started some project we’re not even aware of, and he’s taken some of the mission Indians as slave labor to construct the project."
Don Diego nodded. "He will not pay them for their work, and he will mistreat them in every way possible."
"Poor Indians." Allison felt sad and angry. "That’s awful!"
"Yes, Allison, it certainly is." Don Diego looked grim.
The de la Vegas stood up and pushed back their chairs. Don Alejandro led the way into the drawing room. "Don Diego, are all alcaldes mean?" Todd looked at him as they sat down.
Don Diego smiled and shook his head. "No, Todd. Most alcaldes are honest, just, decent men. Luis Ramon’s predecessor was. But some are wicked and greedy, and they are the ones who will hurt the people they rule, unless someone opposes them as Zorro does."
The children sat silently a minute. Then Todd asked, "Has Zorro ever saved any of you? Or Miss Escalante?"
Diego smiled. "So far, Todd, Zorro has not had to save me. He has rescued my father and Senorita Escalante on more than one occasion. Once, the alcalde arrested my father and Victoria for opposing his tyranny; when Zorro helped them escape, the alcalde arrested my father again, with the intention to hang him. That happened shortly after I returned from Spain."
Don Alejandro nodded. "And not just me, but a group of poor farmers Zorro had also freed from the alcalde’s jail. Zorro saved us again, when that happened. And Zorro has had to save Victoria several times. Once, the alcalde decided to use her as bait to capture Zorro, because he knew that Zorro would come to her rescue. He framed her for a murder she didn’t commit."
"And once, Zorro rescued Felipe from a pair of kidnappers. A man and a woman." Don Diego glanced at the boy, who hung his head and fidgeted. Don Alejandro pursed his lips and shook his head. "That was just a few months ago," Diego explained. "My father was out of town, at the time."
"Felipe was kidnapped? Why?" Allison stared at Felipe.
"They were going to use him to rob a bank in Mexico City." Don Diego’s voice grew hard. "The woman came to our hacienda, pretending to be Felipe’s long-lost mother. She kept up the pretence until she took Felipe away and rejoined her partner; then they tied Felipe up and held him captive in a barn miles from here. A very cruel trick to play on an innocent young orphan, and for the foulest of reasons—to satisfy their greed!" He glared fiercely at the opposite wall and shook his head. "If it hadn’t been for Senorita Victoria and her brother—" Diego shuddered. Then he placed his arm around Felipe’s shoulder and smiled affectionately at the boy.
"I agree." Don Alejandro straightened his jacket. "And I’m most thankful that the two kidnappers did not succeed in their cruel plot." Felipe nodded, then squirmed and stared down at the floor. Don Diego squeezed his shoulder.
"Did Zorro ever have to save Felipe from the alcalde?" Todd asked.
Don Diego smiled and shook his head. "Thankfully, no. And I hope he’ll never to."
Don Alejandro drew his timepiece out of his pocket and glanced at it. "Well, I’m going to ride to town. I need to tell Padre Benitez that the children are safe, Diego, and then I’m going to protest to the alcalde his treatment of the mission Indians."
"Be careful," Don Diego warned him. "I do not want you to end up in jail as the children did."
"Zorro will save him if he does." Todd grinned. "Right?"
Don Alejandro laughed and ruffled Todd’s bangs. "Well, Todd, he’s never failed to, yet." He turned serious. "Children, I want you to promise me something. There’s to be no more running off, by night or by day. Diego and I will help you locate your aunt and uncle; you have our promise on that." He touched Todd’s shoulder and stared directly at him, then at Allison. "Do I have your promise that you’ll stay right here, where Diego and I can find you?"
Todd and Allison glanced at each other and nodded. "Yes, sir." Todd fidgeted.
"Bueno." Don Alejandro smiled and squeezed Todd’s shoulder. "We’ll keep you safe from the alcalde, too. Don’t you worry about him." He ruffled Allison’s hair, then left.
Don Diego glanced at his gold pocket watch. "Well, Felipe, it’s time for your lessons. Go fetch your schoolbooks and other things, and take them to the patio. I’ll be there as soon as I tend to something." Felipe nodded.
"Does Felipe go to school?" Allison asked.
Don Diego shook his head. "No, but he does have lessons at home. I’m his tutor." He smiled at Felipe proudly. "Felipe’s a smart boy and a good student. He is quite well-educated—as well-educated, in fact, as any young caballero could ever be." Felipe smiled back.
"Aren’t the kids at the mission well-educated?" Allison frowned.
Don Diego shook his head. "I’m afraid not, muchacha. Not nearly as well as young gentlemen. At the mission, the instructor teaches the Bible, reading, spelling and writing, simple arithmetic, and to those who live at the mission, grammar, more arithmetic, and Spanish and colonial history and geography. Many who live on farms drop out before they ever reach that point; only a small number ever graduate. Some can barely write their own names."
Todd and Allison frowned at each other. "Why is that?" Todd asked.
"How did you children learn to read and write?"
Allison paused to think. "Uh, well, my first-grade teacher taught us to read and write the alphabet. Then she taught us sounds. You know, the sounds that letters make."
"Me, too," Todd said. "And then, she taught us to put the sounds together to make words. And spell them and write them down. Then we had to start learning grammar and punctuation and stuff."
"Did she teach you numbers after she taught you to read and write?" Diego gazed at the children. Felipe watched expectantly.
Todd and Allison shook their heads. "We had to learn arithmetic from the first day of school," Todd said. "In first grade, we learned to count, first, then we learned to add and subtract and tell time. I learned fractions and stuff, last year."
"And I learned the multiplication tables and stuff, last year!" Allison scratched her neck.
Don Diego nodded. "I see. Well, here, the mission instructor teaches each subject one at a time. He teaches the basics of reading, first. Then he teaches printing, then cursive writing, then simple arithmetic. Many farm children drop out of school before they get far in their handwriting instruction, because they’re needed at home to help with the work." Diego sighed. "Most farm children don’t go to school at all, and since their parents never went, either, they never have a chance to even learn to read. I hope that, one day, that will change, but it will be a long time before it does."
"Is that the way you taught Felipe?" Allison asked.
"Actually, my father taught him to read and write." Don Diego smoothed his snow-white linen shirt. "I was studying at the University of Madrid at the time—Madrid’s a city in Spain, Allison. When my father hired Felipe, he didn’t even know his ABCs, so my father had to start Felipe’s education from scratch."
Diego paused. "In answer to your question, Allison, no, it was not the way my father or I have taught Felipe. When my father first started to teach Felipe his lessons, Felipe was eight years old—my father had hired him when he was seven. Since Felipe could neither hear nor speak, my father felt a great sense of urgency about giving him a way to communicate other than sign language. He taught Felipe to read and write and spell at the same time, and to add and subtract, as well. And for three months out of the year, he attended the mission school, until he was 13."
Don Diego paused. "And unlike the farm and village children, who only attend the mission school three months every year until they’re confirmed, Felipe’s education at home went on year-round, and still does. As mine did."
He smiled at Felipe affectionately and proudly. "As my father had promised me when I left for Madrid University, Felipe was well-schooled when I returned from Spain. I had only to take over his education." Felipe smiled bashfully and glanced at the floor.
"What else do they learn?" Todd asked. "The mission kids?"
Don Diego paused. "Well, from day one, they learn the catechism—that’s the basic principles of the Catholic faith, Allison. Those who get far enough in their schooling eventually learn to read the Bible. And from the first day of school, the instructor teaches every student various crafts—pottery, basketweaving, rugmaking, etc. Young caballeros who attend the mission school as well receive private tutoring learn all that and a lot more. Felipe did. And so did I, as a boy."
"Like what?" Allison gazed at him.
Don Diego leaned back. "Well, Allison, caballeros learn foreign languages, such as Latin, Greek, French, and English. They learn to memorize Scripture and poetry, and they learn to read the classics—both in the vernacular and in other languages. For example, they learn to read and recite the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Caesar, Cicero, St. Augustine, Cervantes, Dante, and Shakespeare. They learn to write well and coherently, and to define and spell complicated words. They learn to make speeches and to write compositions. And they learn not just arithmetic, but algebra, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry, as well."
"They have to learn all that?" Todd stared at Don Diego. "That’s a lot of stuff!"
"Over the years, they do." Don Diego chuckled and nodded. "And their educations are not limited to books, Todd. They also learn to dance, to shoot, to handle a sword, to swim, and to ride a horse. To draw, paint, sculpt statues, and play musical instruments. My own education included all those subjects. So does Felipe’s."
"Yuck!" Allison clutched her throat and gagged. "I’m glad I’m not a young caballero!"
Don Diego chuckled. "Trust me, Allison, it’s rewarding. You and Todd may not realize it now, but later, you’ll see for yourselves how useful and rewarding book learning is. Those who are fortunate, as I was, learn the sciences, as well. Felipe is learning everything I learned as a boy, and more."
He glanced at his watch. "Good heavens, here we stand talking, and I’m supposed to be teaching! Felipe, get your books and go to the patio; I’ll be with you shortly." Felipe nodded in acquiescence.
Don Diego left the dining room. Felipe strode to the library, gathered his school things, and left; a few minutes later, Diego returned with a maid who was carrying the children’s backpacks. The maid laid them on the couch in the drawing room, then left. The children thanked Don Diego for the return of their backpacks.
"Who taught you, Don Diego?" Allison asked.
"My father taught me to read and write, when I was five. Later, when I was seven, he hired an excellent English tutor, Jonathan Spencer. My tutor had charge of my education until I went away to Spain. I was in my twenties, then." Don Diego ruffled Allison’s hair. "In addition, even though I didn’t really need to, my parents required me to attend the church school every year, until I was confirmed. They wanted me to have a better understanding of the lives of poor people, and they felt that sending me to the church school would aid me there."
"Did it?" Allison tilted her head.
Don Diego nodded. "It helped."
Todd stood silently a moment, thinking. "Uh, Don Diego, do people listen to Don Alejandro?"
Don Diego smiled. "Indeed, they do. His word carries a great deal of weight in Los Angeles. My father is a wise man, and the people know it. Unfortunately, the alcalde is not one of those people, Todd, so don’t expect him to heed my father’s protests."
He glanced at his gold pocket watch again. "Well, amigos, I must give Felipe his lessons. When he’s finished, we’ll discuss your problems and think of some way to solve them. In the meantime, I want you to do as you promised my father. No running off." He held up his finger for emphasis. Allison and Todd nodded.
"Uh, what time is it?" Allison asked. "My watch isn’t working."
"It’s nine o’ clock." Diego inserted his watch into his vest pocket. "We’ll be done by lunch time."
Don Diego left the room. "Don Diego sure is nice," Todd said.
The children set their backpacks on the gleaming marble floor and put their new toys inside with the others. For the next hour, they explored the house and the enclosed patio, then returned to the drawing room to play with their toys.
While they played, Allison thought about how different people in 1820 were from people in 1998…how different Don Diego and Don Alejandro were from her daddy, her grandpa, and her uncle Ted. They looked different, talked differently, and thought differently. Yet, in many ways, they were the same.
At last, Todd plopped onto the blue satin brocade couch in the drawing room and sat thinking. He tossed his new balero into the air, and caught it; Allison played with hers. "I wish we could help the Indians," Todd said, once. "That alcalde’s the meanest man in the whole world!" He tossed his balero above his head.
The children sat silently a while longer, reading. Todd read his comic books, and Allison read her novel, Kristy’s Great Idea. "I miss having TV sets and hamburgers and stuff," Allison said, finally. "I’m tired of tortillas and carriages. I want airplanes and cars and telephones." She ran her fingers through her hair as she spoke.
"Yeah, me, too." Todd thought a moment. "Hey, Allison! I know how we can find our aunt and uncle, and still keep our promise!"
"How?" Allison stared at him.
Todd stood up and tossed his balero and comic books on the couch. "We’ll go through the secret entrance and look for the cave. Maybe, it’ll take us back to 1998. And if it doesn’t, at least we’ll be close to the hacienda."
Allison frowned. "If it does take us back, what about Don Diego and Don Alejandro and Felipe?"
"What about Aunt Alice and Uncle Ted?" Todd glared at her. "And what about Mom and Dad? They’re worried sick, by now! Anyway, that horrible alcalde’ll find us, sooner or later, if we stay."
Allison sighed and dropped her balero and book into her backpack. She zipped it up and slung it onto her shoulder. Todd did likewise with his.
The children strode toward the fireplace in the library. Todd pressed the secret lever, and the door swung open. He led the way down the secret hall, which was lit with candlelight this time, and stepped into the secret room.
As Allison followed her brother, the children halted and stared around. White candles lit the room from the candleholders in the stone walls. A polished mahogany desk, piled with books, stood under an adobe-brick Moorish arch to their right; a clock hung on the wall behind the desk. It read eleven-thirty.
Two long tables that were covered with glass test tubes, jars filled with various colored liquids, and other science equipment, stood near each other in the middle of the room. A brass coat tree stood to the left of the room, on which hung a black silk cape, a black linen mask and tunic, and a black hat. Swords and black whips hung on the wall to the left behind them, under a Moorish arch.
In the secret passage itself, the long metal spout poured a steady stream of water into a trough underneath. A coal-black stallion grazed on hay that lay in piles on the floor. It raised its head and whinnied at them. In the left-hand corner behind the horse, the saddle and bridle lay in a heap.
"Allison, look!" Todd gasped, pointing at the costume, then at the horse. "That’s Zorro’s costume! And his horse." He stared at Allison and shook his head. "Don’t you see? Don Diego is Zorro!"
Allison gaped at her brother. How could Don Diego be Zorro? The two men were so different!
"He can’t be!" She shook her head violently. "There’s no way!"
"Remember Batman?" Todd looked at her. "People never thought Bruce Wayne could be Batman, either! But he is. So, why couldn’t Don Diego be Zorro?"
Allison suddenly remembered. "Uh, weren’t we going to look for the cave?"
Todd led the way through the secret passage, with Allison in close pursuit. He stamped on the wooden lever, and the secret entrance swung open.
Allison followed him outside. As she gazed at the surrounding canyon, she saw another long, wooden lever half-hidden in the ground, covered with dirt. "There’s the piece of wood that opens it!" She raced toward the lever and stamped on it. The secret passage swung open again, then closed behind Todd.
"Why didn’t we see it before?" Allison asked.
Todd shrugged. "It must have been all covered with dirt."
The children darted around the corner, and raced down the canyon until they found the cave. "Look!" Allison squealed. "It’s the cave!"
For the next half-hour, the children pounded on the cave walls, stomped on the floor, and searched carefully, trying to find the mechanism that would return them to their own time. But the earthquake and blinding light never recurred.
At last, Allison sank down on a ledge and slumped against the wall. "I’m tired." She choked down a sob. "The cave won’t let us go back! We’re stuck!"
Todd sank down on the floor and laid his head on his knees. For a long time, he did not move or speak.
"We’re never going to get back to 1998!" Todd complained. "We’re going to be stuck here forever!" He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
Allison rose to her feet, whirled around, and pressed her face against the ice-cold cave wall. She felt discouraged. What if they could never return to their own time, just as Todd had predicted? She wept.
At last, Todd sighed and stood up. "What time is it?"
Allison wiped her face with the back of her hand and glanced at her watch. "I don’t know. My watch hasn’t worked since we came here." She sniffled.
"We’d better go back," Todd said. "Come on, or Don Diego’ll think we’ve run away, again!"
The children trudged out of the cave and returned to the secret entrance with slumped shoulders. Allison sighed as Todd stamped on the lever.
As the children paused in Zorro’s secret laboratory, Don Diego and Felipe entered it. They froze and stared at the children in shock.