Allison felt terrified. She and Todd were really in for it, now! A knot formed in her stomach.
"Please, donít be mad!" she begged. "We didnít mean to find out your secret. Honest, we didnít! I was just leaning against the fireplace, and the door opened. We just had to see what was in it!" Tears filled her eyes, and she took deep breaths. Next to her, Todd squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists.
Sympathy spread across Don Diegoís face. He approached the children, squeezed Toddís shoulder, and wiped the tears off Allisonís face. "Iím not angry," he said, kindly. "But I am concerned. I keep my identity as Zorro a secret for a very good reasonóthe alcalde would threaten anyone who knew, so not even my father knows. If the alcalde ever suspected that you two knew my secret identity, he would force you to tell him, by torture if necessary. Heís already anxious enough to find you, as it is." He handed Allison his linen handkerchief.
"Weíll never, never, never tell!" Todd promised. "I can keep a secret."
"I can, too." Allison blew her nose. "Iíll never tell, either. Not ever!"
Don Diego smiled. "Iím sure you wonít. I feel sure I can trust you." He turned serious. "Itís a dangerous burden you carry, however, knowing my secret. It makes it all the more imperative that my father and Felipe and I keep you children out of harmís way. Good intentions have a way of breaking down when one is in pain or is threatened with pain, and I have no intention of letting that happen to you. The alcalde must never find you! If we take you to town again, we will have to disguise you, first."
"Are you going to help the mission Indians?" Todd asked.
"I must." Don Diego pursed his lips. "And I must keep an eye on the alcalde, as well. Recently, heís been levying a cattle tax on the poor farmers, and Iíve had to rescue them from jail and save their lands from being confiscated."
"How long has Felipe known your secret?" Allison glanced at the deaf-mute boy as she handed Don Diego the handkerchief.
Don Diego smiled. "Heís known of my secret identity from the beginning. Iíll tell you another secret, and I want you to keep it as carefully as youíve promised to keep mine. Promise?"
"I promise," Todd said.
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Allison added.
"I certainly donít intend to let that happen to you." Don Diego chuckled. "The secret is this: Felipe can hear. He used to be deaf, but he isnít, anymore. But he is unable to speak."
"Nobody else knows it?" Todd asked.
"Nobody else. Except for you and me."
"How did Felipe get deaf and mute? Was he born that way?" Allison glanced at Felipe, who in turn gazed at Don Diego.
Don Diego shook his head. "No, Allison. Felipe lost his speech and hearing when his parents died in the August Revolution. My hunch is that an exploding cannonball killed his parents and destroyed his hearing, as they were trying to get out of harmís way; what destroyed his speech, I donít know. Only a miracle kept him from losing his life. He was only seven, at the time."
Don Diego shook his head sadly, and sighed. "Felipe regained his hearing shortly before I returned from Madrid, but for fear that my father would treat him differently if he found out, he decided to keep it a secret. He didnít intend that I should find it out, either, but quite by accident, I did. After I discovered his secret, we decided to keep it a secret so heíd be able to assist Zorro without endangering himself."
"Oh." Allison nodded. "How old was he when you came back?"
"Felipe was thirteen, at the time." Don Diego brushed a black forelock out of his eyes. "Heís fourteen, now."
"Heís four years older than me, then," Todd said. "Iím ten."
"And Iím nine," Allison added.
"Does Felipe still think that Don Alejandro would treat him different?" Todd asked.
Diego smiled fondly at Felipe. "No, Todd, he knows better, now. Felipe knows that my father loves him and would treat him with kindness, no matter what. And someday, when it is safe to do so, we will tell my father. Until then, we must keep Felipeís secret as we keep my own."
He smiled again. "Felipe well knows how to keep a secret; therefore, I rely on him to spy for me, and to assist Zorro when necessary. No one ever suspects Felipe of being in league with Zorro, because everyone believes that heís still deaf. And now that weíve answered your questions, amigos, suppose you answer mine. Somehow, I have a feeling that you didnít just blunder in here."
Todd and Allison glanced nervously at each other. "Well, uh, we have a secret, too." Todd squirmed. "We didnít tell you about it when we told you how we got lost, Ďcause we were afraid you wouldnít believe us. Don Diego, if we tell you now, will you promise not to think weíre just lying? Or imagining things?"
Don Diego smiled kindly. "Suppose you tell Felipe and me your secret first, and then Iíll decide about that."
Todd stood stock-still. Allison stared at the floor. "Well, we came from another time." She fidgeted. "From the future. From 1998." Sweat broke out on her palms.
She glanced up. Don Diego and Felipe were staring at the children in shock and disbelief. "Iím not lying!" Allison protested.
"We wonít say another word if you think we are!" Todd frowned rebelliously and clenched his fists against his sides.
Don Diego held up his hand. "Relax, ninos. Iím ready to listen as open-mindedly as I can. It is hard to believe, Todd, but Iím willing to listen."
The children told Don Diego and Felipe about their aunt and uncle, who had bought the house from a distant descendant of his, John de la Vega. Todd and Allison told them about how they had come across the secret passage in June, 1998, which they had followed till they had reached the canyon.
The children explained about finding the cave, and described the flood of light and the earthquake that had transported them to 1820. They explained how they had returned to the cave while Felipe was having his lessons, only to find themselves still stranded in 1820 when they came out.
"We had just come back in this room when you and Felipe came in," Allison added.
Don Diego stood stock-still for a long moment, gaping at the children. "Suppose you show Felipe and me this cave?" he suggested.
The children led the way out of the secret passage and up the canyon to the cave. They led the way inside. "We were standing right here when it happened." Todd pointed at a dark-brown boulder and then at the glittering glowworms dotting the ceiling.
After Don Diego and Felipe stood admiring the glowworms for a few minutes, Don Diego sat down on the boulder and thought for a moment. "You know," he said, at last, "Iím reminded of a story an old, old Indian once told me about this particular cave. I was just Felipeís age when it happened."
He paused a moment. "He told me that strange, inexplicable things tended to happen in this cave during certain weather conditions. People actually disappeared, never to be seen again, when they entered the cave during those weather conditions. Since itís not a deep caveónot a labyrinthóno one should disappear like that."
Don Diego paused again, shaking his head. "Those conditions were in place, the morning Zorro first saved you from the alcalde. I used to dismiss the Indianís story as just a superstitious legend, but nowÖIÖIím not so sure."
He gazed at the children. "What did the sky look like when you were transported to our time?"
"Welló" Todd said, fidgeting. "Uh, the sky was yellow. Yellowish, kind of."
"Brassy?" Todd and Allison nodded.
Don Diego stood up. "Todd, Allison, we will wait and watch for those weather conditions to return. When they do, Felipe and I will bring you back to this cave and we will see what happens. In the meantime, weíve got work to do, so letís return to the hacienda, shall we?"
The group returned to Zorroís cave, then re-entered the library. As the secret door swung shut, Allison declared, "That cave of Zorroís is a neat place to hide. Itís so secret." Don Diego laughed and agreed.
Don Alejandro returned from his errands, and the children ate lunch with the de la Vegas. After siesta, Don Alejandro went to the enclosed patio to read a book, and the others met in the library. Felipe, with a questioning look on his face, gestured. Watching the gestures, Don Diego interpreted them. "Felipe wants to know what Los Angeles will be like in 1998."
Todd paused. "We havenít seen much of it, yet. Uncle Ted and Aunt Alice are going to take us sightseeing. Itís real, real, real, real big! Itís a big city with millions of people."
Don Diego and Felipe gaped at each other. "Will California still be a Spanish territory?" Don Diego asked.
Todd and Allison looked at each other and shook their heads. "Itíll be an American state." Allison twisted her necklace. "Like Oklahoma and New York. But we donít know how it got that way. We donít know much history."
"We havenít studied American history, yet," Todd admitted. "I will, when school starts again. In 1998, all children have to go to school, boys and girls. And not just rich kids. Itís the law."
"Iím going to be in the fourth grade," Allison added. "And Toddís going to be in the fifth. We donít know who our teachersíll be, yet."
Todd grinned. "People will drive cars instead of riding horses and driving wagons and carriages. A car goes so fast, you can go 60 miles in one hour."
"And without horses!" Allison chimed in.
Don Diego and Felipe stared at them, evidently stunned. "Peopleíll be able to watch TVótelevision. Thatís a box with sounds and moving pictures," Todd said. "You can see people doing stuff and hear them talking on TV. Plays and concerts and stuff are shown on TV. My favorite show is Batman."
Don Diego smiled, yet his brow was furrowed in evident puzzlement. "This is the second time youíve told me about this Batman, Todd. Who is he?"
"A crimefighter." Todd scratched his nose. "Heís not real, though; heís make-believe. Some guy made him up. There are comic books about him, too; Iíve got some in my backpack. Iíll show them to you, if you want. He wears a bat costume and catches criminals. He doesnít fight the police; he doesnít have to. The police are good."
"He has a secret cave, too," Allison chimed in. "His real name is Bruce Wayne, and heís really rich. He lives in a mansion, and heís a good man. He keeps his crime stuff in the cave, like you."
"He has a car instead of a horse," Todd added. "Itís called a Batmobile, and he keeps it in the cave. He goes after these real bad arch-criminals like the Riddler, the Penguin, and the Joker and Catwoman. They always try to kill him, but he always gets them and they go to jail."
Todd paused. "Oh, yes. Two people help him. Oneís a boyóa teenager, like Felipeóheís in high school. His nameís Dick Grayson; Bruce Wayneís his guardian, Ďcause heís an orphan, you see. Heís a crimefighter, too, and he calls himself Robin when heís helping Batman. And wears a costume. The other oneís Alfred Pennyworthóheís Bruce Wayneís butler. Batman and Robin keep their secret from everyone else. Even Dickís Aunt Harriet Cooper. She lives with them, you see."
Don Diego and Felipe stared at each other for a long moment. "It sounds as if they got the idea for Batmanís exploits from Zorroís," Diego finally said. Felipe nodded agreement.
"Thereíll be phones, too," Allison said. "Telephones. Itís a thing you use to talk to people in other places. If you want to call someone, you pick your phone up and dial his phone number, then his phone rings. The person youíre calling picks up his phone, and you talk to each other."
"How far away can this other person be?" Don Diego scratched his head.
Todd grinned. "You can talk to people on the other side of the world!" He laughed at Don Diegoís gaping mouth. "And guess what! Thereíll be airplanes, too!"
"Excuse me?" Don Diego stared at the boy, evidently puzzled.
"Airplanes!" Todd grinned again. "A big machine that flies in the airóway up in the skyóand people ride in it. You can go all over the world in an airplaneóthatís how we came to California. We went all the way from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles in just a few hours. If weíd taken a car or bus, it wouldíve taken a few days."
That was clearly too much for Don Diego and Felipe. Don Diego leaned against the wall, stunned, for several minutes. Felipe gaped at the children and shook his head. Don Diego scratched his head at one point, and stared at Felipe.
"Thereís so much to take in," Don Diego said, at last. "I donít suppose you children know when the United States will take over California."
The children shook their heads. "We sure donít," Todd said ruefully. "But I wish we did! Uncle Ted told us at breakfast, but I forget when."
"Me, too," Allison admitted. "In this centuryó18-something. You and Felipeíll probably be alive, then. I wish Uncle Ted was with usóheíd know."
Suddenly, Felipe grinned. As the others watched him, he gestured, then pointed at the window.
Don Diego watched him. "You want to take the children outside to play?" Felipe nodded. Don Diego looked at Todd and Allison. "Children, would you like that?"
The children beamed. "We sure would!" Todd said.
Felipe left the room, and returned a few minutes later with a wooden ball, painted yellow. Don Diego followed the three young people outside. For the next half-hour, they stood outside and played catch behind the hacienda, in the vicinity of the stable.
Suddenly, Don Diego held up his hand for silence. "Listen!" he whispered.
The children stood stock-still. Faint hoofbeats reached Allisonís ears. She stared at her brother; the uneasy expression on his face told her that he heard the sound, too. Worry lines creased Don Diegoís forehead.
"That may be soldiers. Iíd better find you a place to hide," Don Diego said. "Thereís no time now to take you to the cave. Felipe, take them to the haystacks. They can hide inside one of them. Make sure the soldiers canít tell from looking that someoneís there."
Felipe gestured to the children and raced toward the huge barn. Todd darted after him. Allison rushed after her brother in hot pursuit.
Soon, the three young people reached a cluster of sweet-smelling haystacks towering above them. The children hurried toward a stack in the middle. Todd burrowed into it and crawled inside. Allison followed. The children listened to the sounds of swishing as Felipe replaced the hay they had scattered, crawling in. Felipeís foot thuds faded into the distance.
The hay encircled Allison, digging into her arms, legs, and head, and pressing against her jumper. The thick, sweet smell filled her nostrils.
"If the soldiers find us, theyíll put us back in jail!" she whimpered.
"They will, for sure, if we talk!" Todd hissed. "Be quiet, will you?"
Allison nodded and pressed her lips together. Silently, she prayed that the soldiers would not find them.
Minutes passed. Allison was terrified. Had the soldiers come to look for them? How would Zorro save her and Todd a second time, if the alcalde put the children back in jail? And what would they do if the alcalde guessed that she and Todd had discovered Zorroís identity?
This isnít fair! She thought. Weíre just kids; we donít deserve to be put in jail! We havenít committed any crimes!
Suddenly, she heard the faint clumping of boots and faint voices. Faint male voices. She held her breath to listen.
"The alcalde has ordered us to find those kids!" She recognized the voice of the sergeant. "Now, search!"
Allison shook uncontrollably. She gasped for breath. At that moment, a hand squeezed her ankle. "Quiet!" Todd whispered. "You want to get us arrested?"
Annoyed, Allison pursed her lips. As if Todd didnít know the answer to that question! Still, this was no time to argue with him. Allison held her breath and lay rigidly, scrooging her eyes shut.
The menís voices grew louder, as did the clumps. They were approaching the haystacks. Allison took a deep breath and tried to stop trembling. Would the soldiers search the haystacks or walk on past?
"Shall we search these haystacks?" a man asked.
Allison caught her breath. Would the sergeant say yes? Would the soldiers find them?
"Si," Mendoza said. "Search them all."