Allison tightened her throat to keep her sobs from escaping. She held her breath and lay stock-still. A loud swishing sound told her that the soldiers were tearing down a nearby haystack.
Allison suddenly remembered the many times she had hidden in just this way, during games of hide and seek with her brother. Only then, it was just a game, and the worst that would happen, if she were caught, was that she would then have to look for Todd. Now, she and Todd were playing the same game with the alcalde and his men. Only this time, if they were found, terrible things would happen.
Iím getting awful tired of playing hide and seek with the alcalde! Allison thought. This isnít even fun! Iím so scared! Those soldiersíll find us; I know they will!
The soldiers stopped. Silence ensued. Allison held her breath. What now?
"All right, men." Mendozaís voice sounded as if he were standing next to the haystack the children were hiding in. "Weíll search this one."
Please, God, Allison prayed, help! She tightened every muscle in her body and clenched her fists.
A distant explosion startled the children. Allison jerked involuntarily. "What was that?" Mendoza cried.
Boom! A pause. Boom!
"Sergeant! Someoneís attacking us!" one of the soldiers cried.
"Letís go!" Mendoza said. "Vamonos!"
Listening to the clumping of boots fade into the distance, Allison relaxed. Remembering the last time she and Todd had hidden from the soldiers, though, she decided to wait until the de la Vegas came for them before uttering a sound. As Todd had said, then, there might be a soldier nearby, waiting for them to come out of hiding.
At least, the hay doesnít smell bad, she thought. Not like that awful trash in the church basement! She wrinkled her nose at the memory.
Minutes later, she heard boots clumping again. The clumps sounded faint, then gradually grew louder.
Someone was approaching the haystack again. Was it the de la Vegas? Or were the soldiers returning?
"All right, children. You may come out, now." It was Don Alejandroís voice.
Allison crawled out of the stack. Don Diego took her by the arms and helped her climb out. Air! Light! The bright glare of sunlight flooding her eyes hurt them, so she squeezed them shut. For a moment, she leaned against the caballero and took deep breaths. Don Diego wrapped his arms around her, and spoke softly and soothingly.
When Allison opened her eyes again, Todd was standing beside her, and Felipe was re-arranging the haystack. The de la Vegas picked wisps of hay off the children and laid them on the side of the haystack.
"That was awful!" Allison shuddered. "Those horrible soldiers were going to tear all the haystacks down and look for us."
"Well, Iím thankful they didnít." Don Alejandro wiped his face with a linen handkerchief. "I donít take kindly to soldiers bursting into my hacienda and harassing innocent children who are under my protection." Pressing his lips together with evident displeasure, he folded the handkerchief and returned it to his vest pocket.
"The soldiers are determined to find you children." Don Diego clasped Allison to his chest again, and stroked her blond hair. "When theyíve investigated those explosions, they may return here to finish their search. Weíre going to have to find you another place to stay, for the next few days." Todd froze, and Allison jerked upright.
"Do we have to?" Allison frowned.
Don Diego nodded. "Iím afraid so, Allison."
Don Alejandro nodded agreement. "Itís only until weíre satisfied that itíll be safe for you to stay here. Then weíll bring you back." He paused. "I suggest we take the children to the Gomez farm. Pablo Gomez is one of my most faithful tenants, and his wife is a kind, good woman. They will hide you if I ask them to."
Don Diego turned to Felipe. "Saddle two of our horses. You may come with us if you want to."
"Iíll go with Felipe. Time is of the essence." Don Alejandro followed the servant boy to the stables.
Don Diego waited until his father was out of earshot, then turned to the children. "Zorro set off those explosions to divert the soldiers," he said. "It worked, too."
"How did you do that?" Todd gazed at him.
"Thereís no time to explain." Diego glanced at his gold pocket watch, as it gleamed in the sunlight. "We must get you away from here before the soldiers return." He smiled reassuringly. "Donít worry, children. Zorro will never let the alcalde hurt you, and neither will I." He winked, and the children grinned in spite of themselves.
"Sergeant Mendozaís nicer than the alcalde," Todd said. "When we were in jail, he and two soldiers came into our cell and played cards with us. He told us some neat stories, too. I donít think he wants to hurt us like the alcalde does."
Allison nodded. "He was real sad that we were in jail; he said so. He said he knew we werenít spies. He got some food from Miss Escalante, too, so we wouldnít have to eat that awful jail food."
Don Diego nodded and gestured toward the stables. "Yes, Sergeant Mendoza is a good man," he agreed, as he led the way. "If it had been up to him, you would never have been accused or arrested. Unfortunately, heís under orders to arrest you on sight, and he doesnít dare to disobey those orders."
"Hey, Don Diego, arenít we going to get our backpacks?" Todd frowned. "I donít want to leave my stuff here!"
Don Diego shook his head. "There wonít be time for that, Todd. Donít worry, Iíll keep them safe. I took your things to the cave while the soldiers conducted their search; thatís where theyíll stay until you come back."
Allison pouted. She didnít want to leave her toys behind. She couldnít imagine having to stay anywhere without her treasures. She could see that Todd didnít want that, either. The boy scowled, but said no more.
Minutes later, the de la Vegas, Felipe, and the children set out toward the Gomez tenant farm. Todd rode behind Don Diego on his horse, Esperanza, and Allison rode behind Don Alejandro on Dulcinea. Felipe rode alongside on his pinto pony, Parche.
Suddenly, after a half-hour of riding, Don Alejandro pulled Dulcinea up short. "There it is, children." He pointed ahead. "Thereís the Gomez farm."
Allison shifted sideways to look around Don Alejandroís back. In the valley below, she could see an adobe hut, a corn patch, a small garden, a well, and two goats grazing in the yard. A dark-brown burro stood underneath a straw overhang sticking out from one side of the hut.
Allison stared at the farm. It looked just like some of the old-timy farms she and Todd had seen on old Western movies. Never had she imagined that she would be spending any length of time on one.
"Hey, whereís the barn?" Todd asked. "I donít see a barn."
"You donít see a barn, because itís part of the hut," Don Diego explained. "The Gomez living quarters consist of one room. The other room is used as the barn."
"How long do we have to stay there?" Allison asked, as the horses resumed trotting.
"Until itís safe to take you back," Don Alejandro said. "Whenever that is."
Five minutes later, the horses halted in front of the adobe hut. Two-thirds of the roof jutted up higher than the remaining one-third. The hut, Allison saw, had two doors. The door on the left stood under the higher part of the roof, and had a latch instead of a doorknob. The other door was a Dutch door; it consisted of two sections that opened separately. The straw overhang jutted out from the part of the hut that had the lower roof.
A man wearing a faded, light-brown cotton shirt, a pair of white cotton trousers, a green woolen sash, and a pair of woven leather sandals stepped outside. His hands, Allison saw, were rough and callused, and his face was grizzled from years of working in the hot sun.
"Hola, Don Alejandro! Don Diego." The farmer waved. "Hola, Felipe."
"Hola, Pablo." Don Alejandro dismounted and helped Allison climb down. Don Diego and Todd did the same thing. Felipe followed suit, then tied the horsesí reins to the hitching post.
"Who are these children?" The farmer looked at their clothes with the puzzled expression the children had come to expect from the people of this time period.
"Americanos, Pablo." Don Alejandro put his arm around Allisonís shoulder. "This is Allison Bennett, and this boy is her brother, Todd. The alcalde has falsely accused them of spying, and has already arrested them, once. Zorro rescued them, fortunately, but the alcalde has his men out searching for them."
"They need a safe place to stay, for a couple of days." Don Diego glanced down at Todd, then at Allison. "Thatís why we brought them here."
A worried frown crossed Pabloís leathery, weather-beaten face. "Wonít you come in?"
As the children entered the hut, they looked around. The floor consisted of rows of stone tiles. The ceiling was lower than it was in the de la Vega hacienda, and instead of being flat, it slanted upwards from both sides of the room and met in the middle. Rafters crisscrossed the lower edges of the ceiling.
A fireplace spanned the wall across the room from the doorway. Two narrow bunk beds, covered with woolen blankets, were built into the right wall. A wooden plank table surrounded by benches stood in the middle of the room, and several straw mats, rolled up, leaned against the left wall. The only light came from the fireplace, and from the sunlight that poured through the open doorway.
A baby lay gurgling in a wooden box that hung from the ceiling, and a little boy with a shock of black hair and a wiry build sat at the table. A plump woman wearing a green woolen skirt and a light-blue cotton blouse stood at the fireplace, stirring something in a huge iron pot that hung directly over the hot blaze. A rich, savory smell wafted through the room. Allison sniffed; it smelled good.
"Pilar, the patrons and their boy have come to see us." Pablo wiped his face with the back of his hand, then turned to the children. "Ninos, this is my wife, Pilar, and our son, Miguel."
Pilar smiled at the children. "Wonít you sit down?" She gestured at the table.
"Gracias. We will." Don Alejandro perched on one of the benches, and Diego on another. Felipe remained standing. Miguel climbed off his bench and joined Felipe and the children. Allison smiled at him, then glanced longingly at the baby.
For the next 15 minutes, as the Gomezes listened, the de la Vegas explained the Bennett childrenís predicament. Felipe, Todd, and Allison stood against the wall next to little Miguel Gomez. Allison gnawed on her fingernails as she listened.
When the de la Vegas had finished, Pablo and Pilar sat silently for a long moment, gazing at each other. Pablo then turned around to look at the fidgeting children. Worry creased his forehead.
Allison hung her head. I donít think he wants us, she thought. Heís scared heíll get in trouble on account of us.
"The soldiers came here this morning," he said, at last. "Lookiní for these ninos." He turned to the de la Vegas. "I donít know, patron." He frowned again. "If the soldiers come back and find them here, Pilar and Iíll end up in the alcaldeís jail."
The woman glanced kindly at the children and laid her hand on her husbandís arm. "Pablo, I think we should." She squeezed his arm. "If the alcalde was after our children, weíd want someone to protect them. I donít want to turn these ninos away. Their parents are probably worried about them."
Don Alejandro nodded agreement. "They are, Iím sure. And theyíre going to be even more worried if it comes to their attention that these children are wanted for spying." He gazed at Pablo. "Iím sure the soldiers wonít come here again. If they do, I know of a place near your farm where the children can hide."
"The ravine?" Pilar asked. The aged don nodded.
Pablo glanced at the children again and nodded consent. "All right, patron. Weíll look after the children and keep them safe."
The adults rose to their feet. "Gracias, amigos," Don Diego said. "Weíre deeply grateful to you for doing this. Weíll be back in a day or two to take them back to the hacienda."
Don Alejandro paused in front of the children. "Todd, Allison, I want you to stay with these people until one of us comes back to get you." He laid his hand on Toddís shoulder with one hand and cupped his other under Allisonís chin. "Weíll do that just as soon as itís safe. I promise."
Todd nodded, sighing with evident reluctance. "Yes, sir."
"Good boy." Don Alejandro smiled his approval and patted the boyís shoulder. "Look, it wonít be so bad. Thereís another boy here to play with, and Allison, Iím sure the senora will let you look after her baby." Allison smiled at the prospect.
The group went back outside. The de la Vegas and Felipe mounted their horses.
"Adios, children." Don Diego waved. He, his father, and Felipe galloped away.
"Come inside, children." Senora Gomez smiled at Todd and Allison. "Come in, and Iíll make you somethiní to eat."
As the children followed her inside, the baby started to cry. Pilar sighed. "The babyís growiní a tooth." She shook her head. "Allison, think you can calm her down for me?"
Allison glanced at the baby. "I know I can." She smiled. "Back home, I used to babysit for Mrs. Thompson. She has two babies. Twins."
Pilar lifted the baby out of the gently-swinging box and handed her to Allison. "Her nameís Lolita. Sit down on that bench against the wall, and Iíll let you hold her. Sheís a cute little nina, no?" She smiled wryly. "When sheís not cryiní, that is." Todd made a face. He had no love for babies.
Allison glanced behind her. A bench spanned the wall to the right of the doorway. She perched on the hard, unyielding wooden bench and took the baby in her arms. She welcomed this chance to hold a baby in her arms. Allison loved babies. Often, she had wished her mother would have another baby, just so Allison could help take care of it. This little nina was so cute!
The babyís eyes were squeezed shut, and her face was brick-red from crying. As she bawled, she waved her arms. Todd turned away from Allison and fidgeted.
"There, there, Lolita," Allison crooned. "Thatís a mean old tooth, to make you hurt like that, isnít it? Itíll stop when it comes through, I promise. There, there, shh."
She cradled the baby against her chest and rocked back and forth. Softly, she sang, "Hush, little baby, donít say a word, Daddyís going to buy you a mockingbird. When that mockingbird wonít sing, Daddyís going to buy you a diamond ring."
As Allison sang that lullaby over and over, the baby gradually calmed down. She waved her little fists in the air and gurgled. Todd scowled at his sister and the baby, then mimed rocking a baby with a mocking expression. Anger surged in Allison. She stuck out her tongue at Todd, then turned toward the adobe-brick wall and ignored him.
As Allison held Lolita in her lap and sang more lullabies, she thought about the many times she had done the same thing for Mrs. Thompsonís babies, now a year old. She remembered how the twins would gurgle as they gulped down the Gerber baby formula Mrs. Thompson had mixed and heated for themÖhow they would burp when she held them against her shoulders afterward, patting their backs. Mrs. Thompson had taught Allison how. It was just the same way, taking care of Lolita Gomez.
"Please, can I feed the baby?" Allison begged.
Senora Gomez laughed. "Amiga, only a mother can do that! You wonít begin to make milk until then."
Allison said no more. Apparently, mothers didnít bottle-feed their babies in 1820 as they did in 1998.
"Besides, as soon as you and Todd have eaten, Iím going to need some help with the work. I need you to help me grind some corn for tonightís tortillas." Allison wrinkled her nose at the prospect.
A few minutes later, Pilar ladled some of the savory soup into a couple of clay bowls. She set them on the plank table, poured some goatís milk into two clay cups, and set them next to the bowls. She picked up a pair of wooden spoons and set them on the table next to the bowls and cups. "Come and eat, children."
"Yes, maíam." Allison laid the baby in the box and joined her brother at the table. Todd recited, "Thank You for the world so sweet, Thank You for the food we eat, Thank You for the birds that sing, Thank You, God, for everything." As Allison raised her head, she noticed Senor and Senora Gomez glance at each other with puzzled expressions.
When Allison and Todd had eaten some albondiga soup, Todd went outside to help Pablo and Miguel weed the corn patch. Allison stayed inside to wash the dishes. Dishwashing in 1820 was nothing like dishwashing in 1998. She had to lug a bucket out to the well, fill it, lug it back inside, and then wash the dishes using a homemade soap. She then had to wipe each bowl and spoon with a cotton cloth, and set them in the cupboard.
When she had washed the dishes, Allison had to kneel on the cold stone floor and grind some corn kernels that Pilar had soaked in limewater. Since she had never ground corn before, Senora Gomez had to show her how. It was hard work, rolling a stone metate back and forth over the soft kernels. Repeatedly, Allison stopped to wipe her face and catch her breath. Her knees felt sore from bearing her weight on those hard, rough tiles for so long, and her legs felt numb.
"Iíll take over, hija." Senora Gomez touched Allisonís shoulder. "Youíve done a good job. You can go outside and play, now."
Allison tried to stand up, but her legs felt too numb. Pilar helped her to her feet. How does Mrs. Gomez do this stuff? She thought, as she staggered toward the door. Itís so hard! I hope Don Diego comes for us, soon!
Sighing, Allison stepped outside, and Todd trudged toward her. "Mr. Gomez made Miguel and me help him pull weeds." He sighed and leaned against the wall. "Iím so tired! My feet hurt." He winced as he spoke. Beads of sweat rolled down his face. "Iím used to doing chores, but not like this!"
"Yeah, me, neither. Iím tired, too." Allison wiped her face. "I had to kneel on the floor and grind corn. For tortillas, Mrs. Gomez said. It sure was hard work! My knees hurt."
Todd shook his head and grimaced. "Miguel and I will have to do chores tonight, too! I have to help him muck out that place where the burro stays. And groom the burro, and feed it. We have to feed and milk the stupid goats, too. And chop some wood." He sighed.
Allison bent over to rub her legs. She raised her left leg, then her right. "At least it was fun to take care of Lolita." She smiled wanly. "Sheís so cute."
"Well, you can have her! I hate babies." Todd scowled. "Come on, letís see whatís inside the barn."
"Iíll show you! Come with me." Miguel pointed at the wooden Dutch door near the right side of the hut.
The children followed him through that door and stopped to look around. Like the living quarters, the barn had a triangular roof and rafters that spanned it. The barn roof was even lower, Allison saw, than it was in the rest of the hut. Unlike the living quarters, though, the barn had a hard-packed dirt floor. Piles of hay lay scattered on the floor.
Baskets hung from nails on the adobe-brick walls. A pitchfork leaned against a corner. A woolen blanket lay folded on top of a crate.
"This is where the goats sleep at night," Miguel explained. "The rest of the time, they stay outside. When it rains, they stay in the barn and eat hay. Papa keeps them so we can have milk." He rubbed his fingers over the blanket. "Come on, Iíll show you the burro."
He led the way outside, and approached the left end of the barn. The burro raised its head and gazed at the children as they approached.
"Whatís his name?" Allison stroked the burroís nose. "Is it a boy or a girl? Do you ride him?"
"No, Papa wonít let me. Itís a boy." Miguel patted the donkeyís back while Todd rubbed its withers. "His nameís Diablo, Ďcause sometimes he acts like a devil. Especially when Papa tries to hitch him to the plow. Then he has to beat Diablo."
Allison winced. She didnít like to see even animals suffer pain. A sudden baaa! startled her.
Miguel glanced at her. "Thatís just the she-goat," he said. "She wants someone to pet her." He turned to Todd. "Want to play?"
Todd grinned. "Sure would! Letís play tag."
Allison shook her head. "Iím too tired to play tag. Iíd rather play with the goats."
Until choretime, Todd and Miguel played game after game. Allison played with the goats and explored the farm. That evening, the boys did their chores in the barn and in the burroís stall. Allison stirred the albondiga soup for Senora Gomez and set the table while Pilar fried some tortillas.
When suppertime came, the Gomezes and their guests ate some more albondiga soup and some tortillas for supper. They drank their milk in clay cups, as the children had done that afternoon.
After supper, the group knelt on the floor. While Todd and Allison listened, the Gomezes took turns praying with their rosaries. "Hail, Mary, full of grace, pray for us now, and at the hour of our death," Pilar prayed.
Silently, Allison prayed directly to God Himself. Please, God, donít let the alcalde find us, she prayed. Please keep us safe. Please help us get back to 1998. And please keep the Gomezes safe. Donít let them get in trouble on account of us. And please make Mom well. In Jesusí name, amen.
Minutes later, the prayer time ended. "Whereís the Bible?" Todd asked.
The adult Gomezes looked at each other, puzzled. "Bible?" Pablo asked.
"Yeah." Todd shifted position. "When our family prays at night, our dad reads the Bible, and then we pray."
"We canít read, hijo." Senora Gomez sighed. "Even if we could, we canít afford a Bible."
"Didnít you go to school?" Allison frowned.
Senor Gomez shook his head. "There wasnít time or money, little one. I was needed on the farm. And so is Miguel, here."
"Doesnít Miguel go to school?" Todd asked.
Pablo snorted. "Whatís the use?" He shook his head. "Since when do we need to read and write, to run a farm? Besides, Miguelís needed here, to do his chores. He donít need no book learniní."
Todd and Allison frowned at each other. Allison remembered Don Diegoís words, when he had told them about education here. He said most peasants never learn to read, she thought. Thatís awful!
"I donít want to go to no school, anyway," Miguel piped up. "I rather stay here and help Papa."
For a few moments, nobody spoke. Allison gazed at the blazing, crackling fire, then at the dancing shadows it made on the walls.
"Itís so cozy," she finally said. "Look at that fireplace. It feels so nice, you know? Itís awful chilly outside."
"Si. It is." Pablo smiled as he leaned against the wall. "Cold outside and cozy in here."
Senora Gomez stood up. "Bedtime, children. Miguel, you and Todd will have to share a mat, so Allison can have one."
The children unrolled the sleeping mats. Allison lay down on hers. Pilar laid a wool blanket over her and another over the boys. Silently, Allison said her bedtime prayers.
Allison winced as pieces of straw dug into her face. She could feel other pieces pressing against her jumper. The boys had removed their clothes and put on nightshirts, but Pilar had no nightgown or pajamas for Allison to wear.
Wish I had a pillow, she thought, as she shifted her head from side to side. This mat is awful uncomfortable!
To her amazement, before she had a chance to complain further, she was opening her eyes. Early-morning sunlight was pouring through the open doorway.
"Time to get up, Allison." Senora Gomez bent over and shook the little girlís shoulder. "Weíve got lots of work to do." Allison sighed at the prospect and rose to her feet. Was the senora going to make her work all day?
All morning, she helped Pilar grind corn and clean the house. She and Todd took a siesta with the Gomezes after lunch. When their nap was over, they were free to play until choretime. Then, while Todd helped Pablo and Miguel feed the goats and the burro, milk the she-goat, groom the burro, and muck his outdoor stall, Allison helped Senora Gomez prepare supper.
After supper, the group assembled again for prayer. After prayer came bedtime.
"Weíve been here for four days," Todd whispered to Allison, as the children scrambled to their feet. "If we donít get back soon, itís going to real hard on our folks. Did you pray for Mom and Dad?"
Allison nodded. "Especially Mom, Ďcause sheís so sick. I prayed for Uncle Ted and Aunt Alice, too. Theyíre all so worried about us, I know they are!"
"Bedtime, children." Senora Gomez stood next to Todd.
"Yes, maíam." Todd turned to help Miguel fetch a sleeping mat.
The next morning, Allison was not quite so busy. Pilar washed the familyís clothes that morning, as well as Toddís and Allisonís. The children had to wear nightclothes while their own clothes were being washed, so they couldnít do any chores, much to their relief. Nor could they go out and play, which displeased them both. They had to stay inside and out of Pilarís way.
Allison spent the morning playing with Lolita. Todd sat on the lower bunk and scowled at the floor.
Much to the childrenís relief, their clothes were ready to wear before lunchtime. Allison had to grind corn for that dayís lunch. To her relief, Senora Gomez took turns with her, which made the job easier on Allison.
Caballeros and peasants sure live different, Allison thought, as she rose to her feet for the last time. Farmers have to work all the time, and they donít have much. Caballeros donít have to work at al; they have servants and ranchhands to do it for them. They have pretty houses and lots of nice things. With a sigh, she wiped her sweaty forehead and trudged outside to find her brother and Miguel. To her relief, they had just finished weeding the cornpatch and were free to play.
After lunch, the family and houseguests lay down for siesta. As Allison closed her eyes, Miguel, who had stayed outside, rushed into the hut. "Mama! Papa! Thereís some soldiers cominí!" he cried.
The grown-ups and the Bennett children jumped to their feet. "Miguel, take Todd and Allison to the ravine," Pablo ordered. "And stay there with them! Stay there, all three of you, until my wife or I say you can come out."
The children rushed outside. Miguel led the way as they rushed toward the ravine. Allison climbed down after Todd. Miguel followed Allison.
The children lay quietly among the bushes. Allison hardly dared to breathe, she was so scared. Had the soldiers found out she and Todd were staying with the Gomezes?
"Senor Gomez, it is my unpleasant duty to put you under arrest," Mendoza said. Allison froze at the news.
"Why?" Gomezís voice shook.
"For failure to pay your cattle tax."
"But, sergeant, I donít have no cattle!" Gomez protested.
"Iím sorry, senor." Mendozaís voice sounded sad. "But orders are orders. Iím sorry, but youíll have to come with us."
Allison froze, outraged. That alcalde was horrible! How mean of him to make a farmer who was poor pay taxes for cattle he didnít even have!
"Take good care of our son, Pilar," Pablo said.
"I will, Pablo. Sergeant, por favor, be easy on my husband."
"Senora, I donít want to do this." The sergeant paused. "Believe me when I say Iím only following orders."
Hoofbeats faded into the distance. Silence ensued. A few minutes later, Senora Gomez leaned over the ravine. "You can come out now, children. Theyíre gone."
The children climbed out of the ravine. "Is Papa arrested?" Miguelís voice quivered.
"Si, my son." Senora Gomez sighed and hugged him tightly. "Maybe Zorro will save him. We will pray that he does." Todd and Allison glanced at each other as the woman spoke, her voice shaking. Deep pain etched her careworn face.
"Weíll go back to the de la Vega hacienda and tell Don Diego and Don Alejandro," Todd promised.
Pilar let go of Miguel. "No, you will not!" Her voice was stern. "You will stay here until the de la Vegas come for you."
"Please?" Todd begged. "Please let us go tell them?"
"Weíll be careful," Allison protested. "If the soldiers come, weíll hide in the bushes or somewhere. Someoneís gotta tell Don Alejandro!"
"And we will, muchacha. We will, indeed." Pilar squeezed her shoulder. "But we must wait till the patrons come for you. If you go now and the soldiers see you, youíll end up in jail, too, with my husband. Iím not goiní to let that happen."
"Let what happen?" The children and Pilar whirled around, startled. Don Diego rode toward them and climbed down off Esperanza.
The three children rushed toward them and all spoke at once, trying to tell him what had happened. Don Diego held his hand up, to calm them. "All right, now, one at a time! Todd, what happened?"
"Sergeant Mendoza came here and arrested Mr. Gomez for not paying a cattle tax!" Todd clenched his fists as he spoke. "We hid in the ravine when they came."
"My papa doesnít have no cattle, senor." Miguel bit his lower lip. "Por favor, can you help him, patron?"
"We will certainly try, Miguel." Don Diego rubbed the side of his head. "When I get Todd and Allison home, I will tell my father. You have my promise." He turned to Todd and Allison. "I brought an extra horse, Allison, so you could ride. Iíll hold the reins, and you hold the saddlehorn. Todd, you may ride behind me on Esperanza."
The Bennett children hugged Senora Gomez and Miguel good-bye, then followed Don Diego. Allison climbed on the pony Diego had brought for her, then Todd climbed up behind the caballero on his horse. Don Diego led Allisonís horse as he walked his own. When they arrived at the hacienda, a groom took the horsesí reins.
Don Diego led the way inside. He found his father and Felipe in the drawing room and told Don Alejandro what had happened. Don Alejandro pressed his lips into a tight line.
"Iíll go have a talk with the alcalde," he said. "You coming?"
Don Diego shook his head. "No, Father. Someone needs to stay with Todd and Allison, in case the soldiers come back."
Don Alejandro nodded. "Youíre right, son. Stay in the house, children, until I return." He left.
Don Diego led the way into the cave. "Saddle Toronado," he ordered Felipe.
"What are you going to do, Don Diego?" Allison asked.
The caballero unbuttoned his ruffled, snow-white shirt. "Try to rescue Pablo Gomez." He nodded toward his polished mahogany desk. "Your things are on my desk, children."
Todd and Allison turned toward the desk. Sure enough, their backpacks lay side by side on it.
When Don Diego had donned his black costume, he gazed at the children. "I want you to stay right here in the cave until I return, all right?" he said. "Itís for your own safety. Felipe, I want you to stay with them and keep them company." Felipe nodded.
Zorro mounted Toronado and left the cave. For the next hour, Felipe and the children did their best to keep busy. As Allison dusted the science equipment, Todd and Felipe swept the floors. Then the boys played a card game, while Allison read her Babysitters Club book.
"Iím worried," Todd finally said. "Itís daylight now; what if the soldiers see Zorro? How will he get away? How will he get Mr. Gomez away?"
Felipe made some signs as the children watched. "Heís done it before?" Todd asked. Felipe nodded and made some more signs. "Heís learned some tricks to divert the soldiers?" Felipe nodded again.
The sound of a clip! clop! Startled the children and Felipe. Allison whirled around as Toronado trotted into his stall. She held her breath. Had Zorro rescued Pablo Gomez?