In the town of Reina de Los Angeles in south California there was a wild February storm. Inside the tavern in the town square, Sergeant Gonzales sat by the fire holding an empty wine cup. Behind him, four more soldiers sat at a table drinking.
'I'm thirsty!' he called to the landlord.
The man hurried over with more wine. Gonzales was famous along the Camino Real — the king's highway that crossed the country — because he got angry very easily.
'Senor Zorro is on the road again,' the landlord began.
'Why do I always hear his name?' cried Gonzales angrily. 'He rides along the highway wearing a black mask, and cutting the letter Z on his enemies' faces with his sword. But never when I'm there!'
'They're calling him the Curse of Capistrano now!' the landlord said.
'He's the curse of all our towns, a thief who steals from rich men! The governor will pay a lot to the man who kills Zorro. But where to find him? He never comes near the fort.'
'But he hides somewhere,' the landlord said. 'One day somebody will find the place.'
'Not if friends are helping him!' cried Gonzales. 'You know. I'd really like him to come in here now.'
Suddenly the door opened, and a man in a wet cloak and hat hurried in from the square.
The sergeant's hand went to his sword. But then he saw that it was only his friend Don Diego Vega, a rich young man from one of the best families in town.
All along the Camino Real people spoke of these two friends who were so different. Don Diego never wore a sword, never looked at women lovingly, nor drank much. Gonzales always spoke of fighting and women, and drank heavily.
'Ah, Don Diego. We were just talking of Zorro.' Gonzales explained to his friend. 'I want to kill him.'
'Stop there,' said Don Diego in his thin, high voice. 'No talk of killing, please! Zorro fights only those who take from the church or the poor, or hurt natives. Why not leave him alone?'
'Because I want the reward money!'
'All right then. Just don't talk about it. More wine for my friends, landlord!' Don Diego turned to go.
'Shall I go with you?' asked the sergeant.
'There's no need. I was at home. I wanted some honey, so I came for some. Perhaps I'll come back later.'
The landlord gave Don Diego the honey, and the young man paid and left. Then the landlord brought out more wine and everyone drank to Don Diego.
'With his looks and money,' laughed Gonzales. 'I could have any woman in the country and win any fight.'
And the sergeant danced about the room, sword in hand.
'I'd really like to have Senor Zorro before me now!'
Again the door opened, and a man in a wet cloak and hat entered the tavern and locked the door. When he turned, they saw the black mask on his face.
'Zorro!' cried Gonzales. 'What are you doing here?'
'Four days ago you badly hurt a poor native near San Gabriel,' answered Zorro in his strong, deep voice. 'So I've come to teach you a lesson.'
'We'll see about that!' laughed the sergeant, moving nearer, his sword ready in his hand just then, Zorro pulled out a gun from under his cloak. 'Over there!' he cried to the other soldiers and the landlord. 'My gun will stay in my left hand while my sword is in my right. And if any of you move, you die.'
The landlord and the other men hurried into the far corner of the room. Then Zorro turned to Gonzales.
After all the wine. Gonzales moved heavily on his feet. Zorro fought back cleverly, his eyes like cold fire just then somebody knocked on the tavern door.
'Help! Zorro's in here!' shouted Gonzales suddenly.
'You stupid man!' cried Zorro, knocking the sergeant's sword to the floor. Then he hit him across the face with his hand.
'Never hurt a native again,' he cried. Then he climbed out through a window at the back of the tavern — and ran off into the stormy night.
After the landlord unlocked the door, two men from the town ran in, asking, 'What happened?'
'Zorro was here,' explained Sergeant Gonzales. 'He wanted to use his gun on me, but I fought against him, sword to sword. And I nearly won, before he turned and ran.'
Everybody listened to this in silent surprise.
Then Don Diego arrived. 'Gonzales, my friend,' he cried, 'I hear that Zorro came. Where's his dead body?'
The sergeant's face reddened. 'Zorro escaped. I couldn't stop him,' he explained.
'No!' cried his friend. 'After all your talk of killing him!'
'Don't worry. I'll ask Captain Ramon to send me after him,' said Gonzales, and he hurried away to the fort.
Don Diego turned to the fire and smiled secretly.
The next morning — which was sunny and bright — Don Diego, wearing his finest clothes, rode out to the Pulido family's country house. Don Carlos Pulido lived here with his wife and their beautiful daughter Lolita, now eighteen. Don Carlos was an old man from a good family. But he was no friend of the money-hungry Governor, and so was now very poor.
Don Carlos was sitting on the veranda when Don Diego rode up. 'Why is Diego here?' he thought. 'Perhaps our luck is changing.' The governor always listened to the Vega family. 'What brings you here?' Don Carlos asked.
'My father says that, at twenty-five, I should marry, so I need a wife. I've seen your daughter in church — and here I am.'
'Because you'd like to marry Lolita! Right?'
'Yes, Don Carlos. Do you agree to it?'
'I do.' the old man answered. 'I'm very happy for Lolita to marry somebody from the Vega family. But you must ask her yourself.' He called for his wife to come out to the veranda.
'I hope that you can win my daughter's love,' Dona Catalina told Don Diego.
'Oh, I don't have time to play the guitar to her,' he replied.
'But, Senor, a young woman likes a man to win her.'
'Then I'll send my servant Bernardo with his guitar to play and sing to her tonight.'
'Erm… Do you want to see her now?' Don Carlos asked.
'If I must.'
So Dona Catalina brought Lolita out, and sat at the other end of the veranda. And Don Carlos went inside, leaving the two young people to talk.
'Will you marry me?' began Don Diego after Lolita sat down.
'Senor,' she cried, 'this is your first visit! You're too quick.'
'Senorita,' he replied, 'must I ride over here for weeks before you say «yes»?'
Lolita stood up angrily. 'Don Diego, you must win my heart. And if you send your servant to play the guitar to me — yes, I heard that! — I'll drop hot water on him from my window.'
She ran into the house, and her mother followed.
Don Carlos hurried out. 'Women are always difficult at first!' he laughed. 'Next time my daughter will be nicer to you.' He shook hands warmly with Don Diego, who got on his horse and rode slowly away.
At the same time, Dona Catalina was speaking to Lolita inside the house. 'He's rich, from an important family, with a fine face,' she told her daughter.
'But no heart,' cried Lolita. 'I never want to see him again.'
Just then, her father arrived. 'You will see him again,' he cried, 'and be more friendly, too.' With that, he left the room.
At siesta time, while everyone in the house slept, Lolita went into the back garden.
'If I marry Don Diego, it'll help my father. But I just can't do it!'
She lay down on a seat to rest. But then she felt someone touch her arm. She opened her eyes and sat up. A man stood near her in a dark cloak with a black mask over his face.
'Zorro, lovely Senorita. I came to your father's house to rest, but then I saw you here, so beautiful! I had to speak to you.'
'I don't know why other men don't feel the same,' said Lolita, her face reddening.
'Do you have no suitors?'
'One. But he doesn't like to court me.'
'What a stupid man! Courting lights the fire of love.'
'Senor, go now. Perhaps somebody will see you.'
'They'll kill me if they catch me. But I can't leave before I kiss your hand.'
Lolita hurriedly gave him her hand to kiss. Then she ran into the house. Through the window she watched him ride away. 'What a man!' she thought. 'Why can't Don Diego be like him?'
That evening, while the family sat at dinner, Zorro came back. 'Zorro!' cried Don Carlos as the outlaw entered the room. Dona Catalina fainted.
'I haven't come to steal from you. Senor. You're a good man. I just need food and drink.'
'You'll have it. But can I take my wife to her room?'
'Yes. But your daughter stays here. I want to be sure that you don't run away.'
So Don Carlos carried his wife upstairs. On the way, he sent a servant to the fort to ask the soldiers there for help.
At the same time, Zorro was speaking to Lolita. 'I had to come back to see you.'
'Please never come again.'
Don Carlos arrived back. He did not want Zorro to leave before the soldiers arrived, so he asked him about his adventures. Zorro ate, drank, and talked. Lolita listened interestedly.
After some time Don Carlos got up. 'I'll tell the servants to pack some food for you,' he said.
While he was out of the room, Lolita hurriedly told Zorro, 'My father has sent word to the fort, I'm sure, and the soldiers are coming. Quickly! Go!'
Just then, Don Carlos came back. 'Here's your food for the road,' he said. 'But before you go, one last story, please.'
'No, Senor,' cried Zorro. 'The soldiers from the fort will surely be here any minute.' He pushed over the candles on the table and at once the room went dark.
'Until later,' said Zorro softly in Lolita's ear. Then he ran to the back door, and called his horse. Lolita heard the sound of his horse galloping away. 'He's escaped!' she thought.
Soon after that, Sergeant Gonzales and his soldiers rode up to the front door. They left at once, hurrying after Zorro. Not long after, Captain Ramon arrived. When he saw Lolita, he decided to wait in the house for the soldiers to come back.
'That Zorro is a coward!' the captain said to Don Carlos while he sat with the family.
Suddenly the door of the tall closet in the room opened, and
Zorro came out of it, his sword in his hand.
'Take back those words,' he cried, 'or fight!'
'What?! But we heard you escape!' cried Don Carlos.
'My horse knows when to gallop away without me!' laughed Zorro, 'And when to come back quietly for me, too.'
'You won't escape me!' cried Captain Ramon.
The two men fought, but Zorro soon put his sword through his enemy's shoulder.
Captain Ramon fell to the floor and Zorro put his sword away.
'Don't worry. He'll live!' he laughed. And with one last look at Lolita, he left the house, jumped on his horse, which was waiting, and galloped away.
Soon after this, Don Diego arrived back at the Pulido family's house. He walked in worriedly.
'I heard that Zorro was here,' he explained to Don Carlos. 'So I came to see that you were all alive. But now I understand that my journey wasn't necessary.'
Don Diego was not happy to find Captain Ramon there, nor that Lolita was washing his hurt shoulder. After she finished this job, she went and sat by the fire, and Don Diego went to sit and talk with her there.
Across the room, Captain Ramon quietly told Don Carlos, 'I'd like to marry your daughter, Senor. Does she have any suitors?'
Don Carlos did not want to offend either Ramon or Don Diego.
'Senor,' he answered the soldier quietly, 'only this morning I gave Don Diego my permission to court Lolita. But if she doesn't agree to marry him...'
'Then I can try!' smiled the captain.
While Lolita sat with Don Diego, she watched Ramon. She knew that he liked her, but she did not like him.
Just then, Gonzales and his men arrived.
'We followed Zorro into the hills,' the sergeant explained. 'Ten other outlaw friends of his came and fought us there, and in the end they all escaped.'
'But the captain fought Senor Zorro here while you were away,' said Don Diego.
'Yes, Sergeant. You were just following Zorro's clever horse which left here without a rider,' went on Ramon. 'I met the criminal himself when he came out of that closet over there and fought against me.'
'No!' cried Gonzales. 'Then we must catch and kill the outlaw. Captain, do I have your permission to take some soldiers and go after him?'
The captain agreed, but Don Diego asked to go too.
'It'll be hard work,' said the sergeant.
'Mmm, then perhaps it's better for me to stay in town,' said Don Diego. 'But I'm worried for the Pulidos. So please give me news of where you ride, and of Zorro.'
Soon after this, Ramon and Gonzales left with their men for the fort. Lolita took Don Diego to the door.
'Well, will you marry me?' he asked.
'I'm still thinking about it.'
'Goodnight then, Senorita. I'll visit again soon. Will it offend you if I don't kiss your hand? I'm so tired. Excuse me!'
'Father,' cried Lolita, when the family was alone, 'I can't marry Don Diego. There's no life in him.'
'Captain Ramon has also asked to court you.' said her mother.
'He's nearly as bad. I don't like the look in his eyes.'
'You're difficult to please, Lolita,' said her father. 'Don Diego's rich and from a good family. I think that he was jealous when he found Captain Ramon here. Make him more jealous, and please try to like him.'
'Yes, Father,' cried Lolita. 'But I don't want to marry him yet.' And with that, she ran to her room.
In bed, she remembered Zorro kissing her hand. 'What a man! But why is he an outlaw?' she said to herself.
The next morning Don Diego left his house to find his friend, Sergeant Gonzales, and twenty more soldiers in the town square.
'You're up early!' the sergeant said.
'Yes. I'm leaving for my house in the country,' answered Don Diego. 'But where's Zorro these days?'
'Nowhere near your country house,' laughed his friend. 'We've heard that he's in Pala. We're going after him there.'
'Well, good luck!'
Soon after that, Gonzales and his men rode away.
Just before Don Diego left, he wrote a letter and sent his servant Bernardo with it to the Pulidos' house.
Don Carlos, The soldiers have gone after Senor Zorro in Pala. I'm worried for you and your family. I must travel to my country house, but I'd like to invite you, your wife and daughter to stay in my town house while I'm away. You'll be safe there.
When the letter arrived, Don Carlos read it to his family. 'What a wonderful plan,' said Dona Catalina. 'What do you say, Lolita?'
'Well, I'd like to visit the town, but is it right? Won't people talk about Don Diego and me?'
'My child, don't worry about that. He won't be there. And we can come home when he arrives back.'
So that afternoon, the Pulido family travelled into town.
Don Diego s house was full of beautiful, expensive things.
'This will all belong to Lolita if she decides to marry him!' thought Dona Catalina.
That evening, Don Carlos took his wife out to visit some friends. Lolita stayed behind, reading a book of love poetry that was on Don Diego's table. Strangely, all the books in the house were about love, dangerous adventures, horse-riding, and sword-fighting. 'Perhaps I've made a mistake about him,' she said to herself.
Just then. Captain Ramon knocked at the front door. 'I've heard that the Pulido family's staying here,' he told the servant who opened it.
'Don Carlos and his wife are out at the moment,' replied the servant. 'Please call tomorrow.'
But Ramon pushed past him and walked into the room where Lolita sat reading.
'Senor!' she cried, standing. 'Why are you here?'
'Last night your father gave me permission to court you.
I know that Don Diego wants to marry you too, but surely you can't prefer him to me!'
'Captain, you must leave. I'm alone.'
'Good,' laughed Ramon. 'Then nobody can stop me kissing you!' He caught her and pulled her quickly to him. Angrily she slapped his face.
'Stop there. Senor,' cried a deep voice behind them.
Ramon turned, and Lolita gave a happy cry when she saw Zorro at the door. 'On your knees, man,' said Zorro angrily. 'And say sorry to the Senorita.'
With a bad shoulder and no sword to fight with, what could Ramon do? He went on his knees and said sorry, and then Zorro kicked him out of the house.
'Thank you, Senor,' cried Lolita. Then she suddenly went over to the outlaw and kissed him on the mouth.
'I love you. Leave your criminal life and marry me!'
'Senorita,' Zorro answered, 'I cannot. I love you, but I must go now. Goodnight!'
And. saying that, he climbed out of the window into the dark night.
Captain Ramon hurried angrily up the hill to the fort.
'Zorro never stays in one place long.' he thought. 'So even if I send my men to Don Diego's house, the outlaw won't be there. I need another plan.'
Once in his office, he sat down and wrote to the governor.
We haven't caught the outlaw Zorro yet. But we've Learned that same people are helping him.
Last night I found him hawing dinner at the country house of Don Carlos Pulido. I fought the criminal, but he escaped. Don Carlos didn't help me, and his daughter, Senorita Lolita, laughed at me for trying to catch Zorro. I'm waiting her know what to do next.
Also I think that one of the richest families here is perhaps working against gene, Excellency. I can't sag more in a letter which I'm sending by messenger. Your obedient servant,
Ramon, Captain of the fort in Reina de Los Angeles
He made a copy of the letter. Then he told one of his men to ride with it to the governor's house in San Francisco de Asis. After this, he sat in his office, reading his copy and smiling.
'Soon,' he thought, 'the governor will move against the Pulidos. Perhaps even the Vega family will be in trouble. Lolita won't say «no» when I ask her to marry me again!'
He thought that the 'Curse of Capistrano' was far away by then, but he was wrong.
Just after he left Don Diego's house. Zorro got on his horse — which was waiting obediently for him — and rode slowly to the fort. He heard a horse galloping away down the highway. 'Perhaps Ramon's ordering Gonzales to come back,' he thought.
He knew that most of the soldiers were away in Pala. Quietly he left his horse by a tree, and walked around the fort to Ramon's office window. Inside he saw the captain at his desk reading a letter, and he heard the man talking to himself.
'Lolita will say «yes» to me when her father's in prison.' Ramon laughed loudly.
Quickly Zorro went to the fort door. He came up silently behind the soldier there and hit him on the head with the heavy handle of his gun. The man fell and lay still, and Zorro hurried inside to the captain's office, gun in hand.
Ramon looked up when the outlaw came in.
'Don't move or call for help,' said Zorro.
'Why are you here?' asked the captain, his face white.
'I heard you through the window. You were reading a letter aloud. Where is it?'
Ramon gave him the letter and Zorro looked at it quickly. Then the outlaw put it into the flame of one of the candles on the desk, and burnt it.
'What a coward to work against Senorita Lolita in this way!' he said. 'Don't try to send another letter like that.'
Just then, they heard the sound of horses and Sergeant Gonzales's voice at the fort door. 'Wait here, men,' cried Gonzales. 'I'll take the news from Pala to the captain. Then we'll ride out again after Zorro — and catch him this time!'
'Sergeant!' shouted Ramon suddenly. 'Quickly! Zorro's here — in my office!'
Gonzales ran into the room. 'Hurry men! We have him!' he shouted. All the soldiers in the fort ran to the captain's office.
Suddenly, with his sword, Zorro knocked the candles from the captain's desk. In the dark, the outlaw caught the captain by the neck and held him. 'I have Captain Ramon,' said Zorro, 'and my gun's at his head. I'm going to walk out of the fort with him. If anyone tries to stop me, your captain will die.'
'Don't do anything stupid, men,' cried Ramon.
So Zorro walked with the captain out of the fort. Then he pushed Ramon to the ground, jumped on his horse, and galloped away down the road to San Gabriel.
Gonzales and his men rode after the outlaw, but they could not find him. Then the sergeant saw the house of the priest, Fray Felipe, near the San Gabriel road.
'Zorro always helps the church,' he thought. 'So perhaps Zorro's hiding here.'
He knocked on the door. When the priest opened it, Gonzales and his men hurried inside to look for Zorro, but he found only his old friend Don Diego Vega, who was visiting.
'My dear friend,' said Don Diego, 'I came here for some quiet. With all this talk of Zorro, I'm afraid. I'm going back to my house in town tomorrow.'
After drinking some of the priest's wine with his friend. Sergeant Gonzales went on his way with his men.
When Lolita told her mother and father about Captain Ramon's visit, and how he tried to kiss her. they were very angry. She also told them how Zorro heard her cry from the street and came to help — but she said nothing about kissing the outlaw.
The next day Don Diego arrived back from the country. Don Carlos and Dona Catalina told him about the captain's visit.
'So. Captain Ramon tried to kiss you,' Don Diego said.
'Yes. I think that he was drinking before he visited me. He smelt of wine. He's an animal! Go to the fort, fight him, and kill him,' Lolita said.
'If you're a true man — and if you want to marry me — you'll kill this man who's offended me.'
'I'll go and find him,' said Don Diego.
Don Carlos did not think that this was the best plan. But he said nothing, and so Don Diego left for the fort.
At the fort, Don Diego spoke coldly to Captain Ramon.
'You tried to kiss Senorita Lolita at my house last night. That really wasn't very nice.'
'Why is he here with no sword?' thought Ramon.
'Your shoulder was hurt,' his visitor went on. 'You drank some wine before your visit. These things could explain what you did. But I'm courting Senorita Lolita. I'm offended. You must apologize.'
'I apologize,' said the captain, hiding a smile. 'But, Don Diego, I went to your house last night looking for Zorro.'
'What?' cried Don Diego.
'The Pulidos are working with him against the governor.
Zorro visited your town house when they were there. This shows how friendly they are. Be careful. You don't want to marry a traitor's daughter.'
'No,' answered Don Diego.
He went back to his town house where the Pulidos were getting ready to leave for the country the next morning.
'How did things go?' asked Don Carlos.
'Captain Ramon apologized.'
'What are you saying? You mean that you didn't kill him?' cried Lolita. 'Don Diego, I cannot marry a man who won't fight for me!' And she ran out of the room.
'Don't worry,' said Don Carlos. 'When you visit us again, she'll be nicer to you.'
The next morning, after saying goodbye to the Pulidos. Don Diego went to the tavern for a drink. Through the open door, he saw two soldiers riding into town. Between their horses walked a third man, their prisoner.
'What's happening?' asked Don Diego.
'Haven't you heard?' said the landlord. 'They're taking Fray Felipe before the magistrate. He sold some bad animal skins to a San Gabriel merchant who wants justice.'
Don Diego hurried to the magistrate's office.
'What's happening to my friend Fray Felipe?' he asked.
'He cheated a merchant. Now he must pay.' said the magistrate. The soldiers brought Fray Felipe into the room.
A thin man with a hard, yellow face stood opposite him. 'This priest sold me ten bad animal skins,' he cried.
'Those skins were good.' answered Fray Felipe. 'But if the merchant gives them back, he can have his money back.'
'They smelt bad — so my son burnt them,' said the merchant.
'That's right,' said the boy with him.
'You're doing this because I'm no friend of the governor's,' said Fray Felipe.
'Traitor!' said the magistrate. 'You must pay the money to the merchant in two days. And you've cheated, and spoken against the governor, so you'll have fifteen lashes of the whip.'
They took the priest outside. Don Diego could not watch, but he heard the noise of the lashes. Fray Felipe himself made no sound. When the soldiers finished, other priests took him back to San Gabriel in a carriage.
Don Diego rode after them. When he passed the priests' carriage, he spoke to Fray Felipe.
'My friend. I'm no man of adventure myself, but I hope that Zorro hears of this.'
'Thank you,' said the priest. 'But where are you going?'
'To tell my father about my plan to marry Senorita Pulido, but I'm afraid that she doesn't love me.'
'Did you speak to her of love?' asked the priest.
'Try it, and see,' smiled the priest.
At the same time, the merchant and his boy were drinking with the magistrate at the tavern. They laughed about Fray Felipe's fifteen lashes and the money that they would have from him. Later that day. the merchant and his son went back home in their carriage.
But on the road they met Zorro, with a gun in his hand. Get down from your carriage!' Zorro shouted, and they did.
'I have no money,' said the merchant. 'A priest cheated me.
I took him to Reina de Los Angeles today for justice, but he hasn't paid me yet.'
'I know what happened today.' said Zorro. A good priest had fifteen lashes because you told false stories about him. You must pay for that.' The outlaw took a whip from under his cloak. He gave the merchant fifteen lashes, and his boy five lashes, before he sent them on their way.
The magistrate was still in the tavern when Zorro arrived. The landlord was standing by the tavern door with four other men next to him.
'Bring the magistrate here,' the outlaw told them, and they did.
'What's happening?' cried the magistrate when he arrived.
'Today you gave false justice to Fray Felipe. You must pay for that,' said Zorro. Then he turned to the men, 'You must each give the magistrate five lashes with the whip, or I'll shoot you.'
They did what he told them.
'If you work against people who are weak and poor, this is what happens to you.' cried Zorro.
The outlaw told four men to carry the magistrate home, then he turned to the landlord. 'Bring me wine,' he said thirstily.
But when the landlord went into the tavern, he told the rich young men there, 'Zorro's outside. Quick!' They ran out into the square, swords in their hands. There was a big fight. But Zorro was clever, quick, and strong. His horse ran at the young men and stood up on its back legs. His enemies fell back, afraid. 'You're too few for me,' Zorro laughed, and he rode away. Captain Ramon was terribly angry when he heard the news. And when a number of young men from the town asked to go after Zorro, he agreed.
Thirty of them rode out that night. Some rode to San Gabriel, some to Fray Felipe's house, and some to the house of Don Alejandro Vega, Don Diego's father.
That evening, Don Diego arrived at his father's house.
'How are you, son?' asked Don Alejandro.
'Tired, father. My journey from town was long.'
Then Don Diego spoke of Zorro's visit to the Pulidos' country house, and of Sergeant Gonzales looking for the outlaw at Fray Felipe's house. Then he went on to tell his father of how they whipped Fray Felipe.
'What cowards — to do this to a priest! But why are you here?'
'I've decided to marry Senorita Lolita Pulido.'
'Fine. She's from a good family.'
'But she's refused me, because I didn't court her.'
'Right. So she won't marry you?'
'Don Carlos still hopes so.'
'Then court her! Listen: if you don't marry in three months' time, I'll leave all my money to the church when I die.'
'I mean it. Why can't you be more like Zorro? He has some life in him at least!'
Just then, they heard horses outside, and a knock at the door. A servant opened it, and ten young gentlemen walked in with swords and guns at their sides.
'Don Alejandro, we need food and drink,' one of the gentlemen explained. 'We are riding after Zorro.' Then he spoke of the outlaw's visit to the town square and what followed.
'Have you seen the criminal here?' he finished.
'No,' said Don Alejandro.
'Don Diego, did you see him on the highway?'
'I'm thankful that I didn't,' answered the younger Vega.
Then Don Alejandro called for food and wine, and the young gentlemen sat down at the table. Before they started, they put down their swords and guns, and servants moved these to a far corner. Don Alejandro didn't want any trouble.
Soon after this, Don Diego stood up. 'Senores,' he said. 'I'm going to bed. Excuse me.'
'Come back when you've rested,' said one of his friends.
Don Diego went to his room and locked the door.
'What's the matter with him?' Don Alejandro thought.
He sat with his son's friends, who were now drinking and singing loudly.
'I'd really like Senor Zorro to walk in here now,' cried one of them. 'Then we could show him a thing or two.'
'Senores,' came a voice from just inside the front door. Zorro stood there in his cloak and mask, a gun in his hand.
'Give me my sword. I'll stand and fight him,' cried one of the young men sitting at the table.
'After all that wine you won't stand very well,' laughed Zorro.
'Then I'll fight you,' said Don Alejandro, getting up angrily. 'I agree with most of what you've done, but you mustn't talk to my guests like that.'
'I spoke truly, Don Alejandro,' answered Zorro, 'and I refuse to fight you.'
'Then I'll make you,' cried the old man, moving nearer.
'Senores,' said the outlaw, turning to the young men again, 'will you leave this old gentleman to fight in your place?'
'No!' one of them cried. And with that, two of his friends pulled Don Alejandro back to his seat at the table.
'Look at you,' went on Zorro, 'eating, drinking, and forgetting the troubles of those who are poorer and weaker than you. Take your swords in your hands and fight for justice. You're all from good families. You must fight against those who steal in the king's name.'
'Traitor!' cried one young man, jumping up.
'Sit down, or I'll shoot,' went on Zorro. 'Look, I came here to show you how to live better lives. If a group of the best families in the country come together to fight for what's right, the governor will have to agree to change. Here's an adventure. Don't turn your backs on it! Fight against everything that's wrong, and you'll be famous. Or are you afraid?'
'Us? Never!' cried many voices.
'Will you lead us?' asked one young man.
'Yes,' answered Zorro.
'But are you a gentleman?' asked another. 'We know neither your face nor your true name.'
'My family's as good as anyone's here,' Zorro answered. 'But for now my face and name must stay secret.'
'Wait. Does Don Alejandro agree with this? We're his guests after all,' said another young man.
'I'm fully behind you,' cried Don Alejandro with fire in his voice. All the young men cheered. With the Vegas on their side even the governor would not fight against them.
'What shall we do now?' one of them asked the outlaw.
'Go back to Reina de Los Angeles tomorrow morning. Say that you didn't catch Senor Zorro. Find other young men who think like you. And be ready to fight for justice. I'll send you word when the time comes. Do you agree?'
'Good. And now I must go. Don't try to follow me.' With that, Zorro went quickly out into the dark night, and they heard his horse galloping away.
Then the young men drank to Zorro, justice, and the Vegas. Don Alejandro felt terrible because his only son was asleep through all of this. Just then, Don Diego's door opened, and he came out sleepily. 'Why was everybody cheering?' he asked. 'I couldn't rest with all that noise!'
'Senor Zorro was here,' explained Don Alejandro. 'We have lots to tell you.'
Next morning, the young men rode back into town with Don Diego. 'Why did Father send me with them?' he said to himself. 'I don't like adventures!'
In the square they met the other young gentlemen who went after Zorro the night before. Some spoke of seeing the outlaw, and the young gentlemen with Don Diego smiled at this.
Then Don Diego went to his house. A little later, in his finest suit and carrying a guitar, he travelled by carriage to visit Senorita Lolita at her father's house.
She sat with him on the veranda, and he told her how they whipped Fray Felipe the day before, and how Zorro whipped the magistrate. She began to like Don Diego better.
But then he said, 'My father will give his money to the church if I don't marry soon. Do you want this to happen?'
'No. But many women would like to marry you, surely.'
'What about you?'
She answered softly, 'You're a gentleman, Senor. So I'll tell you my secret. I refuse to marry a man that I cannot love.'
'So you love another!' said Don Diego.
'Yes, I do.' answered Senorita Lolita.
'But if I stop courting you now, your father will be angry. So I'll go on for a while. It'll stop me going on any more adventures.'
Lolita laughed at these words. Her mother and father heard this, and felt hopeful. Then Don Diego began playing the guitar and singing — badly — to their daughter.
The messenger carrying Captain Ramon's letter had a surprise when he arrived in Santa Barbara. The governor's fine carriage stood outside the fort there. His Excellency was visiting the town, rewarding his friends, and punishing his enemies.
The soldier took Ramon's letter to him at once. The governor read it interestedly. 'There's trouble in Reina de Los Angeles,' he told the captain of the Santa Barbara fort. 'I must travel there early tomorrow to stop it.'
The next morning, the same day that Don Diego went courting, the governor and his men arrived in Reina de Los Angeles. He went to the fort and listened to what Captain Ramon could tell him about the Pulidos.
'These traitors must go to prison as an example to others,' said the governor. His soldiers left for the Pulidos' house at the same time that Don Diego arrived back in town in his carriage.
Don Carlos's face went white when the soldiers told him, 'Don Carlos Pulido, you're a traitor. You must go to prison at once on the governor's orders.'
But when he learned that Dona Catalina and Lolita had to go with him, he became very angry.
'You can't put my wife and daughter with all the town criminals!' he cried. But the soldiers did not listen.
'Why did you refuse Don Diego, daughter?' said Don Carlos after the prison door closed behind them. 'Without him as your husband there's no hope for us.'
'Don't worry, Father.' said Lolita. 'I'm sure that a friend will punish those who have put us here.'
She saw in her heart a man in a black mask and cloak coming to help them.
An hour after they put the Pulidos in prison, Don Diego visited the governor up at the fort.
'I'm happy to see you,' said His Excellency. 'In times of trouble it's important to know who your friends are.'
'I'm sorry that I couldn't come sooner, but I was away from home when you arrived. How long will you stay?'
'I'll wait for them to bring Zorro to me. dead or alive. Captain Ramon has ordered Sergeant Gonzales to return, and I have twenty soldiers here, too. We'll catch the Curse of Capistrano this time, I'm sure.'
'Let's hope that all ends well,' said Don Diego.
'These are difficult times.' said the governor. 'Only today I had to order the arrest of a gentleman, his wife, and daughter. But the country must be safe from the king's enemies.'
'You mean the Pulido family.'
'Can I speak to you about that? I'm courting Don Carlos's daughter, you see.'
'But you're not engaged to her? Because I've learned that the Pulidos are helping Zorro. You wouldn't like to marry into a family of traitors.'
'But to put a gentleman's family in prison with common criminals. Senor — other gentlemen won't think it right.'
'But if I put them under arrest at home, this outlaw Zorro will rescue them. Prison's the only answer.'
'I see,' said Don Diego.
'You're no friend of the king's enemies, I hope.'
'I'm against all the king's real enemies.'
'I'm happy to hear it,' said the governor.
After Don Diego left, the governor told Captain Ramon, 'You once thought that Don Diego was perhaps a traitor, too, but I tell you that he's too weak, too stupid, and too cowardly for that!' They both laughed.
On his way home, Don Diego met a friend in the town square.
'Has our leader sent word to you?' asked the young gentleman quietly in Don Diego's ear.
'The Pulidos are in prison. We think that Senor Zorro will try to rescue them.'
'I hope not,' said Don Diego. 'I'm starting to feel ill just thinking of it. I must go home to bed.'
'I hope that you are better soon,' laughed his friend.
Later that day, a native spoke to the same young man.
'A gentleman asks you and your friends to meet him at midnight behind the hill near the San Gabriel road. He told me to say that a fox is in the neighbourhood.'
The young man smiled. 'Zorro' was Spanish for 'fox'. He went to tell his friends.
Just before twelve that night, a group of young gentlemen from the town rode out to meet their leader. They all wore masks and had guns and swords at their sides.
'Are you all here?' asked Zorro when they arrived.
'Twenty-nine of us are,' came the answer. 'Don Diego's ill in bed and seeing nobody.' They all laughed.
'Right. Now you know why I've called you here. We must rescue the Pulido family from prison. Here's my plan...'
The young men listened carefully.
Soon after that, Zorro and his followers rode to the prison and knocked on the door.
'Who's there?' came the guard's voice from inside.
'Zorro. Open the door now, and don't call for help — or you die.'
The door opened, and Zorro and the others hurried in. They quickly unlocked the door to the prison cell. The Pulidos were sitting together inside, far from the common prisoners.
'Senor Zorro!' cried Don Carlos. 'What are you doing here?'
'I've come to rescue you. Let's go.'
'I'm staying,' answered the old man. 'I'm ready to take what comes to me. They say that I gave you a place to hide. What will they say if you help me to escape?'
'Senor, this is no place for you or your family to stay the night. Gentlemen!' he called.
At once two of his followers took Don Carlos from the cell, two others took Dona Catalina with them, and Zorro himself held Lolita's hand and led her from the place.
'You'll be safe with me,' he said.
'I know,' she replied.
But while they were leaving the building, two of Captain Ramon's men arrived, bringing a thief to the prison. They knew from the masks on the faces of Zorro's followers that something was wrong, and they began shooting. Sergeant Gonzales and others hurried from the tavern at the noise. Just then, the prison guard shouted, 'Zorro's rescuing the Pulidos!'
'Quick! To the prison!' cried Gonzales. 'There's a reward for the man who catches Zorro!'
The soldiers at the fort heard the noise, too, and hurried down to the town at once.
By then, Zorro was on his horse with Senorita Lolita sitting in front of him. Don Carlos was on another horse, still shouting that he didn't want rescuing, and Dona Catalina was on a third horse, with one of Zorro's followers behind her. She fainted into this young man's arms.
The rescuers quickly crossed the town square and rode to the highway. There they divided into three, following Zorro's plan. Some took Dona Catalina to the Pulidos' country house. Others took Don Carlos along the road to Pala, to hide the old man in the hut of a friendly native there. Zorro rode with Lolita to Fray Felipe's house where she would be safe.
The outlaw smiled while he galloped, with Lolita in his arms, along the San Gabriel road. 'At least the soldiers following us must divide into three,' he thought.
After a long, hard ride. Zorro's horse arrived at Fray Felipe's house. The outlaw jumped to the ground and helped the young Senorita down. He knocked loudly on the priest's door, and when it opened, he took Lolita inside. A minute later Fray Felipe was saying goodbye to the outlaw on the veranda.
'I'll send word soon.' said Zorro.
'Good,' said the priest. He went in, and locked the door.
Zorro hurried across to his horse. Just then, a group of soldiers rode over the hill. They saw the outlaw in the silver light of the moon. There he is, men,' cried Sergeant Gonzales. After him! The governor will punish us if we don't take him now.'
Zorro jumped on his horse's back, and rode away. He heard soldiers' horses following him, and the men's angry cries. But with only one rider to carry now, his horse moved faster than before, and he started to leave these noises behind.
When the moon went behind a cloud. Zorro left the highway and rode in the dark to a native's hut just by the road.
'They're after me,' he called to the native, who quickly took both the outlaw and his horse inside his hut. Zorro hid there silently while the soldiers galloped nearer along the highway.
'At least Senorita Lolita's safe,' he said to himself.
Back at Fray Felipe's house, Sergeant Gonzales and the other half of his men got off their horses and walked to the house. The sergeant knocked at the door.
'What do you want?' asked the priest when he opened it.
'We're looking for something that Senor Zorro left behind,' said Gonzales, pushing past. 'His horse was slower than usual. He brought a young woman here for you to hide, didn't he?'
'I don't know what you mean,' the priest answered, smiling.
Gonzales knew that Lolita was there somewhere. He sent his men to look in the different rooms of the house and the buildings around it, but he himself stayed with Fray Felipe.
Suddenly he looked at a tall pile of animal skins in the corner of the room. 'What's behind that?' he said.
Senorita Lolita came out from behind the skins with a long skinner's knife in her hand.
'I'm leaving. Don't try to stop me,' she said. 'If you do, I'll kill myself. The governor won't like that.'
'True,' thought Gonzales. 'There'll be trouble if she kills herself while I'm arresting her.'
'Don't do anything stupid!' he cried.
'I refuse to go back to a common prisoner's cell, Senor. Better for a Pulido to die than to agree to that. So if you don't want me dead, you'll wait while I take your horse and go.'
With that she ran — knife in hand — from the room, hurried from the house, jumped on the sergeant's horse, and rode off into the night.
'After her!' shouted Gonzales from the veranda.
Behind the mask
After the soldiers rode past, Zorro left the native's hut. Then he jumped on his horse, and rode to the fort in Reina de Los Angeles. All the soldiers were away, looking for him. Only Captain Ramon sat in his office, waiting for news.
'You!' cried Ramon when the outlaw walked into his office, gun in hand.
'Stand with your hands behind your back!' came the reply. Zorro tied the captain's hands together.
'Where's the governor?' he asked.
'At Don Juan Estado's house,' answered Ramon.
'Then we'll visit him. And remember, my gun's at your head, so no noise.'
Outside the fort, Zorro told the captain to get on his horse. Then he himself got up behind, and they rode quietly over to Don Juan's house.
They went in through the back, and Zorro pushed the captain into the front room, following quickly. His Excellency and Don Juan were at a table, talking.
'Don't move,' said the outlaw.
'Zorro!' cried the governor. 'Why are you here?'
'To explain,' Zorro said. 'Excellency, today you wrongly put a gentleman's family in a common prison cell.'
'But they're traitors who've helped you — an outlaw!' came the governor's angry reply.
'Who told you that?'
'Captain Ramon. You had dinner at the Pulidos' country house. A native brought the news to the captain, who went after you. Don Carlos hid you in a closet, and when you came out, you wounded Ramon from behind with your sword and escaped.'
'Captain, now tell the governor the true story. Don Carlos himself sent the native to the fort. The Pulidos didn't know that I was in the closet. And I gave you time to take out your sword and fight like a man. didn't I? Answer!'
'Yes. You're right,' said the captain.
'Is there anything more against the Pulidos, Excellency?'
'Yes. While Don Diego Vega was away, and the Pulidos were slaying at his house, the captain visited one night, and found you there with the Senorita. You're the Pulidos' friend, and they hid and helped you, even in the house of someone who's loyal to me. That night you escaped because the Senorita stopped the captain catching you.'
'Now for the true story,' said Zorro. 'Captain Ramon, you're in love with Senorita Lolita. You found her alone that night and tried to kiss her. She called for help. And I came and kicked you out of the house, didn't I? Speak!'
'Yes. That's right.'
'Captain Ramon, you've lied to me,' said the governor, 'You're no longer an officer.' Then he told the outlaw, 'But I'm still sure that the Pulidos are traitors. So my men will take them back to prison, and then I'll hang you.'
'We'll see,' replied Zorro, 'But I have something more to do before leaving, so you and Don Juan must sit over there.'
The governor and Don Juan sat by the window while Zorro told Ramon, 'You offended Senorita Lolita, and must pay for that. Your shoulder's better, and you have a sword, so fight me!'
Ramon's eyes were wild. The governor knew all about his lies, and so he was no longer a captain. He looked at Zorro darkly. He would kill this outlaw. Then perhaps His Excellency would pardon him.
He went over to the governor, saying, 'Untie me, Excellency, and I'll kill him.'
'Do that, and you can be a captain again,' said the governor, untying him at once.
Then the fight began. Ramon ran at his enemy, sword in hand, but Zorro fought back cleverly — his gun in his left hand, his sword in his right.
'Kill him, Ramon!' cried the governor. He and Don Juan knew that Zorro would shoot if they moved, so they sat still. Then Zorro threw his gun on the table.
'I'll use my sword, Excellency, if either of you tries anything,' he told the governor. But neither he nor Don Juan wanted to try.
Now Zorro's left hand was free, and he pushed Ramon back. The captain fought more weakly than before.
Suddenly Ramon thrust his sword wildly at Zorro, who jumped back unhurt. At once the outlaw's sword made three quick cuts on his enemy's face, leaving a red letter Z there. Then Zorro thrust his sword through Ramon's body, and the captain fell to the floor, dead.
'Now I'll leave,' said the outlaw.
'I'll hang you for this!' cried the governor.
'If you catch me!' laughed Zorro. He took his gun, ran outside, and jumped on his horse — ready to ride away.
But it was now early morning. Three groups of soldiers were arriving back from Pala, the Pulidos' country house, and San Gabriel. And Zorro was in the middle of them.
Suddenly one of Gonzales's men saw him, crying, 'The Curse of Capistrano!' Zorro galloped across the square.
Just then, the governor and Don Juan ran into the street. 'Stop him! Murderer!' they cried.
He rode hard for the highway now, dividing the crowd of soldiers in his way.
'After him!' shouted Sergeant Gonzales angrily.
Then Zorro turned a corner in the road. But what was this? Someone was galloping into town, and behind them, a group of soldiers followed.
Which way now? Back or straight on? He turned around but then, over his shoulder, he saw that the rider coming nearer was Senorita Lolita. 'Wait!' she cried. Soon she was by his side, and together they rode into town.
'I escaped from Fray Felipe's house,' began Lolita.
'Tell me later,' cried Zorro.
Suddenly there were soldiers with guns before them.
'Take them, dead or alive!' screamed Gonzales.
'Quickly! Do what I do!' called Zorro. He rode his horse fast at the men, jumping over them at the last minute.
Lolita followed. 'Where now?' she cried.
'To the tavern!'
They jumped off their horses and sent everyone out of the tavern before they locked the door.
In no time the square was full of soldiers. The governor arrived, and Sergeant Gonzales. Even Don Alejandro was there, with other gentleman of the neighbourhood.
'Everybody's here!' laughed Zorro, watching through a hole in the tavern door.
'Your young followers, too?' asked Lolita.
'No. For them it was only an exciting night adventure. Speaking out by day against the governor is harder. This is the end. I'm going to die.'
'Were going to die!' said Lolita. 'I can't live without you.'
Just then, a group of young gentlemen on horses arrived in the square and rode over to the governor.
'Stop!' shouted one.
'What's that?' cried the governor.
'We speak for all the gentlemen's families here. It was wrong to send the Pulidos to prison. You must pardon them. Zorro too must have a pardon. His only crimes are fighting against false justice and helping the weak and the poor.'
'What do you say, Don Alejandro Vega? Must I pardon these traitors and this outlaw?'
'You must,' answered Don Alejandro. 'I'm fully behind these gentlemen. Go back to San Francisco de Asis and leave south California to us. If you change your ways, we'll be loyal.'
'Very well,' said the governor. 'Then I pardon the Pulido family, and Senor Zorro, too!'
Everybody cheered, and Zorro and Lolita left the tavern, and walked into the square.
'So who are you?' cried Sergeant Gonzales. 'Show your face!'
Zorro took off his mask and everyone saw that he was — Don Diego! Everybody was terribly surprised.
Don Alejandro cried happily, 'My son! But how?'
'It began when I was fifteen,' explained Don Diego. 'I felt angry when the governor's men hurt the weak and poor in Capistrano, and I decided to fight back. I taught myself to use a sword and ride. I started wearing a mask, and called myself Zorro.
'It wasn't easy being Don Diego by day and Zorro by night, but none of you learned my secret. Not even Senorita Lolita, who refused to love Don Diego for his money, but loved Senor Zorro for his true heart! Now I'll marry her if she wants me, and then the governor will think twice before he makes enemies of the Pulidos again. My days as Zorro are over, but from now on I'll be a more manly Don Diego.
'And for you, friend Gonzales, the news that you gave Don Diego of where you were riding was most helpful to Zorro. I'm sorry that you won't have your reward, but I'll pay for drinks at the tavern for you and your men!'