Zorro Hunts A Jackal
By Johnston McCulley 1933
Page 1 of 8
The human jackals of Spanish California need taming, said the night-riding Zorro, so—
“Zorro Rides Tonight”
Now the siesta hour was at an end in the little pueblo of Reina de Los Angeles. The cool breeze was starting to drift in from the distant sea, and again life came to the plaza. House doors were opened, and men and women came forth to go about their pursuits. Native servants scurried on errands, dealers prepared to extol the merits of their wares, and lethargy gave place to activity.
In the tavern at the corner of the plaza, there were some who still dozed as they sprawled on benches their backs against the adobe wall, mostly because of the wine they had guzzled. And some others were not dozing, notably a certain Don Diego Vega, scion of a proud and wealthy family, who had everything that a young man might desire—save spirit.
For, according to common report, this Don Diego was a perfumed youth with a languid air, who seemed to find life a bore. It was whispered that he read the works of poets, shuddered at thought of blade-wielding and blood-letting, disdained to play a guitar beneath a window or flirt with a dainty señorita when her dueña was looking the other way, cared little for gaming or racing, and was about as lifeless as a man may be and still breathe and move.
Don Diego had gone to the inn in search of a friend. He had not found the friend, however, the fat landlord was aflutter because of his visit, and servile to the point of abasement.
“A cup of rare wine, Don Diego, with my compliments?” the landlord asked.
“ ‘Twould be of rare vintage, no doubt, found in this place. I have a cellar of my own dolt!” said Don Diego. “Would I shrivel my throat with the poor stuff you sell?”
“My private stock—”
“Keep it private, and save the stomachs of men!” Don Diego interrupted. “If my good friend, Don Carlos Cassara, comes to this your vile establishment, tell him to call upon me forthwith at my father’s house.”
“It shall be done, Don Diego.”
“And in payment for the wine which you offered me gratis, and for the insults it has pleased me to heap upon you, take this.”
Don Diego tossed down a gold piece as though it had been a bit of filth, wiped his fingers with his scented lace handkerchief, yawned, and turned toward the door.
But there was a sudden tumult outside, at the corner of the plaza. Men began running, both whites and natives. Wild shrieks rang out, and a raucous bellowing was heard. There was the ominous whack-whack! of a whip striking against bare human flesh.
Don Diego Vega made a grimace of disgust, and the fat landlord hurried past him to the door, to peer out into the blazing sunshine that drenched the dusty plaza.
“It is somebody administering a beating to one of the natives, Don Diego,” the tavern keeper made report.
“And is it necessary for the wretch to howl and scream as though attacked by wild beasts?”
“He is being given a sound beating with a whip, Don Diego. —Ah! The man with the whip is the strange horse dealer who came to the pueblo a few days ago. He does nothing, that man, except eat, drink, sleep, talk about horses, and beat the natives.”
“A full life,” Don Diego observed languidly.
“If this Señor Zorro who has been winning such fame of late would but ride the highways once more, this man might meet with proper punishment. They say that Señor Zorro is hard on ruffians who mistreat natives.”
“Señor Zorro?—Ah, yes, I remember! The fellow who took it upon himself to defend the weak and oppressed. That,” Don Diego said, “is quite a task!”
“It is some time since this Señor Zorro was active,” the landlord recalled. “Were he here now—well, this man not only beats natives, but also is a thief.”
“How is this?”
“He is a dealer in horses, and all such are swindlers, Don Diego—as doubtless you know. But this man purchases stolen animals from the natives, gives them a small part of what he promised, then compels them to dice or play at cards with him, and so wins back the little he paid—undoubtably through some trick.”
“Undoubtedly,” Don Diego agreed, smiling slightly.
Holding his scented handkerchief to his nostrils, Don Diego Vega stepped through the door and made bold to risk the open air. The native was still squealing, and the whip was striking home. The man who wielded it continued his raucous denunciation:
“Native dog!—Scum!—The next time I’ll take off your hide in strips!—Begone!”
The whip cracked a last time, and the native gave a final screech and fled. Don Diego glanced toward the horse trader and appraised him swiftly. The crowd melted away, and Don Diego strolled forward.
“What is all this tumult?” asked the young man.
The man with the whip whirled to face him. “Who questions—and by what right?” he demanded.
“This is Don Diego Vega, señor, a man to be treated with the utmost consideration,” the landlord warned, quickly.
“Ah! Your pardon, Don Diego. I regret it if you were disturbed. I was but whipping a native cur.”
“And what was his offense?”
“Such as he are a stench in my nostrils—and he was walking to windward of me.”
“There are stenches and stenches,” Don Diego observed. “And you, señor, are standing to windward of me.” Don Diego touched his nostrils with the scented handkerchief again, and shifted his position slightly.
“What is this?” the other cried. His face turned almost purple.
“What is your name and your business?” Don Diego asked.
“I am Felipe Garzo, and I deal in horses.”
“And do you also break and train the beasts, señor? That is rough work.”
“It is, as you say, rough work—labor for a man of strength, Don Diego.”
“You are buying horses here?”
“I am hoping to sell some to Capitan Torello, of the presidio, for the use of his troopers. My herdsmen even now are driving some animals north from San Juan Capistrano.”
“You appear to be quite handy with the whip, señor. It is an accomplishment which may lead you into trouble,” Don Diego warned. “You must have enemies scattered up and down the length of El Camino Real.”
“I attend to such enemies as dare face me, señor!”
“Violence,” Don Diego told him, “is something that I cannot understand. It seems such a waste of energy and time.”