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Zorro Hunts A Jackal

By Johnston McCulley 1933

Page 4 of 8


Out along the dusty highway, through the deep dust and the soft black night, rode Don Diego Vega with Sergeant Pedro Gonzales just on his left, and half a horse’s length behind, as was proper.

“Highwaymen are active again, so the capitán says,” Don Diego remarked over his shoulder.

“It is not for me to question the statement of my superior,” Gonzales replied.

“This Señor Zorro, who created some excite­ment along the highway—nothing more is heard of him.”

“Attune your ears, Don Diego, and you may hear of him soon. I know certain things which lead me to believe—”

“Tell me not your official secrets!” Don Diego begged. “I am grateful to you for riding with me tonight. I am compelled to go to the Pulido hacienda for a time. It will be a dreary assignment for you, no doubt, for of course you could be drinking wine at the presidio.”

“There is a certain bronze native wench at the Pulido place whom it is a rare pleasure to chuck under the chin,” the sergeant said.

“Then you will not find time hanging heavy on your hands while I am the house.”

Don Diego laughed a bit, and then turned through a huge stone archway and went along a winding road on either side of which great trees grew. At the end of this lane was the Pulido house, and the scattered outbuildings around it. From the servants’ huts in the rear came soft laughter and the tinkling of a guitar. Those who worked at the Pulido hacienda were fortunate in having a kind employer who liked to see his people happy.

They dismounted before the front door, and Don Diego handed his reins to the sergeant.

“Take my mount along with your own,” he said. “When I am ready to return to Reina de Los Angeles, I’ll send a servant for you. Enjoy yourself.”

Sergeant Pedro Gonzales hurried around the corner of the big house with the horses, eager to tether them near the servants’ huts and to hunt up his wench. Don Diego approached the great front door, but he did not use the knocker.

None knew better than Don Diego that the Señorita Pulido, to whom he was betrothed, was off with her mother paying a visit, and that Don Cabs Pulido was alone in his big house. Don Carlos undoubtedly would be dozing after a heavy meal, and it would be impolite to disturb him.

Through the darkness Don Diego slipped swiftly, dodging the lighter spots, and glad that there was no moon and that a heavy mist partially obscured the light of the stars. Safe away from the house and the buildings, he skipped lightly down a slope, dodging the scattered trees, and finally stopped beside a narrow trail. He gave a low whistle.

“Señor?” The answer came almost immediately, in a whisper, from a clump of brush a few feet away.

“Is it you, José?”

“Si, señor!”

“Is everything prepared?”

“Here, señor, behind the brush.”

While José of the Cocopahs kept close watch a few feet away, piercing the dark­ness with his keen eyes and straining his ears to catch the slightest sound, Don Diego Vega divested himself of certain of his garments and quickly donned others instead. Across his face he fastened a black mask with slits for the eyes. A blade was strapped at his side.

The garments he had discarded were piled neatly at the base of a tree. From a pouch he took a small bottle, which he handled carefully.

“José!”

“Señor?”

“The torch!”

“Behind this rock, señor, it may not be seen.” Don Diego dropped down behind a big rock, and there was a sudden flare as José kindled a small torch into flame. Don Diego took something from the bottle, propped a mirror against the rock, and worked diligently for a time. He was chuckling as he returned the bottle to the pouch.

“The horse?”

“Ten paces straight ahead, señor.” “You will remember everything?” “Everything, señor.”

“I go. Put out the torch. Zorro rides!”

As he spoke, he draped his form with a long black cloak of thin material. Then he darted for­ward, to where a black horse was waiting. Don Diego Vega was gone—and in his stead was Señor Zorro, the Fox. And it was Señor Zorro, quite another person, who got into the saddle to ride.

Down the narrow trail he went through the soft night, the horse picking the path; and pres­ently he turned into the highway and rode swiftly toward the town. He was keenly alert, quick to catch sight and sound, his eyes gleaming through the slit’s in the mask he wore.

What a game he played, this Don Diego Vega, supposed to be too languid to be a spirited young Caballero. Yet it was a dangerous game, he knew well. One fatal slip—and shame would descend

upon the Vegas and the jealous governor have his moment of gloating. In truth, Zorro struck only to aid the oppressed and to right wrongs; yet, nevertheless, he acted outside the law.

He topped a hill and saw in the distance the few twinkling lights of Reina de Los Angeles. Now he rode from the trail and over rough ground, and approached the hillside in which stood the presidio, with a deep gulch running behind it.

Zorro rode into the gulch, sent his black horse forward at a walk, and finally emerged behind the low, sprawling presidio buildings, tethering his horse to a tree.

He kept the black cloak wrapped closely around his body as he crept through the fringe of brush on the gulch’s rim. His black mask covered his entire face. He was but an unseen part of the night, as he went cautiously toward the presidio buildings. These were on three sides of a large patio, the main barracks on one side, storehouses on another, and a guest house on the third. A commodious structure, this guest house, partitioned into two apartments for the use of both men and women.

It was toward the guest house that Zorro went now, half crawling at times, careful to keep the black cloak wrapped tightly around his body, to refrain from striking a boot against a rock. Careful also that the blade he wore hit against nothing to give forth a warning metallic sound.

Behind a clump of brush he crouched, silent and motionless. It was quiet in the barracks, and he knew that the troopers slept, since all of them save the guard always retired early. No light gleamed through the windows of the guest house. Zorro knew that only one guest reposed there, the man who called himself Felipe Garzo.

Nor was he sure that Garzo was there now. The fellow might be at the inn, or prowling around the pueblo under the protection of a couple of troopers. If so, things were but delayed a bit. And there were others to be considered, too.

Zorro watched and listened, and finally he located them—the lurking guards. There were three, resting on the ground near a clump of brush, not far from the door of the guest house. They were waiting for Zorro to make an attack on Felipe Garzo and so walk into a trap.

Silently, Señor Zorro crept toward them.

 

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