Zorro Hunts A Jackal
By Johnston McCulley 1933
Page 5 of 8
“On Guard, Señor!”
When he was but a short distance away, and they were yet unaware of his presence, Zorro stopped behind another clump of brush. He stood up, rested a moment, and prepared to remove the cloak that shrouded his form.
He could hear the guards whispering to one another as a wine jug was passed from hand to hand.
“He is a decoy, this Señor Horse Trader,” one said. “He beats natives so that Zorro will come to get him. Then we shall get Zorro.”
“And a handful of gold pieces into the bargain!” another added, chuckling.
“And mayhap divers cuts and slashes from Zorro’s blade,” the third reminded them.
“We allow this Señor Garzo to do the fighting, merely seeing that Zorro does not escape if he wins,” the first said. “If he bests the horse dealer, the three of us must account for him.”
“He is a demon! He slips around like a ghost. It may be he is not human man at all.”
It was at this moment that Señor Zorro whipped off the light cloak and stepped from behind the clump of brush. An eerie wail rumbled from his throat, grew in volume, and seemed to shatter the silence of the night. It beat back from the walls of the presidio buildings, rushed away on the hill breeze.
The three troopers sprang to their feet, alarm striking at them. They glanced around quickly, as Zorro wailed again.
And then they saw! A short distance from them, in the midst of the Stygian blackness of the night and seemingly drifting toward them, was the skull and chest of a skeleton.
Again there came that eerie wail. The apparition bore toward them. They could see the gleaming outline of the skull, the great gleaming eye sockets. The throat and shoulder bones and the upper ribs were also visible.
Brave men they might have been in physical combat. None of them would have retreated even from a superior foe. Soldiers they were, and skilled in the use of weapons; but they also were superstitious.
They could have understood a charging enemy and prepared to clash and fight it out; but when the third eerie wail came rumbling through the night at them, the gleaming skeleton apparently starting to advance toward them again, it was more than their nerves could endure.
“Dios!” one cried.
Their shrieks of superstitious fear rang out. As one man they turned and charged away toward the barracks, howling for their comrades to come to their aid, to bring blazing torches. Together the three made a tumult equal to the noise of a frenzied score.
Voices answered them from the barracks, and in front of the building the sentinel on regular post shouted for the capitán. From the guest house came the raucous bellowing of Señor Felipe Garzo. He demanded to know what was happening.
Zorro quickly wrapped the dark cloak around him again, and put the hood of it up over his head. The gleaming skeleton disappeared. Through the black night he rushed noiselessly to the corner of the guest house, and there watched the door.
Light gleamed within, and the door was hurled open. Señor Felipe Garzo stood framed in it, partly clothed, holding a flaming torch above his head with his left hand, a naked blade in his right.
“What is it?” he shouted.
The guards had rushed across the patio to the corner of the barracks, where a door had been opened for them. Out of the barracks, the other troopers were tumbling in their night clothing, shouting and clashing weapons. Capitân Torello appeared, crying for order and silence, and for somebody to tell him what had happened. Felipe Garzo left the guest house and rushed across the patio, carrying his sword and his torch.
Quickly, Zorro slipped through the guest house door and got inside the big room. In a corner was a huge clothes press, and into this he went, but for the time being kept its door half open. Thus he was able to see across the room and into the patio.
There were a dozen torches in the patio now, and troopers were commencing a search, the capitán’s angry shouts urging them on. Felipe Garzo came back toward the guest house with Capitá.n Torello beside him.
“It was a fiery skeleton,” one of the guards kept repeating. “A skeleton with flaming bones. All of us saw it, capitán. It screeched threats at us.”
“And where did you see it first?”
“Over there, by the clump of brush. It seemed to be floating through the air at us. And the screech it gave—!”
“It probably came out of this empty wine jug I find here on the ground,” the capitán suggested. “Strange sights and sounds may be found in a jug!”
“But we all saw it at the same time, capitán, and heard it. It was a terrible thing!”
“What think you, Garzo?” the capitán asked.
“That you have some strange troopers, capitán,” Garzo replied. “A flaming skeleton that screeched—urn! There’s nobody here.”
Capitán Torello whirled upon his men. “Idiots and cowardly fools!” he stormed. “Whoever saw a flaming skeleton? And can any skeleton shriek? Wine has robbed you of what wits you possessed. And perhaps it also has ruined our plans for the night. Return to your post—and you others get to your beds!”
“We are to continue the watch?” a guard asked. “And in the darkness?”
“You are, though probably it will avail nothing now. You were put on a secret post, to keep quiet and perhaps trap a fox. And you have howled enough to frighten away every fox in the land.”
“A terrible thing!” a guard moaned.
“Remain on post, imbeciles, though you shiver and shake! Do not desert, for I may come out at any time to see if you are attending to duty. And do not make a light.”
The three returned to the clump of brush where they had been watching, and the others retired to the barracks. Torello remained with Felipe Garzo at the door of the guest room. By the light of the torches they carried, they could view the interior. They saw nothing unusual, for Zorro had by this time closed the door of the huge press, and was snug inside.
“What do you make of it, capitán?” Garzo asked.
“I scarce know, señor!”
“The guards were badly frightened—no pretense there.”
“They are a superstitious lot. Something undoubtedly happened to frighten them. But, a skeleton that shrieks—!”
“It is yet early in the night. Perhaps the man we expect will come to us yet.”
“I doubt it,” the capitán said. “Zorro strikes when men expect it not. Perhaps he has been near, had something planned, and the howling of the guards ruined his calculations.”
“I’ll to bed again,” Felipe Garzo decided.