Zorro Hunts A Jackal
By Johnston McCulley 1933
Page 6 of 8
The capitán stalked away toward the barracks building with rage in his stride, and Felipe Garzo closed the door of the guest house and walked across to his bed. He surveyed the room an instant, then plunged the head of the torch into the bowl of sand to extinguish it. That made the interior of the big room black dark, for the heavy draperies had been drawn across the windows.
Garzo stretched out upon the couch half dressed, as he had appeared at the door a while before, and reached down to pull the protecting quilt of skins up to his chin, for he had grown cold running about the patio. He turned on one side, so facing the opposite wall of the room. And suddenly he gave a gasp of surprise and struggled to sit up. For there, on the adobe wall of the room, in quivering shining letters, was the one word: Muerte. And below it was a big jagged letter Z.— “Death!” And the sign of Zorro.
Felipe Garzo sprang out of bed and grasped the torch again. Feverishly, he kindled it, meanwhile straining his ears for sounds inside the room, but hearing nothing. The light flared up and Garzo gave a sigh of relief to find that Señor Zorro was not standing before him, his eyes gleaming through the slits in his mask.
Across the room he went, and to the wall. But it seemed innocent of anything except a damp smear. He could not understand it.
“Am I, too, growing into an imbecile?” Felipe Garzo growled aloud to himself. “A pest, this Zorro! He grows on the imagination of a man. If ever I stand face to face with him, blade in hand—!”
He left the threat unfinished and retired to the couch again. Once more he extinguished the torch. And as he did so, there flamed out on the wall again the letter and the sign!
“I shall go mad!” Garzo breathed. “It is some trick, such as was played on the guards.—A boy’s trick!—It will take something more substantial than writing on a wall to harm me.”
He closed his eyes and turned his head away, but his ears were open. He could hear the faint rustling of the wind through the brush outside, and the howling of a dog down near the plaza. But
nothing else. Inside the guest house, all was as nothing else. Inside the guest house, all was as still as death.
After a time he looked at the wall again. The word and the sign were still there, though seemingly they did not shine with such great radiance. Felipe Garzo fought with himself to remain calm, to keep from lighting the torch and making a fresh investigation.
Inside the big clothes press, Señor Zorro was growing cramped and uncomfortable. It was hot and stuffy, and the perspiration was trickling down his neck, causing a delicious kind of agony. He opened the door of the press for the space of a couple of inches, looked out into the darkness of the room, listened.
Felipe Garzo was tossing on his bed. His breathing became heavier, and once it approached a snore. Then Zorro opened the door wider, and finally stepped gingerly down to the floor, closing the door of the press behind him slowly and noiselessly.
His long dark cloak was wrapped closely around him, covering him from head to feet. As he stood against the wall, he could not be seen. All at once he dropped the cloak to the floor and drew himself up. He began to speak in a weak monotone:
“You who call yourself Felipe Garzo!—You are an impostor and a wretch!—Jackal!—Cheap decoy!”
“Dios!” Felipe Garzo threw the skin quilt aside and sat erect on the couch. His first glance was at the opposite wall, where the word and the ragged letter Z still gleamed faintly at him. “I am going mad!” he breathed. “The wine at dinner was too strong. A pest on this accursed place!”
The perspiration was standing out on his forehead in great globules. That word on the wall seemed to dance before his eyes. He had not yet observed the presence of the stranger.
“Jackal!” the hissed whisper came to his ears again. “So you would trap and trick Señor Zorro, eh?”
Felipe Garzo jerked his head around. Then he sprang from the couch and crashed back against the wall, making a wild grab for the sword and dagger which he had left handy on a stool. The stool went over with a crash, sword and dagger flew aside. For across the room, Felipe Garzo beheld what the guards had seen—the upper half of a skeleton in gleaming, quivering light. And from that direction came also a soft, mocking laugh, and a sound such as that made by blade being drawn from scabbard, deliberately, with evident morbid purpose.
Garzo did not cry out; he did not screech to attract the attention of the guards supposed to be outside. He did not care to make a fool of himself, as the others had made laughing stocks of themselves. First of all, this thing called for investigation. Though his heart hammered at his ribs and his ears were strained to catch sounds of footsteps, his eyes never left that quivering, flaming skeleton.
Felipe Garzo reached for the torch and made shift to kindle it into flame. As the light flared up, there was a quick step on the other side of the room. He whirled. And there he saw a man in dark clothing, with a black mask across his face, and on the forehead of the mask a ragged letter Z.
“Zorro!” Felipe Garzo gasped.
“At your service, beater of natives! Swindler and cheat and thief!”
Garzo backed to the wall, stooped swiftly, and retrieved sword and dagger. This was the moment for which he had waited. And now that the queer apparition had gone with the coming of the light, courage returned to him. He was not without skill with a blade.
“This shall be the end of you, Zorro!” he hissed.
“A thing to be proved!”
“In a moment, señor, I shall strip off your mask and have a look at your dead face!”
“You’ll find it much more pleasant than your own.—Are you going to call to the guards for help? Are you about to summon the soldiery? How many men do you need for aid, Felipe Garzo, when you cross blades with another man?”
“None!” Garzo said.
“I warn you, out of the kindness of my heart, that it will be safer for you to call.”
But here was a business which Felipe Garzo wished to finish himself, that he might gain greater notoriety. To take the notorious Zorro alone and unaided—there was a feat!
He thrust the torch into its holder on the wall, and it cast a flickering and uncertain light across the big room.
“On guard, señor!” Zorro said.