Zorro Hunts A Jackal
By Johnston McCulley 1933
Page 7 of 8
They met, clashed, felt each other’s strength, and then were at it. At the first encounter, Zorro knew that here was a swordsman, and no poor novice to be disarmed and marked or done to death. The first clash of steel seemed to turn Felipe Garzo into a cold fighting machine. The man had shaken off his disguise, in a manner of speaking; no longer was he Felipe Garzo, uncouth horse trader and breaker.
“Beater of natives!” Zorro taunted. “Jackal for the capitán and the governor!”
“Highwayman!” the other gasped.
But they did not waste breath in epithets, for breath was a thing which both needed in this combat. Around and around the room they fought, each trying to get the advantage of light, avoiding the heavy articles of furniture, using what skill they possessed.
The perspiration was glistening on the forehead of the man who called himself Felipe Garzo, and the expression in his face was that of a man who knows he has met his match.
Zorro’s features were hidden by the mask he wore, wherein he had an advantage, for the other could not read the workings of his mind. The eyes gleamed through the slits malevolently. Now and then teeth glistened in a provoking smile. Feet slipped over the rough flooring of the guest house, and steel hissed and sang.
Neither cried out, but they gasped and panted as they fought, and their ringing blades could be heard. Outside, the guards heard them, and approached the building, listening at the door and beneath one of the windows. They knew that these were sounds of fight which came from inside. But nobody cried to them for help. There was no shout that Zorro was at hand. Merely the clash of good steel and the panting breaths of the swordsmen. And the troopers were loath to enter and disturb, and gain a rebuke if they made error.
“Get to the capitán and tell him,” one ordered, and a comrade rushed away.
“If Gonzales were only here!” another suggested.
“He has gone with Don Diego Vega to the Pulido place, as an escort. Perhaps the capitán will come. If there was but a cry for help—”
Inside the big room, the torch flickered and cast shadows. Footing was uncertain. Felipe Garzo felt himself being bested by this masked man who taunted now in low tones. His strength was leaving him rapidly. He had met his match in fence, and a man who was in better condition physically.
Fear of death came to him, and also the fear that this man might escape after having slain him. He retreated toward the wall and prepared to shout an alarm. For an instant, he grew careless. The blade of Zorro darted in like the tongue of a snake, and Felipe Garzo felt a streak of fire across his check.
“The first stroke, señor,” Zorro said. “I write my mark on your face in three strokes, señor—for all the world to see—always. You will not have to tell them with whom you have fought.”
Garzo attacked furiously then, and blindly, for rage consumed him and wrecked caution.
Again Zorro’s blade darted in, and Felipe Garzo felt another streak of flame. Blood trickled down his cheek from the wound.
“The last stroke is a delicate matter,” Zorro said. “I like to join the scratches, so that the letter Z will be perfect. And, after having marked you— !“
The sentence was left unfinished, but Garzo’s imagination ran on. In fancy, he felt the blade slip through his body, to protrude at the back, felt it whipped out again and himself falling to crash to the floor, and then the dark oblivion of an unknown future— “Help!—Guards!—Zorro is here!” he shouted.
“Craven!” Zorro hissed. As he spoke, his blade darted forward again, and the letter Z was now completed. Felipe Garzo darted back against the wall to make his last desperate stand.
Now the guards were pounding at the door, howling to know whether they should enter.
“Help!—Zorro is here!” Felipe Garzo’s last cry strangled in his throat.
But Señor Zorro had not slain him. He had merely disarmed him neatly, then run his blade through a shoulder. Garzo dropped to the floor, moaning more with fright than with pain, disarmed and helpless, expecting a death blow at any moment.
“Quiet, or you die!” Zorro hissed at him.
Then Felipe Garzo did a foul thing. He still clutched his dagger in his left hand; and now he transferred it swiftly to his right, hurling it straight at the masked man before him, in open defiance of all rules of fair combat. Instantly, Zorro darted aside, and the flying weapon glanced from the steel of his blade.
“Scum!” Zorro cried, and his blade flashed again, and came back red.
Nor had he struck to kill this time—but only to give a wound that would bring unconsciousness. For if, as Zorro believed, this “horse trader” was a proud swordsman of the governor’s retinue, to go through life shamed with Zorro’s brand would be a sterner lesson to him, and to other bravos like him, than a swift and painless death.
Zorro whirled away from his fallen adversary, even as he heard the voice of Capitán Torello shouting for his men to get through the door. From his pouch, he took the little bottle, and for a time worked swiftly at the wall, and on the face of the fallen man.
An instant later he had darted across the room and had extinguished the torch, and grasping his long black cloak he enveloped himself in it. Then he darted to the big door and stood so it would cover him when it was hurled open.
The next moment it crashed inward. The guest room was in total blackness, for those who carried torches had not yet reached the building. Immediately the guards who had opened the door recoiled, cries of awe rumbling from their throats. For gleaming on the opposite wall was a huge skull, and below it a jagged letter Z. And on the floor in a corner was something that moaned and tossed and might have been a man. On it was another Z, that gleamed and quivered in the midst of the darkness.
The guards howled, terrified, and then the capitán was there with the others and the place was lit by torches. Blades out and ready, they stormed into the room. Their first swift glances revealed nothing except Felipe Garzo, wounded and bleeding, and the indications of combat— overturned furniture, blotches of blood upon the floor. For Señor Zorro was behind the very door which they had hurled open and back against the wall. He was oniy a few feet from them in reality, though not in their thoughts.
And now, since they had all rushed past him, Señor Zorro darted from behind the door and prepared to rush forth into the black night. —But his work was not yet done. He had punished Felipe Garzo, but he must also disabuse the capitán of the idea that Señor Zorro was in reality Don Diego Vega.
“Ha! Señores! You look for me, perhaps?” he cried.
They whirled, and in that instant he had darted through the door and was gone, his mocking laugh ringing back at them.
“After him!” Torello cried. “Get horses for a chase, some of you! Saddle my own mount!”
Some were in night clothing, and some in boots and breeches only, notably the capitán. Some chased out into the black night and in the direction Zorro had taken, guided by his mocking laugh. But he reached his horse safely enough and got himself into the saddle, and then he was quiet, listening to the troopers as they charged toward the stables.
Horses were always ready for the trail, at the presidio, and men mounted these. Others were soon made ready rapidly. Capitán Torello mounted his own horse, not stopping to finish his dressing, and making neither a brave nor an attractive picture in his present half attire.
But out of the night and past them there suddenly rode a demon on a black horse, who howled at them as he passed. The flaming upper half of a skeleton again—for Zorro had not put on his cloak.
Troopers gave cries of alarm, but their capitán silenced them.
“It is but Zorro! It is a trick!” Torello howled. “After him!—A reward to the man who catches or slays him!”
And back to them, as they began their hard ride, came the mocking laugh of Zorro.