Excerpt of Zorro by Isabel Allende
(Page 2 of 3)
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A few days later Captain Alejandro de la Vega galloped into the
mission. He leaped from his horse, tore off his heavy uniform jacket, his
neckerchief, and his hat, and thrust his head into the trough where women were
rinsing their wash. His horse was covered with foam; it had carried its rider
many leagues, along with all the gear of the Spanish dragoon: lance, sword,
heavy leather shield, and carbine, plus saddle. De la Vega was accompanied by a
couple of men and several packhorses loaded with supplies. Padre Mendoza rushed
out to welcome the captain with open arms, but when he saw that he had brought
only two trail-weary soldiers as depleted as their mounts, he could not disguise
"I am sorry, Padre. I have no available soldiers other than
these two good men," the captain apologized as he wiped his face on his
shirtsleeve. "The rest of the detachment stayed behind in Pueblo de los Angeles,
which is also threatened by the uprisings. "
"May God come to our aid, since Spain does not," the priest
"Do you know how many Indians will attack?"
"Not many here know how to count accurately, Captain, but
according to my scouts it might be as many as five hundred."
"That means no more than a hundred and fifty, Padre. We can
defend ourselves. Who can we count on?" asked Alejandro de la Vega.
"On me, for oneI was a soldier before I was a priestand on two
other missionaries, who are young and brave. We have three soldiers who live
here, assigned to the mission. We also have a few muskets and carbines,
ammunition, two swords, and the gunpowder we use in the quarry. "
"How many converts?"
"My son, let us be realistic. Most of the Indians will not fight
against their own kind," the missionary explained. "At most, I can count on a
half dozen who were brought up here, and a few women who can help us load our
weapons. I do not want to risk the lives of my neophytes, Captainthey're like
children. I look after them as if they were my own. "
"Very well, Padre. Shoulders to the wheel, and may God help us.
From what I see, the church is the strongest building in the mission. We will
defend ourselves there," said the captain.
For the next few days, no one rested in San Gabriel; even small
children were set to work. Padre Mendoza, who was expert in reading the human
soul, knew he could not trust the loyalty of the neophytes once they saw
themselves surrounded by free Indians. He was disquieted when he caught a
glimpse of a savage gleam in a worker's eye and witnessed the unwilling
compliance with his orders: the neophytes dropped stones, burst bags of sand,
got tangled in the ropes, and overturned tubs of tar. Forced by circumstances,
Padre Mendoza violated his own rule of compassion and, without a twinge of
doubt, as punishment sentenced two Indians to the stocks and dealt out ten
lashes to a third. Then he had the door to the single women's lodge reinforced
with heavy planks; it was sound as a prison, constructed so that the
most daring could not get out to wander in the moonlight with
their lovers. A solid, windowless building of thick adobe, it had the additional
advantage that it could be bolted from outside with an iron bar and padlocks.
That was where they locked up most of the male neophytes, shackled at the ankles
to prevent them from collaborating with the enemy at the hour of battle.
"The Indians are afraid of us, Padre Mendoza. They think our
magic is very powerful," said Captain de la Vega, patting the butt of his
"Believe me, Captain, these people know what firearms are, all
right, though as yet they haven't discovered how they function. What the Indians
truly fear is the cross of Christ," the missionary replied, pointing to the
From Zorro by Isabel Allende. Copyright © 2005 by Isabel Allende. English-language
copyright © HarperCollins Publishers.