A Day To Remember
by Patricia Crumpler
|I feel so very honored to be able to post some of my friend, Patricia Crumpler's stories on my site. Witty, succinct, and descriptive in only a few pages, this lady can spin tales that make you laugh, while you hang on to the edge of your seat. I credit her talent for the development of my own dialogue style. But beyond that, I have learned so much about friendship and loyalty from this wonderful lady. I therefore present this story from among the library of Pat's writings.|
Zorro had underestimated Torrento. With every successful crime he had become bolder, better. Torrento was a natural swordsman and marksman, the like of which Zorro had not seen for a long time. The men in his gang looked up to him. Zorro thought for sure he would stop the man this time, but Torrento's horse was the equal of Tornado, and for many hours the pursuit continued. It was late afternoon, the sun was unmerciful, but Zorro would not stop. Every few minutes he could see Torrento's horse climbing the trail on the ridge. The mountains beyond were rocky and foreboding. A decision had to be made. Zorro knew he should turn around, for Torrento would most certainly present another opportunity for capture, but Zorro wanted to end the reign of terror this time. Tornado's sides moved heavily in response to the spurring. The sound of a rockslide caught Zorro's attention. He looked in all directions. Perhaps the moving rock would help impede Torrento's flight. As his horse turned upward on the ridge path, Zorro saw what produced the sound of the slide. There stood before them a six-foot gap in the stony path. Tornado knew what to do, with ease he sailed across the gap. Zorro pulled back on the bit for safety. He realized he had pushed too hard, and now, with darkness setting about them, they should proceed with more care. Zorro spoke in low tones to his horse. It had become too dark to see the rider ahead and the path was becoming dangerous in the dusk. Zorro stopped and looked around. He could see a small cave in the distance. That would have to be camp for the night. If he could not go on, neither could the man he followed.
The cave was shallow and appeared to be uninhabited. He removed the tack from Tornado and let him loose. The horse would not wander far. From the saddlebags he found his emergency pack. Bless Bernardo! Among the items he found fresh matches and some jerky. He would need heat tonight. Outside of the cave were dried branches that would do for a small fire. Zorro drank a few mouthfuls of water, and shared the rest with his horse from the canvas container that had held the canteen. It was not enough for either of them, but it was something. Zorro removed his cape, hat, gloves and boots. He loosened the sash and lay down next to the fire. It had been miserably hot that day, but at night in the mountains the temperatures could become quite cold. He used the cape for a blanket and fell immediately to sleep.
Choking awakened him. He could not get his breath! His throat kept closing with spasms and his head reeled. He stumbled to the entrance of the cave for fresh air. The fire was smoldering and the smoke clung to the ground. He could not get clean air into his lungs. The bright stars made shining circles and then he fell. He could not get a hold of anything to stop the movement. When at last he stopped, he was racked with incredible pain. Each movement inflicted new agonies. A rock tumbling after him reached its mark on his forehead, and he fell into unconsciousness.
His eyes were swollen, but in the daylight he could make out an elderly woman bending over him. Each time she moved him his pain was refreshed. She was talking to him, but he did not understand. What did she say? It was not in French, or English, certainly not Spanish. As he became more aware he realized the sound was that of her native dialect, Indian. He did not quite know what was happening. She was pulling something from him. He was in a large cactus aggregation. It seemed to be hours before she helped him stand. She motioned for him to get up on the black horse, but he could not sit, there were many needles still embedded. He lay on his belly over the horse's back, but even that caused torment.
She led the horse up and up the path until they came to a fork. The smaller path where they turned was almost hidden, but shortly thereafter they came upon a cabin. The old woman called and a man emerged from the door. The couple helped him to the house, where he was assisted to a cot. The aged man told him in Spanish to lie still for the woman would soon give him something for the pain. He grasped the wooden cup and sipped. The old man said to drink all of the bitter, white fluid. As the injured man sipped the pain began to fade, and a warm euphoria preceded a deep sleep. Dreams raced in myriad patterns, then took form. The scene of a plush book-lined room and warm fire emerged. There was a man with wavy gray hair sitting before the flames sipping wine from a fine glass. The man had no face. The dreamer saw himself sitting with the faceless person. Looking down he saw a brocade robe. It was deep blue with a regal pattern of gold threads. Such a beautiful design, so rich, so lavish! The gray-haired man was speaking, but the dreamer could neither hear nor answer. He became frustrated, angry. Bits of memories, flashes of scenes came and went. The dreamer moaned and opened his eyes. The old man was sitting next to him.
"Are you in pain?" he asked.
"Yes, give me more of that drink. Please?"
"Oh, no, you get that only once. This will help you."
The kindly man held a cup. The patient sat up.
"How many hours have I been asleep? The dreams!"
"Young man, you have been here two days. Yes, that drink can give you some kind of dreams! You needed to sleep. There were many espinas left by the cactus. Some cactus have a residue that is very irritating and can ache for days. Rest some more, now."
It was dark when the sufferer again awoke. A candle was burning overhead. The old man bent over and squinted. "How are you?" he asked. He offered a cup.
The young man sat up. He pulled the blanket up to his chest. "Where are my clothes?"
The old man pulled back the cup. "Yellow Leaf, my wife, said it was about time for you to feel better. You won't need this any more. She said I would know you were on the mend as soon as you worried about your clothes! She is always right. Forty years and the woman still amazes me."
"What is she laughing at?" asked the invalid, sitting up.
"Well, my boy, I believe she is amused at your modesty. Who do you think pulled all of those cactus needles out of you?" said the old man with a laugh.
"Well, uh, thank you. I am very hungry. Is there anything I can eat?"
"Oh, yes! Yellow Leaf said as soon as you asked for food, I was to give you some clothes, because next you would want to get around. Here are some things. They belong to my son, should about fit you, too. He doesn't come around here anymore. Your things were completely shredded. The only thing intact was this black handkerchief with the "Z" on it. Must be your family name, yes?" he asked.
"I don't know," said the young man taking the clothes. "I was hoping you did. I don't even know how I got here."
"Perhaps we should call you 'Turkey Egg' for that is what Yellow Leaf says your backside reminds her of with all of those spots. I am Enrique, and I think you know my dear wife. She found you unconscious in a clump of cactus. You had a small branch attached to you and Yellow Leaf said if you made a fire out of that wood, you were lucky to be alive. It is common in that area and the smoke is very poisonous."
Each day "Turkey Egg" felt stronger. The wound on his head was now a large bruise and the cactus marks were decreasing. He offered to help with the chores, but Yellow Leaf was definitely in charge and would not allow it.
"I will tell you about us," Enrique said. "About our younger days. I had come to California with the first settlers. Yellow Leaf was the daughter of one of the workers at the mission. She was exquisite, even more beautiful than she is now!" Enrique picked up his wife's hand and kissed it tenderly. She shook her head and waved her hand at him.
"I loved her at first sight, but of course, was not allowed to associate with her. I rebelled, at first in small ways, but later against the whole community. I was even considered a bandit. One night I grabbed Yellow Leaf and fled. To avoid the obvious problems we sought a priest that very night and headed for the mountains. She straightened me out! Together we built the cabin and have lived here since. There was a child, a son, but he craved civilization and left us while he was young, too young. Yellow Leaf knew the art of medicine from her mother and grandmother. She is a skilled healer. Sometimes Indians and the people of the outlying regions consult with Yellow Leaf for medical aid. We keep to ourselves and have lived in seclusion ever since we left our settlement. We are happy like this."
The visitor became stronger each day and assisted with the household chores, but only small images of memory came to him, and Enrique suggested he stay longer until he knew more about himself. When the guest wondered if any one might be looking for him, Enrique hinted that if someone were looking for him it did not always mean it was for rescue.
"You have saved my life." The stranger said to the couple, "How could I ever thank you?" Jokingly, Enrique said, "You can give us that horse out there!"
"That is my horse?" he said with surprise. "I wish I could remember him!"
"Let's see what you do remember," said Enrique on a hunch, as he removed two swords from a cabinet. He tossed one towards the man who caught it with ease. "En garde, seņor!"
Turkey Egg immediately assumed the stance. As Enrique advanced, it was clear the nameless man was adept and skilled at fencing. Within moments Enrique had been disarmed.
"I don't know if that is a good sign or a bad one." Enrique's concern grew. As the weeks went by, the old couple became fond of their guest. He was polite, helpful and witty. They enjoyed his company and he was grateful for their kindness. One morning while Enrique and Yellow Leaf were away to check their traps, the young man heard the door open. Within a moment all memories returned to Diego in a rushing flood. The person at the door was Torrento.
As Torrento entered the cabin he said, "You are Don Diego de la Vega... ....with Zorro's horse out there. And, I saw Zorro's clothes in the cave. Aha! I know! I know who you are!" Torrento drew his sword. He advanced toward Diego. "Well, I'll easily put an end to you right now. You have dogged me for the last time, Diego, or should I say Zorro!"
Diego picked up a chair in defense. With great energy he defended himself as Torrento's sword cut the chair into pieces. The seat of the chair deflected Torrento's knife.
The aggressor laughed. "Oh, you put up a good fight, seņor. This is most amusing! I am glad! It would be a shame to kill you so easily. Won't the ciudad de Los Angeles be surprised when they find out who you really were. Were, seņor."
Diego continued to retreat until he was against the cabin wall.
Diego scowled. "Will you brag to your men how you killed an unarmed opponent?"
Torrento smiled as he slowly drew back his sword ready to strike. Just then the cabin door opened once again. Yellow Leaf screamed in her native tongue. Enrique yelled, "Stop!"
With that distraction Diego jumped to the cabinet and grabbed Enrique's sword. "En garde!" he said.
Torrento turned and faced Diego. Diego advanced and made Torrento retreat step by step. Diego lunged and the fight began in earnest. Torrento was a worthy opponent. Diego smiled, it felt good to remember and good to be fencing. Torrento tripped and lost his balance, but Diego, the gentleman, gave him a second to regroup. The fight reconvened. But this time Torrento threw the metal hook he had picked up when he stumbled. It grazed Diego's temple and Torrento went for the kill. Diego darted aside, turned and delivered a mortal thrust up to the forte of the sword. Yellow Leaf ran to Torrento's side. She cradled him in her arms. Enrique knelt beside her.
"Oh, my son," he said, "It had to end like this some day. You have my blood in you, a rebel. Why couldn't you have settled down? Was there no Yellow Leaf for you, my boy? Oh, my son!"
Torrento closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry. There wasn't anything I could do, Enrique," Diego said sadly.
"I know. I know. We both feared this." Enrique said choking back his tears. "I don't know why my son attacked you, perhaps he thought you were robbing our cabin. I'm so sorry, too. You are a gentleman, you gave him an opportunity to stop."
"I know who I am, now. I will be leaving you. But, I will never forget you and if you ever need anything, anything at all, please call on the de la Vega's in Los Angeles. I owe you my life!" Diego knelt by Yellow Leaf and caressed her. She nodded her understanding.
"We will. Thank you, Seņor de la Vega. Adios." Enrique returned to Yellow Leaf who was rocking her son's body.
"Adios," said Diego. Torrento's reign of terror had ended.