A New Beginning
                                                                      Chapter 15

Juan Hernandez began working for the de la Vega family when Don Alejandro was a young boy.  Now the family kept old Juan busy tending the vegetable garden a short distance from the main house.  The day of the kidnapping Juan was filling a small straw basket with fresh picked apples from the orchard when a stranger rode up and handed him a note.

"Old one," said the man on horseback.  "Take this note to the de la Vegas and hurry."

Tossing a peso to the old man the stranger then turned his horse and rode off toward the hills behind the hacienda.  Juan dropped the basket of apples he held to pick up the coin that lay at his feet then hurried to the main house.  Juan ambled over the patio tiles toward the house with the note tightly clasped in his hand.  Suddenly he heard voices on the landing above and looked up to see Don Alejandro, Don Diego and Capitan Monastario in conversation.

"Don Alejandro...Don Diego, I have something for you," called Juan waving the note in his hand.

The three men scurried down the stairs and Juan handed the note to the young don who with shaking hands unfolded the paper.  Silently Diego read the words written by Quintana in which he boasted of the kidnapping of his baby daughter and Leonar.  Crumbling the note in his hand Diego looked at his father and the commandante.  Diego asked Juan a few questions but unfortunately the old man was not much help.  Diego thanked Juan for bringing the note to their attention so quickly and watched as he left the patio.  Don Alejandro and the commandante could wait no longer and urged Diego to tell them what was written in the note.   

"We have your child and the governor's daughter," Diego said opening the crumbled paper and reading the demands.  "It is not our intention to harm them but if you do not pay the ransom you will never see either of them again.  We want 25,000 pesos.  Do not send soldiers or that black devil called Zorro or there will be no further instructions and your loved ones will die."

It was obvious the reason for the kidnapping was money and revenge, but the note gave no indication of where Pablo and Quintana were hiding or where to deliver the ransom.  If the baby and Leonar were to be returned unharmed Diego and Monastario would have to work together and follow future directions carefully for any move out of the ordinary would bring death.  The three men stared at each other unable to speak.

"Diego, we must do something," said Don Alejandro forcefully.  "To wait for another note and do nothing...well this is intolerable."

"Father, you heard the note," pleaded Diego.  "If we do anything they will harm the baby and Leonar.  We must wait until we have a plan.  We need something to show us the way."

"For once I must agree with Don Diego," said Monastario.  "We do not know where they are hiding and if we stumble upon them they could do harm to Leonar and the child before we could stop them."

"For now the soldiers and Zorro would do more harm then good," Diego said looking at the crumbled paper.  "We must return to the sala and tell the others.  Perhaps they may have some ideas."

"Diego," called out Anna Maria as the three men entered the sala.  "What has happened?"

"Mi amor, come we will talk on the patio," replied Diego.  "Father please tell Don Grigorio and Padre Felipe about the note."

"Note...what note?" asked Anna Maria as Diego took her arm and led her into the garden.

"Diego please tell me quickly," Anna Maria said looking into Diego's face.   "Did the note say when Maria Isabella and Leonar would be returned?"

"The note did not say," answered Diego.  "For now we must gather 25,000 pesos for the ransom and wait until instructions are sent.  The problem is that I do not trust these men.  I remember how evil they were...but do not worry, mi amor, I promise no harm will come to our child or Leonar."

"I have faith in you, Diego, and I do believe," said Anna Maria bravely.  "I must go to Eduardo...please do not let the commandante do anything foolish."

"For once I believe he is going to use good judgment.  Nothing would be accomplished riding off in every direction.  Once we receive the instructions we will set a plan in motion.  Ah...Padre Felipe are you leaving?"

"Si, my son I must return to the mission but I will be here tomorrow.  I pray that during the time I am gone you have some good news.  May God watch over your house." 

At the mission the Indians were working in the orchards.  This year there would be a fine crop of oranges for the weather had been good.  In the tower Luis waited to ring the early evening bell when he saw the travelers riding toward the sanctuary.  After getting the attention of the Indians below Luis pointed to the newcomers.  Dropping their tools the men hurried toward the sanctuary. 

"Buenas noches," said one of the Indians.  "The mission priest is not here but he shall be returning shortly.  Do you wish to wait?"

"Si, we have been riding most of the day and we are hungry.  The women could use a quiet place to rest too," said Quintana.

"One of the men will see to your horses," said the Indian.  "Por favor, follow me into the mission.  Our women will bring food and wine, then they will show you to a place where you may rest."

"Gracias," said Quintana. 

The three men surrounded Leonar as she carried Maria Isabella.  As they walked Pablo reminded Leonar to say nothing or she and the child would suffer.  In the kitchen the travelers took seats around a large table which was covered with fresh fruit and drink.  Eagerly they accepted the food placed before them, hungry from the long ride.  After quenching their thirst and hunger the Indians showed them to rooms where they might rest. Outside Leonar's room Pablo found a chair and placed it near Leonar's door.  With Paco's wife in the room with Leonar, Pablo was assured his prisoners would not escape.

"Senorita," said Melita laying her baby in one of the cribs provided by the Indians.  Why are you here?  Mi esposo, Arturo, promised much money but he did not explain where it was coming from." 

"Pablo and the other man Quintana kidnapped me and the baby," said Leonar tearfully.    They are holding us for ransom.  I do not know how your husband or the other man are involved but they are."

"Ah mi dios," Melita said her hands covering her mouth.  "What has Arturo involved us in? "

"Melita, please help us?" pleaded Leonar.  "Perhaps you can get word to Don Diego de la Vega or the commandante in the pueblo de Los Angeles?"

"Senorita...I do not know.  I love Arturo and I...I am sorry.  The baby...she is hungry, let me have her."

Saddened by Melita's words, Leonar tried to hide her disappointment.  With the baby in her arms she sadly looked at Melita.  If nothing else, at least Leonar did not have to worry about the baby.  Melita was a good woman and she cared for Maria Isabella as if she were her own.  Leonar believed that Melita had not been involved in the kidnapping, but now that Melita was aware of what happened, could Leonar depend on her for help?  

As Padre Felipe headed toward the mission his thoughts were of the boy who once attended the church school.  Diego de la Vega was a fine young man with a strong backbone who possessed the great love and kindness of his mother along with the solid but intense character of his father.  Now exhausted from the long day, Padre Felipe was anxious for nightly prayers to begin.  The padre pulled the carriage to a stop in front of the mission church where one of the Indians took the horse's reins.  The padre stepped down but before entering the church the Indian informed him of the visitors.  Curious Padre Felipe made his way to the rooms where the travelers were resting and soon became a captive himself.
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