A New Beginning
                                                                              Chapter 17

The Mission San Gabriel built in the late 1770's lay northwest of the San Gabriel River near the mountains.  It was the fourth of the missions to be built and prospered due to its fertile plains.  The Indians living near the mission were attracted to the pageantry that they found existed in the church and soon were converted by baptism.  Readily accepting the ways of the church the Indians became avid followers helping to erect buildings, planting trees and crops.  With the dedication of the padres and help of the Indians the mission continued to prosper.

The present mission included a large square building called a quadrangle.  In the center of this edifice was a large tiled fountain surrounded by a beautiful garden where one could sit and contemplate.  Two of the outside walls of the building each held five rooms; those used by the priests, young Indian maidens working at the mission, and weary travelers.  The rooms were very simple...no ornate artifacts or fancy furniture...only one or two beds with a crucifix hung above on the wall and a small table with chairs.  The kitchen with its large stone fireplace was placed in another portion of the building.  Outside the perimeter of the mission were found the orchards, irrigated fields of corn and other work areas.  The church, bell tower and the graveyard were attached at the southeast corner with the Indian village lying north in the hills. 

Over the years the mission became a self-sufficient environment where the Indians worked, raised their families, became good Christians, and found safety under the loving care of the priest.   Padre Felipe loved the Indians as his children and protected them as best he could.  Under his guidance the orchards blossomed and the fields of corn brought forth a good crop.  All the people revered the priest for his kindness and strength. 

With the arrival of Pablo and his men the peaceful life at the mission was abruptly changed.  At first the men appeared to the Indians as any travelers...weary and hungry...but soon they made their real intent clear when Padre Felipe returned from Los Angeles.  The men quickly seied control of the mission once they realized they had been recognized by the priest.  Fear filled the hearts of the Indians as the convicts threatened the life of their beloved priest if they should tell anyone what took place at the mission.  Soon the orchards and fields usually filled with contented Indians were empty.  One by one the Indians fled to their village in the hills where they remained.  All but one brave soul refused to keep silent and agreed to carry Padre Felipe's plea of help.  Under the cover of darkness the young Indian journeyed across the hills until he reached his destination: the de la Vega rancho.

After making sure the mission was under his complete control Pablo led Padre Felipe, Leonar, Melita and the children to the quadrangle.  The women and children were placed in one room while Padre Felipe was told to remain in his room.  For Leonar the long night brought hours of interrupted sleep filled with terror.  Several times she woke calling for help only to realize her terrible dreams were reality.  Melita could not sleep either and tried desperately to dispel Leonar's fears.

Melita was born in Mexico to a poor peasant family.  Life was difficult when she was growing up but her father and mother were honest, hardworking people who tried to give their children all they could.  When Melita married her childhood sweetheart, Arturo, everything seemed perfect until her husband began disappearing for weeks at a time.  When Melita became pregnant Arturo insisted that they leave for California where there were more opportunities for him to find work.  Melita packed what little she had, said goodbye to her family and followed her husband to a new life.  Only life was not as her husband promised.  Arturo spent most of his time in the tavern drinking with his unsavory friends.  Sadly Melita remained loyal to her husband working long hard hours to pay for their room and board.         

"Melita, please you must help us," begged Leonar.  "Pablo is evil.  I know he will not let Maria Isabella and I go free.  Once he has the money our lives will mean nothing.  I fear Pablo will act on his threats against the child and myself." 

"Senorita, I wish I could help you but...I do not know what I can do.  My husband will not help.  He only wishes his share of the money.  I am sorry."

In the morning after the children had been fed there was a loud knock at the door.  Apprehensively Leonar went to the door but backed away when the door swung open.   

"Senorita," said Quintana.  "We will be here awhile so you might as well get comfortable.  The gates have been locked so there is no place to run.  Therefore you may take advantage of the garden outside"

"What of the ransom note?" asked Leonar.

"It will be sent when the time is right," said Quintana before leaving..

Later that morning after putting Marie Isabella down for a nap, Leonar left the stuffy room.  Nervously she walked to the fountain where she sat at the edge watching the drops of water as they splashed into the pool below.  How could this horrible thing have happened?  This should have been the happiest time of her life.  Finally she was to marry the man that she loved more than anything.

"Senorita," said Padre Felipe startling Leonar.  "I am sorry my child, I have interrupted your thoughts."

"No, please sit," Leonar asked.  "I hate sitting alone knowing that Pablo is over by the entrance watching me." 

"Of course my child.  That man could upset anyone but do not worry for the Indian I sent to bring Zorro will not fail me.  Zorro will come."

"Pablo is a horrible man and I am afraid," said Leonar.  "What if…?"

"My child, Zorro will come and in the meantime God will protect us from these men."

Looking over their shoulder Leonar and the priest saw Pablo leaning against the wall watching them.   Leonar remembered the chilling stories Anna Maria told her regarding Pablo and soon felt goose bumps running up her spine.   Was the priest right?  Would Zorro come to their rescue? 

"My dear, please do not worry," said Padre Felipe.  "Zorro has never failed those in need and he will not fail us now.   Take my hand and together we will pray."

Pablo smiled to himself as he watched the woman and old man as they talked.  Soon he would have all he desired; revenge against the Verdugos, more money then he ever hoped for and a bright, fiery woman.  No longer would he have to be a slave to the rich.  Money would allow him to buy whatever he needed and the first thing he needed was this woman.  Let the de la Vegas have their screaming brat but the woman…ah this woman would be his if only for a little while.

Outside the walls of the mission hidden in the hills Diego waited and watched. The mission was silent.  The bells had not rung, the fields and orchards stood empty.  As he continued to keep watch he saw a single man in the bell tower.  Somewhere in the mission three other men were to be found.