Chapter Two: ON THE HEELS OF THE STORM

IN CAME A GUST of wind and bain and a man with it, and the candles flickered, and one was extinguished.
This sudden entrance in the midst of the sergeant's boast startled them all; and Gonzales drew his blade
halfway from its scabbard as his words died in his throat. The native was quick to close the door again to
keep out the wind.

The newcomer turned and faced them; the landlord gave another sigh of relief. It was not Senor Zorro, of
course. It was Don Diego Vega, a fair youth of excellent blood and twenty-four years, noted the length of El
Camino Real for his small interest in the really important things of life.

"Ha!" Gonzales cried, and slammed his blade home.

"Is it that I startled you somewhat, senores?" Don Diego asked politely and in a thin voice, glancing around
the big room and nodding to the men before him.

"If you did, senor, it was because you entered on the heels of the storm," the sergeant retorted. "Twould not
be your own energy that would startle any man." '

"Hm!" grunted Don Diego, throwing aside his sombrero and flinging off his soaked serape. "Your remarks
border on the perilous, my raucous friend."

"Can it be that you intend to take me to task?"

"It is true," continued Don Diego, "that I do not have a reputation for riding like a fool at risk of my neck,
fighting like an idiot with every newcomer, and playing the guitar under every woman's window- like a
simpleton. Yet I do not care to have these things you deem my shortcomings flaunted in my face."

"Ha!" Gonzales cried, half in anger.

"We have an agreement. Sergeant Gonzales, that we can be friends, and I can forget the wide difference in
birth and breeding that yawns between us only as long as you curb your tongue and stand my comrade. Your
boasts amuse me, and I buy for you the wine that you craveit is a pretty arrangement. But ridicule me again,
senor, either in public or private, and the agreement is at an end. I may mention that I have some small
influence"

"Your pardon, caballero and my very good friend!" the alarmed Sergeant Gonzales cried now. "You are
storming worse than the tempest outside, and merely because my tongue happened to slip. Hereafter, if any
man ask, you are nimble of wit and quick with a blade, always ready to fight or to make love. You are a man
of action, caballero! Ha! Does any dare doubt it?"

He glared around the room, half drawing his blade again, and then he slammed the sword home and threw
back his head and roared with laughter and then clapped Don Diego between the shoulders; and the fat
landlord hurried with more wine, knowing well that Don Diego Vega would stand the score.

For this peculiar friendship between Don Diego and Sergeant Gonzales was the talk of El Camino Real. Don
Diego came from a family of blood that ruled over thousands of broad acres, countless herds of horses and
cattle, great fields of grain. Don Diego, in his own right, had a hacienda that was like a small empire, and a
house in the pueblo also, and was destined to inherit from his father more than thrice what he had now.

But Don Diego was unlike the other full-blooded youths of the times. It appeared that he disliked action. He
seldom wore his blade, except as a matter of style and apparel. He was damnably polite to all women and
paid court to none.

He sat in the sun and listened to the wild tales of other menand now and then he smiled. He was the
opposite of Sergeant Pedro Gonzales in all things, and yet they were together frequently. It was as Don Diego
had saidhe enjoyed the sergeant's boasts, and the sergeant enjoyed the free wine. What more could either
ask in the way of a fair arrangement?

Now Don Diego went to stand before the fire and dry himself, holding a mug of red wine in one hand. He
was only medium in size, yet he possessed health and good looks, and ft was the despair of proud duennas
that he would not glance a second time at the pretty senoritas they protected, and for whom they sought
desirable husbands.

Gonzales, afraid that he had angered his friend and that the free wine would be at an end, now strove to make
peace.