ATTACK
 
2
 
 

     A pair of identically uniformed couriers of King Ferdinand of Spain rode weary mounts through the Los Angeles gates.  The winter rain had given them a dirty ride up the coast; droplets of spattered mud melded together with the white foam lathering the horses, and the men's black leather boots were in sad need of a polish.  The pair turned heads of the few townspeople stirring in the plaza after siesta; the uniforms of these men declared that they were not from the local garrison.  White jackets, plumed helmets, and blue pants were brightened by a red sash across the chest.  This was the dress of the king's personal regiment of soldiers, though only a handful of people in the entire region could have identified the significance of that uniform.
     One of the arrivals called to a barefoot boy playing by the fountain and asked directions to the alcalde's office.  The boy pointed to the garrison's headquarters and backed away quickly.  He knew that soldiers could be alternately kind and cruel, and rarely did anyone call them to account for their actions.
     The spokesman ignored the boy's reaction; having obtained the needed information he focused again on his assignment.  He and his companion urged their horses to the rail in front of the commander's office and dismounted.
     Ignacio DeSoto was enjoying the relative quiet of the afternoon.  If a quarterly report to Monterey must be completed, the task was easier to accomplish without the constant interruptions by Sergeant Mendoza or Corporal Sepulveda.  The alcalde had insured peace for the remainder of the day by sending the bulk of the garrison on two patrols led by his senior enlisted men.  When he heard the knock on the door, he sighed in exasperation before glancing up at the visiting soldiers on the threshold.  A native of Madrid, he recognized the significance of the uniform immediately.
     "Come in, Capitán," he invited, stepping forward to greet the couriers.  "I'm Ignacio DeSoto, commander and alcalde of Los Angeles."
     "Buenas tardes, Alcalde," said the senior man as he and his fellow officer saluted.  "I am Capitán Lovato of His Majesty's regiment, and this is Teniente Morales.  We bear an important new law from the king to all the colonies."  He handed DeSoto a rolled parchment sealed with a large red puddle of wax and stamped with the emblem of a sparkling crown.  Around the edge were emblazoned the words "Dios y España", the king's own seal.
     "Thank you, Capitán," said DeSoto returning to his desk.  He broke the seal carefully and unrolled the heavy parchment while the officers stood at attention.  Curious to discover what new law he must now implement in the pueblo by royal command, he scanned through the verbose introduction to get to the heart of the matter.  His white brows drew together, and he read the paragraph again.
     "Capitán, do I understand this to mean that the king is outlawing women to own property?"
     "Not quite, sir.  Married women and widows may own houses, land, and businesses.  The law pertains only to single women."
     "Why?" asked DeSoto, bewildered.  "What is the purpose of this law?"
     "It would not be my place to interpret all the king's reasoning, Alcalde," replied the captain.  "However, part of the motivation is to encourage young women to marry and increase the population of the frontier."
     DeSoto looked skeptical.  "Hardly a problem.  We have very few single women in town of marriageable age.  On the frontier, women are at a premium."
     Lovato coughed discreetly.  "The king is getting pressure at home from another source.  It seems the young princess is rallying supporters from her brother the king, and she is a considerable landowner.  Other ladies of the kingdom are using their property rights as leverage to resist their fathers' choices in marriage."
     "A female uprising?" DeSoto sneered.
     "In a small way.  The king firmly believes that young ladies should bow to the will of their fathers or guardians and marry young.  The princess is resisting suitors for her hand, and the king wishes to curb this rebellion."
     "This law is not going to sit well with some of the people in this pueblo."
     "The law has not been well received anywhere we've delivered it; nevertheless, it goes into effect on the first of April."
     "Scarcely four weeks!"
     "The king signed the law four months ago.  It took us three months to cross the Atlantic, and the last month we've been traveling up the western coast of New Spain.  We must deliver the law to every settlement north from here to San Francisco."
     The commander recalled his obligations.  "You've had a difficult journey then.  Please come and refresh yourselves.  I'll have quarters prepared for you, and you must be my guests at the tavern tonight."
     The captain saluted.  "Gracias, Alcalde.  A good meal and a night's rest will be most welcome.  We must be on our way tomorrow morning for Santa Barbara."
     Leaving me to face the grumbling about the king's new law, thought DeSoto sourly.  No, the edict would not sit well with several of the women in town, one in particular who was a thorn in his side anyway.

     The tavern was crowded that night.  Sergeant Mendoza and his soldiers were plump in the pocket, having received their month's pay two days before.  Mendoza ordered the first bottle of wine for his table and led the men in a raucous song about the life of a soldier.  Curiosity was rampant as the alcalde entered with the strangers in uniform; the new arrivals did notappear hostile, and DeSoto was putting on his friendly manners.
     "A table and supper for three," he told Señorita Escalante.
     Victoria smiled graciously at the military men and led them to a table in the corner.  Anxious about what business could have brought the strangers to Los Angeles, she nevertheless brought them a bottle of wine and heaping platters of enchiladas.
     "Are you staying long in our pueblo?" she asked the couriers, setting down mugs before each one.
     "No, Señorita," answered Lovato.  "The king's business takes us away tomorrow.  This smells delicious.  I'm finally developing a taste for the chilies of which you colonists are so fond."
     Other customers were summoning her, so the young woman missed the opportunity to inquire further into the nature of the business which had brought the two strangers to town.  DeSoto leaned across the table.
     "That, Capitán, is one of the women who will be affected by the new law."
     "She's not married?  Remarkable!  I've rarely seen such a beauty, not even in the royal assemblies."  His eyes followed the lithe woman as she tended to her other customers.
     "She also is the owner of this inn and has been for about half her life.  Her parents died in the August Revolution.  Oh, she would have suitors, but has been unwise enough to fall in love with a notorious outlaw."
     "A pity," commented Lieutenant Morales.  "Though if her outlaw lover won't marry her, at least she will be able to find someone else."
     "Maybe," answered the alcalde, noncommittal.  His thoughts took a different direction as he wondered how the new law would affect Zorro.

     The decree was posted in a public place the next morning shortly after Captain Lovato and Lieutenant Morales left for Santa Barbara.  DeSoto put it up himself after breaking his fast, then settled down to more paperwork in his office.  The news would spread by itself, and he was extremely reluctant to announce the imposition of a law that was likely to arouse strong emotions.
     Mid-morning the edict was first noticed by a young girl who could not read.  She in turn informed her mother, whose reading skills were not accomplished enough to interpret the flourishing legal language.  As the alcalde had predicted, soon a small crowd was gathered around the aviso wall to peruse the contents of the king's law.
     Gawking peasants, thought DeSoto in disgust, for not one among them was educated enough to correctly interpret the law to his fellows.  However, someone fetched Padre Benitez to assist in understanding the notice.  Predictably the priest knocked on the office door for a further explanation.
     "It seems clear enough, Padre," the alcalde returned.  "In four weeks single women will no longer be allowed to own property."
     "Not even personal items?" cried the horrified priest.
     "The law is not addressing that kind of property.  Only land, houses, and businesses.  I need your help in making a list of the women that will be affected by the new law.  Besides Señorita Escalante, who else falls into that category?"
     Padre Benitez wondered if he was hurting his flock by volunteering names to the officer, but DeSoto was just as likely to find out the women's names by another source, and they would have even less time in which to confront their problem posed by the law.  "Señorita Ruiz of Rancho Verde," he replied heavily.  "Also Señorita Alvarado from the farm on the San Pedro road and Señorita Heceta who lives in the big house on the Camino Real.  Those are the only ones I  think of who are single property owners.  But why this harsh law?"
     "Careful, Padre," warned DeSoto.  "This is the king's law.  He wishes to encourage young ladies to marry and have children.  Is that so harsh?"
     "The church wishes the same thing," responded the priest, disturbed, "but it does not compel where there is no desire to wed nor any spouse.  What will these women do if they can't find a husband in four weeks?"
     "Counseling is your department.  I have the unhappy duty of confiscating such property on April first if the women are still single owners of property.  Good day, Padre."
     Kind-hearted Padre Benitez, troubled by the tidings concerning four of his flock, felt that his duty was to inform these unfortunate women as soon as possible.  He saddled his donkey and ambled out the pueblo gates, determined to see Josefina Ruiz first.  Victoria Escalante would doubtless hear the news from her customers before he returned.
     His assumption was correct, though it was not until the busiest part of her lunch preparations did the first word filter through to her.  Pedro Chavez, the manager of the pueblo's small bank, leaned over her counter and asked what she thought of the new law.
     "Another law?  What does the alcalde want now?" she responded wearily.
     "This is a royal decree from the king," corrected Pedro.  "It's posted on the aviso wall if you want to read it."
     "Just tell me."  She lined mugs up on the counter and began filling them with water.
     "You won't like it.  It says that women can't own property after April first."
     "What?  That's absurd!  I don't believe it."
     "Suit yourself," he shrugged, "but you'll have to find a husband."
     "Now it's illegal to be unmarried?  You're not making any sense."
     "I didn't write the law!" protested Pedro.  "Complain to the king."
     Fortunately for both parties Don Alejandro de la Vega entered the tavern for a meal.  The young woman considered the noble rancher trustworthy and quickly appealed to him for a translation of the new law.  The gentleman had not heard the news, so he promised to discover its contents for the innkeeper.  He returned a few minutes later wearing a frown.
     "Well?" demanded Victoria.  "Is there any truth to Pedro's allegation that women can't own property?"
     "Not all women.  Married women and widows are exempt.  The law pertains only to girls fifteen and older who have never been married."
     "Like me?" she questioned pointedly.
     Concerned, he met her eyes.  "Apparently."
     "But Spanish women have always had property rights!  There must be some mistake!" she cried, alarmed.
     "I hope so.  Don't worry about it now," he said, patting her hand.  "We'll think of something."
     The admonition not to think about the royal edict was impossible; had Victoria been able to put it from her mind, her customers were discussing the ramifications at almost every table.  She was aware that speculations concerning herself were rampant, and she felt the eyes of the men in the room glance at her before returning to their conversations in hushed tones.  Never had she spent so uncomfortable a lunch hour.  At last the tavern closed for siesta, the young woman determinedly ushering the last few lingerers out the door.  Now to see the law for herself!
     The large parchment posted on the garrison wall in public view was read through three times by Victoria to make certain she grasped its contents.  She examined the signature carefully; it appeared to be the same royal scrawl that adorned the garrison's commission in the alcalde's office. Her attempt to demand an explanation from the alcalde came to naught; his office was empty--a circumstance which inflamed the señorita even more; DeSoto had absented himself when emotions were running high.  Distressed, she returned to the tavern.

     Since Diego had spent the afternoon in his concealed laboratory, Alejandro did not see his son until they met at the dinner table.  Concerned for the change of fortune that was overtaking the daughter of his one-time friend, he was ready to relate the pueblo's biggest news.
     "The king has made a new law," he said, taking a bite of carne asada.  "Single women can no longer own property after April first."
     Diego's fork paused midway to his mouth.  "Indeed.  I wonder why the king would make such a law."
     "It's preposterous!  You can imagine how this is going to affect Victoria.  She was rather upset when I saw her at lunch.  DeSoto was nowhere to be found, of course."
     The younger man resumed chewing mechanically.  "That was to be expected.  Do you think the law is genuine?"
     "You would best be able to determine that; you have detected fraud before.  Though rumor has it that two soldiers dressed in the king's livery rode into town yesterday afternoon, spent the evening with the alcalde, and rode out this morning."
     "Royal couriers."
     "Yes.  It lends credibility to the authenticity of the decree."
     "Who in the pueblo will this law affect besides Victoria?"
     "Josefina, naturally.  And Ana Alvarado.  Maybe a few others."
     "Constancia Heceta owns her house, I believe."
     "That's right.  The talk is that they'll all have to find husbands or lose their property to the Crown."
     "Utterly unfair, wouldn't you say?" commented his son mildly.  "Suppose the women don't wish to marry, or suppose they have no suitors?"
     "There must be a loophole, Diego.  I want you to read the law tomorrow and find it.  The law did not specifically command that the women marry."
     "That's promising.  I will study it in the morning; at any rate, the law and reactions to it will be front page news in this week's Guardian.  I'll interview the women concerned tomorrow."
     The evening wore on; Diego resisted the temptation to don black and ride to the pueblo to read the law in the moonlight.  Zorro had enough on his hands; he still had not discovered the reason for the attacks on Pablo Silva, but the standoff in San Pedro had made him extremely reluctant to venture there again.  His further investigation disclosed that the alcalde had soldiers assigned to watch the fisherman's hut every night, so for the time being Pablo was safe enough.  This new problem posed by the royal law might be better tackled by Diego.
     His mind wrestled with the aspects of the dilemma that he knew.  Could the law have been designed with pressuring Zorro out into the open by putting Victoria in need of a rescuer?  It sounded far-fetched, but similar tactics had been tried by the former alcalde, Luis Ramone, and DeSoto before.  If the law truly originated with King Ferdinand, such a hypothesis had to be discarded.  Diego was unclear on the purpose of the royal command; the mystery might be deciphered the following day by DeSoto.  The younger de la Vega resolved to camp at the garrison's gates until he could interview the alcalde.
     As dawn slanted its long orange rays across the plaza, Diego rode through the town gates on Esperanza, his favorite mount from the de la Vega remuda.  He tethered the golden mare in front of the barracks's headquarters and read the parchment firmly attached to the aviso board.  After removing a small notebook and a stubby pencil from his inner coat pocket, he copied the wording of the law.  He examined the signature at the conclusion of the writ; it appeared to match that above the alcalde's desk.  Without hesitation Diego tore the parchment away from its tacks and held it up to the rising sun.  There in the document was the royal watermark--a depiction of the king's coat of arms and family motto.  The decree appeared to be genuine and therefore in full force.
     "De la Vega!  What do you think you're doing?"  The irate voice came from Ignacio DeSoto, who was glaring at the tall young man from the office window.
     "Buenos dias, Alcalde," Diego smiled.  "I see that I'm not the only one troubled by insomnia.  I'm looking over this remarkable piece of legislation."
     "You tore it down, which is illegal!  I could have you arrested for that!"
     "Oops.  I'm sorry; I'll put it back up."  After several clumsy attempts to do so, he shrugged helplessly.
     The alcalde gave an exasperated grunt and stalked outdoors.  "Now I'll have to call one of the men to post it again!  What on earth could you have been thinking?"
     "I was curious to see if the document was genuine."
     "Of course it's genuine!  I got it myself from the hands of two of the king's elite regiment!"
     "That's good to know," responded Diego with interest.  He opened his notebook again.  "I agree that it's genuine because of the king's royal seal in the watermark.  Does this law apply only to Los Angeles?"
     "It applies to the whole Spanish world," the white-haired man responded curtly.  "The couriers have been traveling north from Acapulco for a month and delivering copies of the law to each pueblo.  They left yesterday morning for Santa Barbara and continue until they reach San Francisco."
     "Did the couriers give any reason for such a strange ruling?"
     "Yes, they did, but you can't put this in the newspaper!"  DeSoto waited while de la Vega reluctantly put away his pencil and notebook.  "The king is having a hard time bringing his sister to heel in the matter of a husband.  She's using the wealth from her own property to start a female rebellion."
     "One would think he'd be more concerned about the unrest in the colonies," commented Diego dryly.  "So the king wants young women to marry?"
     "Apparently he thinks that a husband and children will keep a woman too busy to meddle in politics."
     "The single women we have in the pueblo mind their own business quite well.  I'd hardly describe any of them as troublemakers."
     "Except Señorita Escalante," the alcalde grumbled.  "She is on occasion quite vocal in matters that don't concern her, but that can be ascribed to the criminal company she prefers!  I'd like to see her married and out of my hair."
     "The law does not say she and the others have to marry."
     "I don't care what they do as long as the conditions of the law are fulfilled!"
     "And if the law isn't fulfilled?"
     "The Crown will confiscate the property in question," he muttered.
     "That's not right nor fair to those women."
     DeSoto sighed in frustration.  "I am sorry for them, but I have my duty to the king!  At least the women here have a month to arrange their lives.  The women further north won't have even that long."  He waved Diego away impatiently.  "That's all I have to say on the matter.  Try not to inflame public passions even more with your liberal reporting!"  He stalked inside his office; the interview was over.
     Diego's stomach reminded him that he had left the hacienda before breakfast, and the pleasant aromas wafting from the tavern gave him a second reason to visit Victoria early.  A private visit with the lady he secretly loved was a rare treat to be savored in memory for weeks.  At the hard rap from his knuckles upon the old kitchen door, the innkeeper admitted him.  Her dark hair was curled about her face and fell in an enchanting cascade down her back.  In deference to the cool morning, she wore a long sleeved blouse and tiered skirt.
     "Buenos dias," she murmured without her sunny smile.
     Diego held out two pesos.  "May I impose on you for some breakfast?"
     "Of course, but breakfast is only one peso.  What would you like?  Eggs, ham, tortillas, steak?"
     "Eggs and tortillas, por favor," he answered, sitting in one of her small kitchen chairs.  "The extra peso is for your time.  May I get your reaction to the new law for The Guardian?"
     Victoria broke three eggs into a bowl and beat them mercilessly.  Finally she replied, "I don't think you could print my reaction in the paper.  I'm furious about it!  It's unjust, and the king is an idiot!"
     His eyebrows raised; a corner of his mouth quivered in amusement.  "You're right."  She looked up in surprise, and he added, "I can't print that."
     She stirred the eggs into a hot frypan.  "Well, he is!  What makes him think that a single woman isn't just as capable of managing her property as a married woman?  I think I'm better able to run the tavern without a husband and children under foot!"
     "Wouldn't you like to be married?"
     Her anger faded.  "Yes," she answered slowly, "but to a man of my own choosing.  No one should dictate the time and circumstances of my marriage."
     "I agree.  But since the king has made this ill-conceived decree--"
     "Diego!" she whirled about, eyes wide.  "Do you suppose that this law could be phony--like that swindle Colonel Palomarez tried?"
     He had remembered; the Spanish officer had announced that the king had voided all land grants in California, but Diego had proven that the royal document was a forgery.  The colonel had hoped to sell the territory to the British, but Zorro's sword convinced him to leave town instead.
     "I'm way ahead of you; I checked it myself this morning.  The king's official watermark is in the parchment, and the signature matches that of the garrison's commission.  Furthermore, the alcalde's tale of the manner in which it was delivered leaves little doubt that we are dealing with an official law.  There's only one more thing I can do to test it:  go to Santa Barbara to see if the couriers have been there and delivered the same law.  If so, that will confirm the alcalde's story."
     "When will you leave?"  She removed three tortillas from warming over the fire. "The day after tomorrow, I hope.  I have to get out this edition of the newspaper first, and I'm going to interview the other ladies in the pueblo."
     "Padre Benitez came by yesterday.  He plans to announce in church that the other women and I need husbands and urge the single men of the pueblo to volunteer."  She made a face as she placed the hot breakfast before her customer, and he chuckled.
     "Hear ye, hear ye!  Volunteers for the hand of Victoria Escalante step forward and be counted!"
     "Ugh!" she shuddered.  "That's exactly what I'm afraid of!  I think I'll skip church for the next few weeks!"
     "I'm sure the padre won't be that tactless.  But you don't have to marry, you know.  There are alternatives."
     "There are?"  She pulled up a stool and leaned forward eagerly.
     Diego opened his notebook to the page where he had written down the exact wording of the document.  "Nowhere does the law state that you have to marry.  It says that single women can't own property after April first.  You can change your marital status, true, but you can also get rid of your property."
     "Sell the tavern?"
     He shrugged.  "Maybe, but why not just transfer the title to someone you trust--one of your brothers?"
     "Yes, I could do that!  And then continue just as I always have!  Diego, you're a genius!"
     "For every law there's a loophole.  I'm going to suggest the same to the three other women when I see them today.  Delicious," he announced, mopping his plate with the last tortilla.  "I love the way you season eggs; I wish you'd pass your secret on to Maria."
     "Your cook doesn't need my secrets; she has a reputation of her own," the innkeeper refuted as he rose from the table.  "Here is your extra peso," she added, holding out the coin.
     "Keep it--for your dowry!" he grinned.
     Victoria swatted his departing back with a dishcloth.

     Well fed and buoyed by interaction with Victoria, Diego mounted his mare again and cantered easily to the Rancho Verde, some four miles distant.  The small property was a green jewel set in the desert.  Liberally watered from a year-round stream, its low-lying pastures fattened the herd of longhorns with little of the hard work required on larger ranches.  The ranch had been owned by the Ruiz family since the year after the pueblo's founding; however, the current owner, Josefina, was an only child.  The lady rancher had continued the family cattle business after the death of her father, which shortly followed Diego's return from the Madrid University.
     Josefina Ruiz was respected in the cattle community and liked for her independent spirit.  How strange, reflected Diego, that she had never married.  Her type of woman appealed to him; she was not much different in character than Victoria, though nearly twenty years older.  Most men seemed to prefer a porcelain doll who shrieked and lifted lacy petticoats when they saw a mouse.  Not the younger de la Vega--he wanted a woman whose spirit and courage matched his own.  What a pity there was not an older man with his views on women who would appreciate Josefina's strength as an asset.  He had even thought once or twice that she would make a good second wife for his father, but though Alejandro treated the lady as his friend and equal in the ranching business, he had never tried to move the relationship into something more personal.  Diego's mother, Elena, had been a very feminine, protected lady; apparently that was what his father preferred.
     "Señorita Ruiz!" he called, guiding Esperanza into the yard between the barn and the house.
 The lady rancher emerged from the deep shadows of the barn, dressed in a man's pants and chaps.  "Don Diego!  Welcome!  What can I do for you?"
     "I came to interview you for the newspaper.  Have you heard of the king's new law?"
     "Yes, the padre was by yesterday.  Seems he wants to find me a husband.  That would be a good trick; I haven't been able to find one all these years.  I'm past my childbearing years now, so what would be the point?"
     "Companionship.  And saving the ranch, of course."
     She smiled wryly, her bronzed skin crinkling at her eyes and mouth.  "I've weathered every kind of assault on Rancho Verde these past eight years.  This is just another attack, and something will work out."
     Diego jotted down her reaction and said, "You realize there are alternatives to marriage?"
     "Sure.  I could sell, but I'd rather put up with a husband than leave this place."  She gazed fondly over the fertile acres, and Diego admired the view with her.
     "I have another idea.  You could transfer the title deed to a relative under the stipulation that you continue to run the ranch and keep its profits for the remainder of your lifetime."
     Josefina cocked a shrewd eyebrow at him.  "You're a smart boy, Don Diego.  You could have been a lawyer.  Only problem is that I have no close relatives anywhere in New Spain."
     His age of thirty-two prompted a grin at being called a boy.  "It's food for thought, anyway.  If I can do something to help you, don't hesitate to tell me."  It was a safe offer; Josefina would be desperate indeed to admit that she needed outside help.
     She invited him to stay for coffee, but Diego declined.  The rancher was dressed for work, and he had interrupted her.  With a farewell wave, he turned from the drive and trotted away.
     His next visit was to Ana Alvarado.  If his memory served him correctly, Ana was about twenty years old, but looked older.  When both of her parents died she had been left with the responsibility of bringing up four younger sisters in addition to running the farm.  The family always hovered on the poverty line and was a frequent recipient of the poor box dole from Padre Benitez.
     As he pulled up into the yard, two of the smaller girls were doing laundry.  One had her arms in a wash tub, and the other was draping the cleaned garments over a line to dry.  They looked up shyly as he approached.
     "Buenos dias, Señor," the washer girl greeted, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  Diego could not remember the younger girls' names; they all looked similar:  lank brown hair, thin dresses, and dusty bare feet.
     "Buenos dias, Señoritas," he replied.  "I'm here to speak with your sister Ana."
     The two girls exchanged a solemn glance, and one informed him, "She's out there in the bean field."  She gestured toward the orderly rows of young bean plants in a cleared acre to the right of the barn.
     Diego asked permission to tether his mare and then dismounted to speak to the young woman.  Ana was dressed like her sisters but had added a battered straw hat to shade her face.  Her complexion was as brown as her sisters' from long hours outdoors.  Hoeing weeds determinedly from the crop, she did not hear him approach.  When he addressed her, she started.
     "Excuse me, Señor."  She dipped a small curtsey and stared up at him curiously.  "Did the padre send you?"
     Realizing belatedly that she was sizing him up as a potential husband, his denial carried a little more vehemence than he had intended.  Her face fell.
     "I'm here to interview you for the newspaper.  What do you think of the king's new law?"
     "Four weeks isn't much time to find a husband," she stated wearily.  "I hope the padre can help, because we could use a man around here.  With the pigs and the chickens and the corn and the beans, we're working all the time and can't get ahead.  Are you really going to write about me in the newspaper?" she asked, her dark eyes showing a spark of interest.
     "Yes, and I hope the story will help you.  The paper will come out tomorrow afternoon."
     Ana shrugged.  "Can't read anyway, but gracias, Señor."
     His last call was to Constancia Heceta, who lived alone with two servants in the house left to her by her father's will.  Her brother owned the ranch on which her house was situated, and had built himself and his wife a larger home on another section.
     The delicately nurtured lady in her late thirties had been in love years before to a young private in the army.  Her father had refused the match as ineligible, and the soldier had been suddenly transferred to Venezuela.  Constancia had faded into an old maid, content to be a loving aunt to her brother's children.  Her manservant opened the door to his knock and ushered him into a clean if faded salon.
     "Don Diego!" she greeted warmly.  "How good of you to visit!"
     He bent over her outstretched hand and placed a respectful kiss on her knuckles.  "Buenos dias, Señorita.  I hope I find you well?"
     "Sí, except for the new law.  Have you heard of it?"
     "The very reason I'm here.  I'd like to run an article and a editorial about the law for tomorrow's edition of The Guardian.  What is your opinion?"
     She smiled sadly.  "It seems to me that I can give the house to my brother.  I'm sure he'd let me continue to live here."
     "Yes, I was going to point out that you could do that as a solution if you didn't wish to marry."
     "The padre said he would try to find husbands for all of us affected by the law.  I wonder if he can."
     Her wistful remark lingered with Diego as he rode back to the pueblo.  Of the four women involved, three would welcome a husband.  Only Victoria rejected that solution, and he knew why.  It would be the death knell of her romance with Zorro.
 

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