"The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley

Cover of All-Story Weekly, August 9, 1919 This story originally appeared as a serialized novel in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in 1919.  After the success of the film The Mark of Zorro the next year, the novel was rereleased by the publisher Grosset and Dunlap under the name The Mark of Zorro.  McCulley had no idea how successful his creation would be, and he never expected at the time to be writing any more Zorro stories, so at the end of this story, Zorro's identity is revealed to all. Cover of 'The Mark of Zorro'
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Don Diego Vega:
It is not revealed either to the reader or to the other characters that Don Diego is Zorro until the end of the second to the last chapter of the novel.

. . . 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.

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 men - and now and then he smiled.  He was the opposite of Sergeant Pedro Gonzales in all things, and yet they were together frequently.

Don Diego tells Sgt. Gonzales, "It is true 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 . . . 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 crave - it is a pretty arrangement.  But ridicule me again, Señor, either in public or private, and the agreement is at an end.  I may mention that I have some influence . . . "

Lolita speaking to Zorro:  "It is not as if you were an ordinary thief.  I know why you have stolen - to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians, to aid the oppressed.  I know that you have given what you have stolen to the poor."
Zorro's horse:
McCulley did not give Zorro's horse a name.

"A trick!" the highwayman repeated, laughing.  "It is a noble horse I have.  Perhaps you heard a peculiar cry from my lips?  My beast is trained to act at that cry.  He gallops away wildly, making considerable noise, and the soldiers follow him.  And when he has gone some distance he turns aside and stops, and after the pursuit has passed he returns to await my bidding.  No doubt he is behind the patio now.  I shall punish the captain and then mount and ride away."

Sgt. Pedro Gonzales:
Sgt. Gonzales is loud, boastful, and easily angered.  He is quite fond of wine and manages to drink plenty of it courtesy of his friend Don Diego Vega.  The Sergeant brags of the day he will kill Zorro and collect the reward money.

Story Synopsis:

The novel begins in the tavern of the pueblo de Los Angeles with Sergeant Gonzales angered about the highwayman Zorro and bragging of how he will kill Zorro.  Don Diego Vega enters the tavern to fetch a pot of honey.  He and Sgt. Gonzales have a brief conversation during the short time Don Diego is in the tavern in which Don Diego begs to not hear talk about Zorro.  Very shortly after Don Diego's departure, Zorro enters the tavern.  He and Sgt. Gonzales have a swordfight which is cut short by a knock on the door.  After Zorro has exited, Sgt. Gonzales brags to men who weren't present about how he easily bested Zorro.  Don Diego enters the tavern again after he hears that Zorro has made an appearance and manages to taunt Gonzales on his failure to kill Zorro without actually appearing to do so.

The next day, Don Diego rides to the dilapidated Pulido hacienda.  The Pulidos have lost most of their fortune because Don Carles has made some serious mistakes politically.  Don Carlos is excited to see Don Diego, because he feels that being friendly with Don Diego cannot help but to improve Don Carlos's standing with the governor.  Don Diego announces that he has come to woo Señorita Lolita since his father wishes Don Diego to begin taking on the responsibilities of a man.  Unfortunately, Don Diego believes that his money should be sufficient reason for a woman to marry him and that there is no reason for him to court Lolita, as to do so would be an exhausting waste of his time.  Lolita is highly displeased, tells Diego exactly what she thinks of him, and flounces out of the room.

A short while later, Lolita is on the patio when Zorro comes to pay her a visit.  Zorro takes great liberties with her; he kisses her hand and makes romantic sallies.  Even though Lolita protests at his impudence, she blushes and is quite clearly attracted to him.

Later that day Captain Ramón meets Lolita for the first time and asks to pay his attentions to her.  Lolita doesn't like him any better than she likes Don Diego.  Lolita lays in bed that night dreaming of Zorro, wishing that he weren't a bandit wanted by the law.

She was fighting a mental battle, was Señorita Lolita.  On the one side was wealth and position, and the safety and good fortune of her parents - and a lifeless man for husband; and on the other side was the romance and ideal love she craved.  Until the last hope was gone she could not give the latter up.
Don Diego invites the Pulidos to stay in his house in the pueblo while he is away on business for a few days.  Don Carlos is happy to accept so the family travels to the pueblo.  Lolita's parents accept an invitation that night to visit the hacienda of one of the other caballeros, leaving Lolita alone in Don Diego's house.  Captain Ramón arrives to pay his attentions to her and will not leave when she makes it clear that his presence is unwanted.  He tries to force her to kiss him when Zorro appears to defend her.  Zorro forces Ramón to apologize and throws him out.  Lolita then offers Zorro a kiss, which he accepts.

Captain Ramón vows revenge upon Lolita and so sends a letter to the governor claiming that the Pulidos have been rude to him and are helping the outlaw Zorro.  Zorro hears him scheming and enters Ramón's office to confront him.  The soldiers return before Zorro is quite finished in Ramon's office and so Zorro must retreat hastily.  The soldiers pursue Zorro for miles until they reach Fray Felipe's mission.  Gonzales feels it quite likely that Zorro is being helped by Fray Felipe, so the soldiers investigate.  Instead, the soldiers discover Don Diego with Fray Felipe.

Don Diego returns to the pueblo the next day only to find out that Ramón insulted Lolita with his unwanted advances.  Don Diego states that he "will see the fellow and rebuke him."  Don Diego speaks to Ramón and decides to forgive him because surely Ramon was drunk or in a fever at the time.

Fray Felipe is arrested and brought to the pueblo to stand trial for cheating a dealer in hides.  The Fray is sentenced to a lashing, much to Don Diego's horror.  Don Diego tries to intervene for his friend, but is warned that it would not be wise.  Later, Zorro accosts the dealer in hides and his assistant and lashes both of them as punishment for their testimony against Fray Felipe.  Afterwards, Zorro returns to the pueblo and whips the magistrado who had ordered the lashing.

Don Diego travels with his deaf-and-dumb servant Bernardo to his father Don Alejandro's hacienda.  Don Diego tells his father of his lack of success with Lolita.  His father is quite disappointed and informs Don Diego that he will leave his vast estate to the Franciscans unless Don Diego is married within the quarter-year.

"Get life into you!  I would you had half the courage and spirit this Señor Zorro, this highwayman, has!  He has principles and he fights for them.  He aids the helpless and avenges the oppressed.  I salute him!  I would rather have you, my son, in his place, running the risk of death or imprisonment, than to have you a lifeless dreamer of dreams that amount to nought!"
Later that night, a group of caballeros arrives at Don Alejandro's hacienda after failing to capture Zorro.  Don Alejandro serves them wine and so they have a raucous party.  Zorro arrives and makes them understand that they would put their skills to better use if they help Zorro fight injustice.  The caballeros enter into a pact with Zorro and go back to Los Angeles to await his further instructions.

The governor receives Captain Ramón's letter about the Pulidos change in loyalty and thereby travels to Los Angeles to deal with the situation.  After speaking with Ramón, the governor decides to arrest all three Pulidos and have them thrown in jail with the common criminals.

The band of young caballeros with whom Zorro had made his pact receive notice that they are to meet Zorro at a certain location.  Zorro outlines his plan for rescuing the Pulidos.  Zorro's league of allies arrive at the jail and rescue the Pulidos; Zorro takes charge of Lolita.  The caballeros find themselves pursued by the soldiers.  Zorro drops Lolita off at Fray Felipe's mission and rides off, still pursued by the soldiers.  Sgt. Gonzales goes inside the mission with several soldiers and attempts to arrest Lolita.  She threatens to kill herself with a knife unless the soldiers allow her to leave.  She does leave and gallops off on the Sergeant's horse.

Zorro has one more bit of business to complete.  He goes to the presidio and forces Captain Ramón to go with him to see the governor.  In the governor's presence, Ramón is forced to admit that the stories he told of the Pulido family's treachery were all falsehoods.  Zorro forces Ramon to fight him and then kills Ramón.

Zorro leaves and finds himself pursued by the soldiers once again.  He meets up with Lolita who is also being pursued by soldiers.  Since Lolita's horse is exhausted and cannot run much longer, Zorro and Lolita take refuge in the tavern.  The tavern is surrounded by the soldiers who then attempt to break down the door.  Zorro's league of caballeros arrives and the men get the governor to see that they are all from prominent families and that the governor must go along with their demands.  As Don Alejandro supports them, the governor has no choice but to declare Zorro a free man.  Zorro comes out of the tavern with Lolita and removes his mask.  Much to everyone's surprise, Zorro is Don Diego Vega.  In closing, Don Diego explains to everyone how he was able to deceive them, and Lolita promises to marry him.


The similarities in the premise of The Scarlet Pimpernel and the premise of The Curse of Capistrano are undeniable.  Both Don Diego and Sir Percy are wealthy men who are regarded as fops and whom are quite inactive; and both men hide their true personalities from everyone, including their closest family members.  Both men lead a dual life; one identity perfoms the brave deeds and the other does nothing.  Furthermore, both men have a band of followers who have sworn loyalty to their leader.

Similarities even exist in the feelings of the leading female characters in both novels.  In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite finds herself thinking of the man who is the Scarlet Pimpernel and how everything about him appeals to her.  She thinks of how she could have loved him if he had come into her life, little knowing that her husband, with whom she is very disappointed, is, in fact, the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Similarly, in The Curse of Capistrano, Lolita dreams of being with the romantic, dashing Zorro, who unfortunately is a bandit; and yet she is being courted by Don Diego to whom she is not in the least bit attracted and who has no interest in romance at all.

It is impossible to say for certain, but it is quite probable that Johnston McCulley had read The Scarlet Pimpernel and was inspired by it to create Zorro.

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