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The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 14469

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When Jacinto Quesada was yet a very little Spaniard, his father kissed him upon both cheeks and upon the brow, and went away on an enterprise of forlorn desperation.

On a great rock at the brink of the village Jacinto Quesada stood with his weeping mother, and together they watched the somber-faced mountaineer hurry down the mountainside. He was bound for that hot, sandy No Man's Land which lies between the British outpost, Gibraltar, and sunburned, haggard, tragic Spain. The two dogs, Pepe and Lenchito, went with him. They were pointers, retrievers. For months they had been trained in the work they were to do. In all Spain there were no more likely dogs for smuggling contraband.

The village, where Jacinto Quesada lived with his peasant mother, was but a short way below the snow-line in the wild Sierra Nevada. Behind it the Picacho de la Veleta lifted its craggy head; off to the northeast bulked snowy old "Muley Hassan" Cerro de Mulhacen, the highest peak of the peninsula; and all about were the bleak spires of lesser mountains, boulder-strewn defiles, moaning dark gorges. The village was called Minas de la Sierra.

The mother took the little Jacinto by the hand and led him to the village chapel. She knelt before the dingy altar a long time. Then she lit a blessed candle and prayed again. And then she handed the wick dipped in oil to Jacinto and said:

"Light a candle for thy father, tiny one."

"But why should I light a candle for our Juanito, mamacita?"

"It is that Our Lady of the Sorrows and the Great Pity will not let him be killed by the men of the Guardia Civil!"

"Men do not kill unless they hate. Do the men of the Guardia Civil hate, then, the pobre padre of me and the sweet husband of thee, mamacita?"

"It is not the hate, child! The men of the Guardia Civil kill any breaker of the laws they discover guilty-handed. It is the way they keep the peace of Spain."

"But our Juanito is not a lawbreaker, little mother. He is no lagarto, no lizard, no sly tricky one. He is an honest man."

"Hush, nino! There are no honest men left in Spain. They all have starved to death. Thy father has become a contrabandista And if it be the will of the good God, and if Pepe and Lenchito be shrewd to skulk through the shadows of night and swift to run past the policemen on watch, we will have sausages and garbanzos to eat, and those little legs of thine will not be the puny reeds they are now. Ojala! they will be round and pudgy with fat!"

The men of Minas de la Sierra were all woodchoppers and manzanilleros-gatherers of the white-flowered manzanilla. Their fathers had been woodchoppers and manzanilleros before them. But too persistently and too long, altogether too long, had the trees been cut down and the manzanilla harvested. The mountains had grown sterile, barren, bald. Not so many cords of Spanish pine were sledded down the mountain slopes as on a time; not so many men burdened beneath great loads of manzanilla went down into the city of Granada to sell in the market place that which was worth good silver pesetas.

There are no deer in the Sierra Nevada-neither red, fallow, nor roe. There are no wild boar. There is only the Spanish ibex. And what poor serrano can provision his good wife and his cabana full of lusty brats by hunting the Spanish ibex? He has but one weapon-the ancient muzzle-loading smooth-bore. And the ibex speeds like a chill glacial wind across the snow fields and craggy solitudes, and only a man armed with a cordite repeater can hope to bring him down.

Soon descended the mountains only men who had turned their backs upon Minas de la Sierra and who thought to leave behind forever the bleak peaks and the wind-swept gorges and the implacable hunger. Out of every ten only one crawled back, beaten and bruised by the savage Spanish cities and the savage Spanish plains. With those of Minas de la Sierra who could not tear themselves away from their native rocks, these broken-hearted ones continued on and with them slowly starved.

It was not the will of the good God that Jacinto Quesada should have fat pudgy legs by reason of his father's endeavors. Shrewd were the dogs, Pepe and Lenchito, but they were not so shrewd as were the Spanish police. Came a pale and stuttering arriero, a muleteer, up to the village one day. To Jacinto Quesada's mother he brought tragic news.

The men of the Guardia Civil had discovered poor Juanito as he was unbuckling a packet of Cuban cigars from the throat of the dog Lenchito; they had walked him out behind a sand dune; they had made him dig a grave. Then they had shot down Lenchito; then they had shot down Juan Quesada. And then the dog and the man were kicked together into the one grave and sand piled on top of them both.

But make no mistake, mi se?or caballero reader! The men of the Guardia Civil are not abominations of cruelty. They are not monsters, brutal and depraved. Quita! no.

There are twenty-five thousand men in the Guardia Civil; twenty thousand foot and five thousand cavalry. By twos, eternally by twos, they go through Spain, exterminating crime wherever crime shows its fanged and evil head.

Every Spaniard is potentially a criminal. An empty belly goads him into lawlessness; his very nature greases his wayward feet. The Spaniard is by nature sullen, irascible, insolently independent, lawless. He is more African than European. Prick a Spaniard and a vindictive Moor bleeds.

Then, whether it be his famishing hunger or lawless passion which has caused him to rise above the law, the Spaniard, his crime writ in red, flees from the police. Spain is a country of uncouth wilds. There are the desolate high steppes and the savage mountains; there are the tawny despoblados, which are uninhabitated wastes; there are the marismas, which are labyrinthine everglades where whole regiments may lie concealed.

But also, in Spain, there are railroads and telegraphs, and a most efficient constabulary, the Guardia Civil. And, were it not for Caciquismo, all evil-doers would be speedily apprehended by the Guardia Civil, tried under the alcaldes, and incarcerated in the Carcel de la Corte or the Presidio of Ceuta.

Caciquismo is not a tangible thing. It is a secret and sinister influence. It is not the Tammany of New York; it is not the Camorra of Naples. Yet it resembles both these corrupt edifices in its special Spanish way. Its instruments are prime ministers and muleteers, members of the cortes and bullfighters, hidalgos and low-caste Gitanos.

A cacique may be only the mayor of a tiny hamlet; again, he may be privy councilor to the king. Yet high or low, he is but one of the many tentacles of a gigantic octopus which lays its clammy shadow athwart the land.

It is well known that Tammany, for reasons political or otherwise, protected criminals. Well, even as did Tammany, so does Caciquismo. A Spanish criminal may be captured, tried before a magistrate and all; but if he be one in good standing with the caciques, never is he sent to the Carcel de la Corte or Ceuta. The invisible eight arms of the gigantic octopus uncoil and reach out, the thousand ducts along those arms open to spew a flood of favors and gold, and ma

gistrate and prosecutor are bought and paid for, and the men of the Civil Guard who cannot be bought, who are incorruptible, are in the Spanish courts betrayed!

Therefore, the men of the Guardia Civil are most high-handed and cruel. The criminal caught in the deed never reaches the Spanish jail. He is shot down on the spot. Bigots for justice are the men of the Guardia Civil!

Carajo! but there was wailing in Minas de la Sierra when came the news of Juan Quesada's death. So many men had gone away and been murdered by the police, and so few were left! Women who had been made widows in the selfsame way as Jacinto Quesada's mother came to the hut and sought to comfort her. But she would not be comforted. For three days she lay on the earthen floor of her hut and beat her hands and her head against the dust. Then she commenced vomiting and swooning like one sick unto death.

They thought it was the cholera. The cholera was forever scaling the high mountains and skulking into the village in the night. A man of the village went for the doctor, Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada. He lived but a few miles from Granada, and the man had to go all down the hills to summon him.

Torreblanca y Moncada was what is called a "hard man." He was a grandee by birth and breeding, a hidalgo of the old granite-jawed, eagle-stern and eagle-haughty Spanish sort-the Cortes y Monroy sort, the Hernan de Soto sort. He worshipped his ancient name, his high hidalgo blood. His personal honor was to him more precious than life, more sacred than a sacrament, inviolable, consecrated.

When a young man, he had married a woman of race and beauty. She had run off with a Gypsy picador. Don Jaime had put a Manchegan knife down his boot and set off after them, vowing to follow them to the end of the earth even, and to kill them both. But the train, in which the guilty ones fled, had not reached Jaen when it was wrecked, and they both were crushed out of all semblance to two sinful lovers.

With composure and reserve, Don Jaime heard the news. He did not even laugh harshly or curse God for robbing him of his revenge. Only grim, quiet and morose, he returned to his dishonored house and to his baby daughter that had been robbed, sacrileged, and orphaned.

He was quite a rememberable-looking man. His hair had whitened quickly in the years that followed; his skin, from exposure to wind and weather, was a deep swarth; and his eyes were gray. Not many Spaniards have gray eyes. The eyes of Torreblanca y Moncada were a clear, cold, agate gray. All in all, there was about his appearance, especially the long aquiline nose, the stony eyes and pointed white beard, something which seemed to harken back to the days of ruffs and ready swords-the days of the terrible Spanish infantry, the Armada, the Bigotes, the "bearded men" the Conquistadores.

The mountaineers of Minas de la Sierra knew fear of him and awe. For them he had only a contemptuous eye and a bitter smile and a harsh imperious way. They said he had a granite boulder for a heart. But he was very tender with the sick.

He was the sort of physician who looks upon his business of serving the ailing as a sacred commission from on high. He was like one who had taken Holy Orders with his doctor's degree. No Jesuit was more slave to his oaths; no Jesuit worked with more zeal for God and the Society than did Don Jaime for Humanity and Science. The most poverty-abased labrador, the most filthy beggar, had but to summon him, and he would arise from his table or his bed and ride across Spain to him who needed healing.

He was the only physician who would journey up the mountains to Minas de la Sierra. It mattered not to him that there were long climbing miles of perilous goat-paths along howling gorges; it mattered not to him that the mountaineers never had money to pay him his just due. He was indeed a "hard man," haughty as Satanas, and grim and dour. But even as his personal honor was to him more precious than life, so was his physician's honor a covenant with Jehovah, tyrannical and imperious to command him.

The old men of Minas were sitting under the cork-oak in the center of the village when the hidalgo doctor came out of the hut of the sick woman.

"Is it not the great illness, Don Jaime?" asked one of the old men, old Castro. He was thinking of the dread cholera.

"No. She is merely sick with despair."

"Ah, that is the great illness of Spain! All Spain is sick with despair!"

"Carajo! but you are right, my father!" answered the Senor Doctor in his bitter way. "Spain despairs. And why not? Spain famishes. There is no food for honest men to eat. And men turn dishonest, thinking by crime to appease their gnawing bellies. They became contrabandistas, salteadores de camino, abigeos, ladrones. And the men of the Guardia Civil take them out on the mountainside and murder them.

"Our forefathers," he philosophized, "were refugees from the fall of Troy. Black was their national color; black for their lost cause. They should put a black stripe with the red and yellow stripes of our modern Spanish flag. A black stripe for despair."

"Bueno, Don Jaime!" said the old men. One added:

"We have not studied at Salamanca like you, but we know what we know. Every night the hungry children cry themselves to sleep. Our own porridge bowls are never full. We have seen our sons grow desperate. We have seen them one by one go away. There was Benito, my youngest. He became a contrabandista, and the Civil Guard murdered him. There was Adolpho, the son of my sister Teresa. He also went the same way. There was Santiago Reyes and Mateo Pacheco and Ignacio Parral. And now follows Juan Quesada."

"What would you?" asked the Senor Doctor, with sudden brutality. "The Guardia Civil must keep the peace of Spain. And Spaniards must steal to live. It is dog eat dog. It will always be dog eat dog while men are Spaniards and Spaniards starve."

He turned abruptly away and entered once more the hut of Jacinto Quesada's mother. When he came out again, he said to the women clustered about the door:

"She is forever kissing the child Jacinto and moaning, 'My poor Jacintito! What will become of thee, thou pale tiny one? My poor, poor Jacintito!'

"It is better that he should be taken away from her until she is herself again. His presence here only deepens her despair. I will carry him with me down the mountain to my casa outside Granada and keep him there for a time. I have not much-what Spaniard is rich?-but he will be fed well; he will be given the same food as is given my own daughter, Felicidad."

"Ah, Don Jaime, you have the heart of gold!" cried one woman, her eyes moist and tender.

"The Mother of God reward you, and mend your broken heart, proud Torreblanca y Moncada!" cried another. And the others would have burst out in a full litany of praises, had not the Senor Doctor fiercely said:

"Don't stand there making the monkey of me, you mountain jades! Quita de ahi! Pronto! Get the peasants' brat into his jacket and alpagartas, and wrap him warmly in his shawl. I desire to get out of this accursed hole as quick as possible. It smells bad, and I itch. The place is lousy!"

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