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The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 11613

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the great harsh fist of the hidalgo doctor Jacinto Quesada, who was then ten years old, put his little trembling hand and went down the mountains, and entered a new world.

The casa of Don Jaime was large, decayed, dingy, and full of lizards that lived between the crumbling adobe bricks. But it seemed to Jacinto Quesada a sumptuous palace. Besides the hidalgo doctor, there lived in the sumptuous palace two old servants and a pretty little girl with golden hair and legs round and pudgy as would have been the legs of Jacinto, had his father lived and prospered.

In the great rooms that were so bare with poverty, the two children played together. The eyes of the little Jacinto, alert to see all in this new strangeness, had noted a peculiar thing. One day he said to Felicidad:

"Do you love your father, the Senor Doctor?"

The child knuckled her brow.

"It is not the love," she said thoughtfully. "Don Jaime is a very grand and haughty hidalgo; it is not his desire that I should love him. But I fear him much!"

Came a day when Felicidad was very naughty. She tore leaves from the huge old sheepskin-bound books in the great gloomy library, and cut them into paper dolls. It was Don Jaime's one delight to read and reread, in the long hot afternoons, those yellow-leaved, richly illuminated ancient volumes. Pedro, one of the old servants, informed the doctor of Felicidad's naughtiness. The doctor's face went ashy; he shook all over with rage. He brought out a short whip of horsehide, a quirta such as vaqueros use. With the quirta he lashed Felicidad's legs and back unmercifully.

Her screams drove like knives into little Jacinto Quesada's heart. He was but ten years old and he was much afraid of the terrible hidalgo. But as the whip pitilessly descended again and again, and Felicidad screamed and writhed in agony, a hot anger welled up in him; he became desperate as only a child becomes desperate; he went mad.

Screaming himself, he charged at the doctor and tore at his trousers with his finger nails, and tried to leap up and upon him. The quirta rose again and fell upon his head. Then he caught at the doctor's wrist and sunk his teeth into it. With bulldog tenacity he hung on, until he was beaten into insensibility, and his jaws forced open.

Strangely, Don Jaime conceived a sort of liking for Jacinto Quesada after that. He took to calling him The Little Wolf of the Mountains. It became his wont to greet Jacinto, when he stumbled across him in the great bare house, with a look of savage admiration and the words:

"Ah, here is the wolf-cub! And how are the fangs to-day, hungry scrawny one?"

Upon a time, Don Jaime, his hand still in bandages, discovered Jacinto alone in the dusky library, bent over a quaint old account of the battles and triumphs of the swineherd Pizarro.

"When did you learn to read, son of a mangy she-wolf?" asked the doctor in great surprise.

"When I was but five. My mother taught me letters. She is a woman of honest birth and of education," answered Jacinto proudly. "When she was a child, she was sent to the convent of Santa Ursola in Granada."

"And what do you think of this swashbuckler, Pizarro? He robbed the Indians of their golden suns and chalices and their silver bars, without morality and without ruth, did he not? But-do you think him cruel?"

The boy nodded his head slowly. Then with the oldish quaintness of a book-bitten child, he explained:

"I do think him cruel, mi senor don. But he would not have been Pizarro had he been soft-handed and pitiful. He led three hundred and fifty Spanish caballeros and four thousand Indians deep into the cordilleras. About him were the millions of the Inca Empire. If he had been less brave, less strong, less cruel, those many Peruvians would have swirled about him like the waters of an ocean, and engulfed him and his poor few Conquistadores. But he knew how to be most cruel. That was why he conquered. That was why he was altogether the great captain!"

When first he discovered Jacinto in his library, Don Jaime had been of the mind to send him bundling, and to lock the door between the peasant boy and his precious old books. Now he turned about abruptly, said "Humph!" and went thoughtfully away.

At last, came an arriero to take Jacinto Quesada back to Minas de la Sierra. She stood beside the mule upon which Jacinto mounted, the golden-haired little Felicidad, and held up her small fat hands for him to kiss. The hidalgo doctor watched his departure from the dark of the doorway. He looked after the great dust-cloud on the brown road for a long time.

"The Little Wolf!" he muttered in his morose way. "He was as famished for knowledge as he was for food. He would have gone blind if he lingered in my library much longer. To see him rip the entrails out of Bernal Diaz's 'Cortes' and the Lives of Balboa, De Soto, Coronado-what a joy! He has eyes of gold for seeing things clearly-for seeing beyond good and evil. And he has a heart of fire, he has gusto, that Spanish boy! Pizarro was cruel, but he was great, he was magnificent, because he was cruel! What a Spanish answer!

"Por los Clavos de Cristo! he will go far, that mountain brat! He will be a great realist and philosopher like Cervantes. Or he will be a great dramatist like Lope de Vega. Or a great poet or statesman. Or a great captain like the Conquistadores whose lives he studied with such gusto and whose strength he analyzed with such clear-sightedness!"

Then Don Jaime smiled very bitterly. For the moment he had forgotten that his Jacinto Quesada had been born a Spaniard of the people. He swore a vile oath.

"But no, he will be none of those things!" he said. "Cascaras! I am becoming an old driveling fool."

Don Jaime knew that God smiles sardon

ically upon the Spaniard of the people who seeks to rise in the world. He knew that, just as the United States is a country of unlimited opportunities, just so is Spain a country of opportunities limited and few. The Spaniard of the people, strong with heart and gusto, has but two careers open to him. By those two careers and those two careers only, can your ambitious Iberian attain to fame and fortune, and stand greatly above his countrymen.

"He will become a bullfighter, perhaps!" said Don Jaime.

Every man and boy in Spain is an aficionado, a bullfight "fan," a frantic bullfight "bug." The successful bullfighter, be he matador, or murderer of bulls, or only a peon of the cuadrilla, is given rich food with which to garnish his belly; he learns how gold feels when it is minted into money; his photographs are purchased by romantic se?oritas; and wherever he goes, he is followed by crowds of tattered street urchins who studiously and hopefully ape his swagger. The whole universe salves and butters him with admiration and envy; and he, the popular picador or the distinguished espada, is in many ways more truly a king of Spain than is Alfonso the King. Jacinto Quesada, he of the heart of fire and the great gusto, might become a bullfighter.

But suddenly Don Jaime remembered that the little Jacinto was a boy of the desolate mountains. He could never see the great bullfights of the cities of the plains, those great bullfights so golden with glamor. Hence never would be waked in him the ambition to become a bullfighter.

"Ea pucs!" said Don Jaime with grimness. "Well, then! There is naught for my Jacinto to do but to become a bandolero!"

The bandolero sells no photographs of himself; he goes houseless in the wind and rain; he bites upon gold coins but rarely; he is hunted persistently by the Spanish police. And yet, from day to day, his deeds have their place in the Hispanic newspapers; he is the hero of a thousand household stories and ballads; the people give him the fat of the countryside to eat; the people love him more even than once they loved that greatest of all bullfighters, the negro Frascuelo!

"Quita!" exclaimed Don Jaime, chuckling. "God forbid!" It had struck him that he might live to the day when people would say in his hearing: "Jacinto Quesada? Ah, he is good, he is brave, he is like the very God Himself. Watch over him in the mountains, Mary, Queen of Angels! and protect him from the Guardia Civil and from treachery!" And he, Torreblanca y Moncada, the prophet who, years before, had seen his vision, would laugh and they would wonder why he laughed.

A bandolero is a Spanish highwayman, a Spanish Dick Turpin, a Spanish Robin Hood. He is a man of a type altogether extinct in countries less backward than Spain. In Spain the type has persisted for five hundred years and still continues to persist. In Spain the type is obstinate, ineradicable.

José Maria was a Spanish bandolero. Diego Corrientes, he who was loved by a duchess, was a Spanish bandolero. And Spanish bandoleros were Visco el Borje, Agua-Dulce, Joaquin Camargo, nicknamed El Vivillo, and Pernales, the blond beast of prey. The bandolero is the blight of Spain. But countries that have been exploited by Spaniards are also affected with the Spanish blight. A bandolero of Mexico is Zapata. And a Mexican bandolero is Pancho Villa, too.

One wintry gloaming of Jacinto Quesada's thirteenth year, there entered Minas de la Sierra, a ruddy-haired, blue-eyed, burly man on horseback. He was clad in weather-worn corduroys; a week's golden stubble was on his broad, sunburned face; and his body smelled sourly of sweat. He guided his horse with his knees and heels. In both hands he held half-raised a Mauser carbine.

The horse halted under the cork-oak, but the man did not dismount. He sat looking slowly from right to left, from left to right, along the village street. Presently he shouted:

"Hola, mis paisanos! Why do you not come out to greet me?"

With trembling and hesitation they came forth from their doorways. They were like so many wary brown lizards stealing out from their rocks. They formed a tongue-tied ring about the quiet horseman and eyed him with awe.

"I desire food," said he shortly.

"It is our wish to serve you, maestro," said Antonio Villarobledo, speaking for the rest. "You shall have the best of our poor lean store."

Then spoke up Carlos Machado, a showy and presumptuous man.

"Come to my house with me. I have a stew of lentils!"

"But I have a puchero!" another bid. "Come with me, Gran Caballero."

Suddenly a woman who had been hiding in her doorway ran out into the street, crying shrilly:

"Do not listen to these selfish stingy Moors, maestro! Come with me-I will kill a pullet for you, the last of my lot! Come with me, I beg you, caballerete! To ask you to be my guest, I have the supreme right. My husband was the last man of the village to be murdered by the Guardia Civil!"

Carlos Machado and certain others turned wrathful faces toward Juan Quesada's widow. But she had, indeed, the supreme right, and they dared make no objection when the corduroy-clad cabalgador said most heartily:

"Well spoken, woman! I will go with you. Your husband shall not have been murdered in vain and your pullet lived to no good purpose!"

Then he laughed in the faces of the others and said with sudden imperiousness:

"Bring your lentils and your puchero to the widow's casa, mis paisanos! My appetite is the most gorgeous appetite in Spain, and all you have will not be too much for me. Besides you will do well to fat me up, you Spaniards!"

He dismounted and followed Jacinto Quesada's mother, giving instructions to certain of the villagers as to how they should water and fodder his horse.

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