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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 15049

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When his mother went out on the mountainside to catch and to kill the last surviving chicken, Jacinto Quesada went with her both to lend her a hand and to ask her a question. She held the pullet to the block and Jacinto raised the axe. Then, the axe poised aloft, Jacinto asked:

"Who is this rough burly man to whom the people do such honor?"

"He is the great Pernales!"

The axe descended; blood spattered the faces of the two; the head of the pullet lay free from the body and still; the body flapped about in a manner outrageous and vile. Said Jacinto, after a moment:

"Pernales, the bandolero?"

"Si, si! Pernales, the bandolero, him hunted forever by the men of the Guardia Civil!"

"But why do not the men of the Guardia Civil murder him as they murdered our poor Juanito?"

"Art thou a dullard, child! Thy father was a mere contrabandista. Thy father wished only to be left undisturbed by the police. He was a coward at heart as are most Spaniards who turn dishonest that they might eat. He suffered himself to be captured without a struggle; there was no murder in his bowels!"

She swept on with true Latin eloquence and fervor:

"But this Pernales! The men of the Guardia Civil fear Pernales as they do not fear men of your poor father's sort. He is muscled like a leopard; he is long of arm; he is deep-loined; and the strength of him is like the strength of the first Spaniard, Hispanus, the son of Hercules. But there is more to him than mere body strength! He is possessed of a strength above body strength, a strength beyond body strength. He is strong in his soul!

"He is strong to live; he is strong to conquer; he is strong to make men die. The bandoleros are all like that. They are arrogant, imperious, absolute. They are like our ancestors, the Cristinos Viejos, the Old Rusty Christians, they who eradicated the Moors from Spain. They are like our ancestors, the Celtiberians, they who bathed in the urine of horses that they might grow hard and muscular, they who asked for no quarter in battle and who gave none.

"A man to be a bandolero must have entrails of iron. This Pernales is of the right guts. He likes nothing better than to meet a policeman alone in the hills and to fight him to the death. The men of the Guardia Civil would capture and slay him if they could; but when they come up to him on the high road, he turns and gives battle with laughter and taunt, with ardor, strength, desperation, and ferocity! Never does he hesitate or falter when comes the supreme moment-the moment when his weakness says 'Be merciful!' and his strength says 'Kill thou, Pernales!'"

His mother sped into the house, but Jacinto stood by the dripping block, immersed in thought.

Presently Jacinto Quesada sat on his little stool in the far corner of the great fireplace and watched the bandolero eat. What huge teeth he had and how white they were! Over each mouthful the whole broad face worked, the lips and cheeks making a dozen grimaces, the jaws snapping and grinding.

Every little while, the bandolero mumbled from a full mouth some question. He seemed much interested in the murdered Juanito. But it was almost as though he considered poor Juanito's death a humorous mishap; at certain of the widow's remarks he laughed roughly, and his laughter stormed through the cabana like a wind through one of the boulder-strewn passes overhead.

An hour later he was astride his horse again and riding down the goat-path that dropped away from Minas de la Sierra and wound through the lower gorges. It is never the habit of the bandolero to linger in a pueblo or village longer than a very short time; most sensational and brief and furtive are his visits.

There was a fat and brilliant moon, that night. It was as though a snow had fallen, the heads and shoulders of the mountains were so white. Down into the dark moaning gorges, one could see a great distance.

Pernales walked his horse very slowly, for the path led along the sheer of a precipice. But while he kept a vigilant eye on the way ahead, ready to throw himself toward the wall of the gorge should the nag stumble on a loose stone, or shy from the path, and plunge screaming into nothingness, Pernales continually cast wary quick glances toward the crags and boulders overhead, and continually bent his ear back the way he had come. It was almost as though he feared an ambush in that lonely perilous place. It was almost as if, at any moment, he expected men of the Guardia Civil to rise from behind every rock, and the command of the Guardia Civil to sound in his ears:

"Alto a la Guardia Civil!"

He rounded a great rock that threatened to tear from its moorings down into the winding gorge below. Abruptly he halted his horse and his carbine came up. A long tense hush. Then suddenly he exploded:

"Who are you that stands beside the way?"

Came the answer in a child's thin voice:

"Jacinto Quesada!"

Minas de la Sierra was a long distance above and far back in the sierras. With great surprise the bandolero recognized the child to whom he had waved a hand and called a laughing "á Dios" some time before.

"Are you alone?" The carbine still threatened.

"See for yourself, maestro! But I am altogether alone."

The bandolero rode nearer. When the horse shouldered up, the little Jacinto was compelled to squeeze into the very crevices of the rock wall, so narrow was the path.

From his lofty seat on the big, rawboned black horse, Pernales looked down at the son of the widow Quesada and measured, with his eyes, the boy's extreme youthfulness and preposterous lack of strength and size. Jacinto was only thirteen years old.

What he saw altogether reassured Pernales. His blue eyes twinkled; he smiled; he grinned, his lips working and twitching; and at last he broke out in a frank and free burst of laughter.

"Cascaras!" he roared, between guffaws. "How came you here, lively little one? Have you the sharp hoofs of the ibex to gallop you from crag to crag, across gorges and gargantas and all? Or have you the griffon vulture's wings that you may fly over mountains? You are no real flesh and blood child! You are a sprite, a-"

Jacinto Quesada, imperious with a great desire, brushed his bantering words aside. Trembling with eagerness, he cried:

"Take me with you, Pernales! I would be a bandolero, too! Lift me up behind you on your horse, and I will go with you through Spain and be your compa?ero and your dorado-your golden one, your trustworthy one! Take me with you, please, please, Pernales!"

The bandolero did not credit his own ears. He was too astounded to laugh.

"Hola!" he gasped. "What is this now? You, my chicken, would be a bandolero! And you came all the way down here to recruit with me! Por los Clavos de Cristo!"

Then soberly and slyly, for he was beginning to see good fun in the little fellow:

"But do you not know that it is a rule, a convention, of us good bandoleros to ride alone? Solitary and single-handed, we are safer and stronger than if a troop of cabalgadores surrounded us. There is no one so swift and slippery and elusive as a bandolero who rides alone, and no one so free from fear of treachery-he trusts no man and no man he dreads."

"True. You understand your business, I see," said Jacinto Quesada.

He was only thirteen; yet he spoke slowly, with deliberation and discernment and a great air of mannish profundity. He had got something from Don Jaime's books, this mountaineer's bantling!

"But t

here are times," he qualified, "when even the most superb bandolero needs assistance in some serious and signal business. Have you not yourself a dorado, a camarada, who rides with you on your greater crimes, the Nino de Arahal? Certain folk have told me of the Nino; they said he shared the glory of those enterprises which made imperative a show of numbers and strength; do not tell me these folk lied! I had hoped to dispossess this camarada and dorado of yours, this Nino de Arahal, and to attain to the envied place down from which I threw him headlong!

"But the Nino," he added, arrogating to himself judicial authority-"let us forget him! Za! he is only an insignificant frog! Your wish to ride unhindered and alone, of that I would speak! Maestro, when I become your dorado, we will ride together always, for we will commit only imposing and glorious crimes!"

Said Pernales softly:

"But how would you dispossess the Nino de Arahal?"

"I would pit against the huge gorilla's head of the Little One of Arahal, my head of gold for thinking quick thoughts and audacious ones. I would displace him and replace him by my natural superiority of brain. But if that were not enough-Carajo! I would lock knives with him, I would lunge and slash and rip and stab with my navaja, while he tore and stabbed and slashed and lunged with his, until one or the other of us gushed out his life through his wounds and was dead!"

Then it was that Pernales laughed so that the very canyon roared and rang. He rolled back his head; he clapped his hands to his stomach; he opened his mouth to its widest stretch; and he guffawed so tremendously that the horse beneath him staggered and almost overbalanced from the wall. He was Olympian in his laughter.

And why not laugh? Did he not see in his mind's eye the gigantic ruffian nicknamed the Nino de Arahal locked with this stripling, this barefoot child, this suckling babe? Za! The Nino would make ten of him! Zape! The Nino would swallow him at a mouthful! It was preposterous! It was so funny, he cared not a peseta if he laughed himself to death!

But suddenly, through his laughter, slid Jacinto Quesada's low-toned words:

"But if he were altogether too huge and brawny for me to murder in open combat, then I would murder him in some hidden, treacherous way. Treachery is the strength of the weak who are yet strong. If there be no other way, the superior brain resorts to treachery for the superior brain is invincible. While I am still weak of body, I will not disdain to use treachery!

"And, man, man, I warn you! Do not continue to laugh at me! You have laughed quite enough at me, Pernales! Cease laughing this instant! Quick! Straighten your face, or Porvida! the Manchegan knife I have with me, I will use on your horse. I will rip open his belly; and he, with you upon him, will go bounding off the path and fall head over heels down into the abyss!"

Instantly Pernales sobered. His face set into an emotionless mask; his teeth clenched together with an audible click; his eyes became hard as blue bright pebbles. Without seeming to do so, he looked down at the child's hands; and true! there was in those hands a huge, flat-bladed dagger, a dagger of La Mancha. The child was turning it over and over, and studying it with a pensive interest.

Deep within himself, Pernales laughed ironically at his own discomfiture. He could not use the carbine. Without chancing the great risk of sending his horse recoiling and reeling off the path, he could not strike down the child with a blow of his fist! And the child had but to turn aside his gun or dodge his hard fist, and crouch out of harm's way beneath the horse's barrel. Then might he strike up with the dagger, and the horse would make the breakneck plunge as surely as he would scream when stabbed.

"Jacinto Quesada," said Pernales bitterly, "you have caught Pernales in a pretty deadfall! Use your knife; then go for the Guardia Civil and guide a brace of policemen to where my body lies on the bottom of the gorge, and there awaits you the money offered for my head! Cascaras! I judged you altogether too superficially; I was too contemptuous!"

Quietly Jacinto Quesada put the Manchegan knife back in his belt.

"I forbear to strike," said he, "since you have confessed your fault. Now, soberly and with due respect, give me your answer. Will you take me with you?"

A gleam of admiration lit the eye of Pernales.

"Jacinto Quesada," he said, "you are no child. You have shown resolution, force, finality; you are altogether masculine, altogether varonil; you are a man! Therefore, as one man to another, I say: No, I cannot take you with me!"

Pernales now was very serious.

"To be my dorado, it is not enough that you have a full-grown soul. You must have a full-grown body; and your body is still the puny, soft-boned body of a child. If you rode away with me, you of the weak body, your strong soul might be sacrificed to the Nino de Arahal or the Guardia Civil. And that-God forbid!

"Let us look at this matter like two sensible Moors. Don Eduardo Miura, let us suppose, has a young fighting bull of extraordinary promise. At the Tentaderos (the breeders' private bullfight, when the young bulls are ranked according to their merit as fighting animals), this youngster shows superb courage and astounding ferocity. But he is only two years old; and five years old must be the age of Don Eduardo's animals before he exhibits them in the Plaza de Toros. Does Don Eduardo make an exception of this unique bull, does he allow him because of his astounding ferocity to have a premature début in the bull-ring? Name of God, no! Not even if he be as magnificent with meat as the most mature seven-year-old!

"Jacinto Quesada, quickly I have grown to love your strong soul-I have grown to love your strong soul too much. And that is why I say, I cannot take you with me. No! Porvida, no! But, if you are resentful, use your knife and send me whirling down into the gorge. Proceed! I care not a peseta what you do."

Jacinto Quesada stood motionless as a rock, thinking deeply. Something in the boy's downcast attitude moved Pernales to pity.

"Do not despair, my fire-hearted, arrogante little man," he said presently. "I have said no; this time my no is absolute; but I shall not say no to you, should I pass this way again when you are more fully grown. Some day, I promise you, I shall again pass this way, and then if you are still of the mind to be my dorado, you may join out with me and we will murder the men of the Guardia Civil together, two sworn compa?eros. Meanwhile, grow brawny, grow brave, grow high-handed. There will always be room in Spain for haughty resolute ones like you!"

"I accept the promise given," said Jacinto Quesada. "And I do not ask you to swear to return for me-a word is enough between men. Now, knowing you will come back, I will compose myself and wait. A child is impetuous and fretful; a man is implacable yet patient."

"Son of the widow Quesada," returned Pernales magnificently, "on the promise given and taken, let us strike hands! With a handshake, like two true Spaniards, we will bind the bargain."

Jacinto Quesada took his hand off the hilt of his Manchegan navaja and gripped claws with the bandolero. A certain note of solemnity thrilled through the moment.

The bandolero started on.

"Go thou with God, compa?ero!" said Jacinto Quesada.

"Grow big, grow strong, thou!" said the great Pernales.

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