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The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 8001

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Jacinto Quesada grew bigger, stronger. But he suffered more with ambition than with growing pains. Ambition is the seed of greatness, but the seed cannot germinate and bourgeon without giving agony and labor to the soil in which it is nurtured.

Pernales did not again pass that way. Three months had not intervened, since the promise to return had been given, when the great bandolero was murdered for the reward by a Gallego on a lonely hill-road in the Asturias-shot through the head at forty yards.

Now, if never could Jacinto Quesada ride with Pernales, then by the Life! he would ride alone.

When at last he attained to manhood, he went down the mountains, stole a carbine and a horse, and became a bandolero errant and free.

He had hands of gold, that fire-hearted Spanish boy, for sticking up a troop of caballeros and their ladies out for a merienda or a bull-baiting on the parched plains about Madrid. And he had hands of gold for sticking up a diligence full of notables in the savage defiles of the Sierra de Guadalupe or the Sierra de Gredos or the Sierra de Guadarrama. And he had courage and originality. Why, he was still a mere novice as a bandolero, an apprentice hand, a novillero, when he took it into that round, young, handsome and arrogant Spanish head of his to way-lay and loot the Seville-to-Madrid Express!

Spanish highwaymen, you must know, are not in the habit of holding up passenger trains. To way-lay a lone muleteer in the mountains, to halt and rob a party of itinerant guitarists and dancers, or to pillage the hacienda of a rich rural cattle breeder are the conventional things to do. But to hold up the Seville-to-Madrid-it is unthinkable, it is not the will of God! Spanish highwaymen prefer to do less spectacular deeds and to live to see their grandchildren.

In the province of Ciudad Real, the Seville-to-Madrid Express crosses the river Zancura by means of a safe and modern steel cantilever bridge built by Le Brun, a French engineer. And a half hour before it reaches this steel bridge, the Seville-to-Madrid crosses another bridge, a bridge over a small tributary of the Zancura which is dry three fourths of the year. This bridge is not of steel; it is timbered. It was never built by Le Brun; it is flimsy, weather-worn, and liable to give under any unusual strain. It is called the Arroyo Seco Bridge.

Here, where the Arroyo Seco lies like a great brown gutter across the world, are the high parameras of La Mancha. There are no more desolate and lonely uplands in all Spain. Swarthy, sun-scorched and thirsty, they torture the eye with dusty dun distances and prone dun lines. You would think it an altogether unlikely place for a bandolero to stage a hold-up.

And here, a hundred yards below the Arroyo Seco bridge and close beside the railroad track, waited Jacinto Quesada one hot, dry, windless afternoon. He was seated upon a small sleek mouse-colored Manchegan pony. He wore corduroy leggins, a sheepskin zamarra, and a Cordovan sombrero that had once been white. His dress was that of the typical Manchegan herdsman. He looked like any one of the hundred or more vaqueros who lived the wild lonely life of the cattle country roundabout.

The Seville-to-Madrid showed in the southwest. Like a somber black snake it crawled slowly forward-like a black snake laggard and heavy after a great dinner of mice.

Spanish passenger trains are altogether unlike American passenger trains, for American passenger trains eat up distances like the brazen cars of old Northern gods. The passenger trains of Spain are most deliberate and slow. They halt for ten minutes at every wayside station, for no better reason than to allow the passengers to alight, unlimber their legs, and smoke the eternal cigarette. They are the very crawling snails of the earth!

Of course, the Seville-to-Madrid was an express, a through train. But you may be sure she was no fast train except when viewed through Spanish eyes. At fifteen miles the

hour, morosely it crawled on. It neared the waiting Jacinto Quesada and, fearful of the flimsy wooden bridge beyond, slackened its pace to a painful glacier-slow flow.

As the wheezing locomotive lumbered up, Jacinto Quesada, with knees and one hand, held the shuddering pony motionless beside the track. The other hand he raised aloft. Pointedly, his eyes turned to that upraised hand; then to the locomotive's cab; then significantly, to the upflung hand once again.

The engine driver, one arm extended to the throttle, a blue-smoking cigarette between his lips, leaned far out the cab and looked down at the uplifted hand of Jacinto Quesada. In that significantly uplifted hand of Jacinto Quesada was an unlighted cigarette.

Now, an American engineer would have passed unheeding by, with perhaps a curse for Jacinto Quesada as an arrant fool. Again, a French engineer might have called back: "It is a pleasure!" and thrown down a paper of matches. For, as it was plain to see, Jacinto Quesada was requesting, in pantomime, a spark to ignite his hopelessly dead slim cylinder of tobacco.

But the Spanish engine driver did neither of those two things. It is not that the Iberians are not as polite as the French; they are more polite and altogether more ceremonious. Know you that in Spain, and also in Mexico, it is considered something of an insult to proffer a man matches when he requests a light of you and you yourself are smoking. It is as though you consider him socially beneath you, when you proffer him matches.

The locomotive lumbered by. But the engine driver crowded forward on his seat; his arms worked; the whistle shrieked. And the train groaned and jolted, roared and banged to a full stop.

Passengers telescoped themselves out of windows, some knocked all a-scramble by the sudden halt, others pale and frightened. Those heads that protruded from fortunate windows saw the engine driver clamber down from his high turret, a lighted cigarette in his hand. And they saw spur forward to meet him, the dusty vaquero, in his mouth a cigarette that was dead.

The vaquero flung himself from his pony. He and the engine driver drew together. A hand of each met, became entwined. Their heads leaned close, the cigarettes between their teeth touching ends.

Suddenly the engine driver staggered away from the vaquero, his jaw dropping, his cigarette falling unheeded to the ground. A huge long-barrelled revolver in the hand of the vaquero was nuzzling his umbilicus.

"Aupa!" shouted the vaquero harshly. "Up!"

Prodding his belly persistently, the vaquero followed him back, step by step. The engine driver was suddenly enlightened. It was all a piece of herdsmen's buffoonery, a monstrous practical joke!

"Benito!" he roared, addressing his stoker in the cab above. "Benito, look down! Here is a vaquero who thinks himself a salteador de camino, a bandolero like the poor dead Pernales or that new man, Jacinto Quesada! Por los Clavos de Cristo! what a fool's idea!"

Then to the vaquero. "Don't you know I have no time for horseplay, you silly one, you buffoon, you? You are making yourself liable to arrest!"

"I am the new man, Jacinto Quesada!" said Jacinto Quesada with politeness and reserve. Then, "Aupa, aupa!"

"Jacinto Quesada-Almighty God!" gasped the engine driver. Only he made it, "Todopoderoso Dio!" and he groaned it out slowly.

But with great alacrity he put up his hands.

Then after a moment, stuttering with fright, he commenced objecting.

"But caballerete-but Don Jacinto-"

"What would you?"

"But you cannot hold up the Seville-to-Madrid! No one ever holds up the Seville-to-Madrid! And besides, you are alone!"

"But I am not alone," returned Jacinto Quesada.

Nor was he. Out of the Arroyo Seco, a hundred yards up the track, three men as drab and dusty as he had poked their dishevelled heads.

Shouted Quesada, "Adelante, mis dorados! The stew is ready, approach the bowl! Forward, my golden ones!"

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