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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 14896

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Jacinto Quesada had known Felicidad's father, Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada; he had lived in the great, cold, dingy house near Granada; he had tasted the secluded, lonely life of Felicidad. Therefore, she had but to say a few sketchy rapid sentences and he comprehended the beginning of everything.

"Of late years, my father has become gradually poorer, Jacinto," she said.

Quesada nodded his head understandingly. Don Jaime had never refused his physician's services to the poverty-stricken and wretched; and the poverty-stricken and wretched were always becoming sick; and the poverty-stricken and wretched seldom paid. Small wonder that Don Jaime's fortunes had fallen into decay!

"My father had no money put by to keep him in his old age; but he always said he would sell those old beloved books of his when he became incapacitated, by age, for a physician's arduous toils, or when bitter necessity pressed him hard. You must know, Jacinto, that father's ancient, yellow-leafed books are worth much, much money."

She went on to explain. Learned men, famous men-some of them scholarly descendants of noble families, others erudite plebeians with the right to affix a dozen initials after their names-were always coming to Don Jaime's house from the University of Salamanca and the Museo Provincial of Seville to examine those books and to write historical treatises and critiques from them. And it was not unusual to find one of these bookworms, these bibliophiles, these hombres del todo aficionado á los libros, making eager hints to purchase such of the precious dingy tomes as they considered within their means.

Some of the books had been possessed by Don Jaime's family for hundreds of years; others he had come by through his godfather who was a famous Spanish historian and very rich; and still others he had himself discovered when doctoring ruined hidalgo families and the monks of poverty-gutted monasteries; and he had taken these finds in place of monetary fees. Naturally enough, therefore, he hated to part with any of this great treasure in books.

Fearing an old age of stony poverty, however, Don Jaime at last made up his mind to put the books on sale. The money he might receive from marketing the books he planned to invest in Argentine bonds. Three months gone, he wrote to two great houses that deal in rare and valuable books; the one in London, the other in Paris.

Posthaste, two months since, came to the house outside Granada, the buyer for the London firm. In far-away cold London, they had heard of Don Jaime's collection, for there was not another collection of its like outside of Spain. For two weeks the London book-buyer lived in the casa with Don Jaime and Felicidad, cataloguing and pricing the books. Some of the old quaint authors he rejected as of little worth, but others he called "glorious Golcondas" and offered Don Jaime such a sum for them that he was amazed, astounded. He had not expected to receive so much money for the whole aggregate and total of his collection.

"Three weeks ago, after paying my father a fortune in bank notes," continued the girl, "the English book-buyer, Senor Havelock Moore-Ingraham, went away, and with him, borne by a caravan of ten mules, went the cream and richness of my father's library.

"Then came to our house this Jacques Ferou. He said he had been sent by the Paris house to whom my father had written. My father told him that he was too late to bid, that all the books of value had been sold.

"At that Jacques Ferou became very downcast; he said that his firm would be much put out when they learned he had allowed the English company to bag the hares while he played the laggard. And he begged very earnestly for permission to look through the books, which had not been purchased, in the hope that the English agent had overlooked a few volumes of value, volumes that he might buy in order to save his face."

Don Jaime gave him permission so to do. For almost a month he lived in the great dusky lonely house. When he was not in the library poring over the yellowed tomes, he wandered through the house, seeking sight of Felicidad. When she had her daily "hour of balcony", he would leave the casa and stand watching her from across the road, "playing the bear" in a very serious and devoted manner.

"I had never had a novio before," explained Felicidad, "and his eyes were so kind and sympathetic! It was very lonely in the great house with just my father and the old whining Pedro and the old childish Teresa. And he treated me with such consideration and reverence!

"We used to meet often in the long dusky corridors, he kissing my hands and telling me how beautiful I was, and I liking it, yet feeling fear of him and all a-tremble, besides, lest my father discover us. And at dinner time and all through the evenings, there he would be again, talking with my father about 'rogue novels' and the chroniclers of the conquistadores, and ever looking at me with the burning eyes of love.

"Two days ago, my father spoke very harshly to me, threatening me with a beating-he beats me even yet, you know. Old Pedro had told him that I had a novio-that was why he was angered at me. But he did not as yet suspect that my lover was Jacques Ferou.

"Jacques was to leave our house for Paris in another week. I could not resign myself to the old loneliness in that empty gloomy house; and I would not suffer even one more time the indignity of a beating at my father's hands. So two days ago I consented to run off with Jacques Ferou and become his wife.

"At four o'clock this morning, when it was still dark, I left my bed, dressed, put a few things together, and went out on my balcony. Jacques was waiting for me. He threw up a rope and I tied it to the iron railing and let myself down into his arms.

"Down the road a high-powered automobile awaited us. In it we raced precipitantly away, for as you very well know, we had the outraged pride of my terrible father to fear. Before seven o'clock in the morning, we had fled almost as far as Jaen. Then something went wrong with the automobile and it would go no farther; whereupon, Jacques sent a labrador into Jaen, who soon came back escorting a diligence pulled by four horses. In the diligence we set off for Castro which is on the railroad to Madrid. It was two hours before noon when we reached Castro, and the train came at noon."

They were on the Seville-to-Madrid that afternoon, when suddenly Felicidad thought:

"Has Jacques forgotten that he came to my father's house to purchase books-has he forgotten his matter-of-fact business in his overmastering love for me? He has neither paid my father for those books he selected, nor taken those books he selected away with him.

"I questioned Jacques. He laughed. He told me not to worry about his business affairs. But I continued to worry; I felt already a wife's interest and pride in my future husband's career; and I was much afraid that his employers in Paris would be angered by his careless handling of the whole transaction.

"When Jacques saw that I was still put out about him, he laughed again, this time heartily and long. Then suddenly he stopped laughing and, looking hard into my eyes, said in a cold, challenging voice:

"'Suppose I should tell you, ma chérie, that I am not in the employ of a Paris book house; that my business is not at all that of a purchaser of rare books

; and that I care for rare books not a snap of the fingers!'"

Felicidad was thunderstruck and a little stunned. He saw the shocked expression on her face and thereat commenced, with a cruel malicious delight, to tell her other things.

He had been to the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile; he had been to Egypt, Italy, England, and Sweden. He had been to Spain more than a dozen times before. He had had many adventures. But, strangely, these adventures were all adventures in crime. He had robbed cathedrals in France and Spain of their valuable paintings and jewels and even of their statuary. He had robbed museums and private collections of the New World.

He seemed to swell with pride, to grow with importance as he bared his real self thus to her. With snobbish care, he explained to her how far superior to ordinary criminals he was; he defined himself as one of a limited and ultra-clever aristocracy of thieves. It was as though he were showing a noble and praiseworthy side of himself hitherto unrevealed; it was as though he had wooed a peasant girl, while disguised in a most humble attire, and now lifted his vagabond's ragged cap to reveal a prince's crown. He said he was a member of the "White Wolves", an organization of French criminals who stole mostly from churches. He said he was a member of many other exclusive criminal fraternities.

When from the lips of Felicidad, Jacinto Quesada heard this last, he ejaculated:

"Carajo! So that was why, before we searched him, he made such queer signs to me-he was using thieves' signs, the signals of those criminal brotherhoods to which he belongs. He thought I, as another thief, might have some knowledge of that language of signs and that, out of a thief's respect for a thief, I might exempt him from the ordeal of the search!"

"Of what do you speak now-what signs?" asked Felicidad, bewildered.

Jacinto Quesada explained. Then he said, "Proceed with your story, dear Felicidad."

Continuing, therefore, Felicidad told how Jacques Ferou, intent on showing how consummately clever he was at all criminal business, and not averse to filling his young wife with awe and fear of him, led up at last to the business that had brought him to Spain and to the house of Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada.

Once upon a time, he had indeed worked for the Paris book house whose card he had used to introduce himself to the haughty hidalgo. He had been hired by a very rich and very crazy bibliophile to get feloniously, as it was beyond even the bibliomaniac's purse, a certain precious book in the possession of the Paris firm; and the better to steal the ancient volume, he had hired himself as a clerk to them for three months.

Through another clerk still in their employ-a hunchbacked fellow whom he had picked out, with a criminal's sure instinct, as a weakling inclined to dishonesty and crime of a sort-he had secured Don Jaime's letter offering the books for sale, before any one but his ally and friend, the hunchback, had a chance to see it.

Now, he knew a little about rare books; so he practiced talking about books like a bibliophile and buyer; and very shortly, he started for Spain. But he traveled slowly for a certain reason.

When he told her this last, Felicidad asked him:

"But for what reason did you travel slowly?"

Jacques Ferou looked at Felicidad in a pity that, perhaps, amounted to a contempt.

"Why, you silly baby!" laughed he. "After all I have said, don't you know why it was I traveled all the way from Paris to your father's house in Andalusia?"

"No!"

At that, laughing the louder, he opened the top of his vest and put his hand down beneath his shirt and undershirt. Presently, from under his armpit, he drew out a small, mahogany-colored leather purse and let Felicidad look into it. Within was a roll of bills, tightly wound and compressed so that they took up but little space. Felicidad gasped with fright and horror when she saw the color of the top bank note. It was a bank note on the Bank of Spain for five thousand pesetas! Her father, the terrible Don Jaime, had been paid by the English book-buyer in five-thousand peseta bills!

But Jacques Ferou was saying:

"You know, your father mentioned offering the books to the English firm when he wrote that letter to Paris. Therefore, I delayed my journey to Spain so that I should not reach your father's house until the English book-buyer had paid over the money for the purchased books and had left with his purchases. Ma chérie, I came to Spain, not for books, but for this. This is the money paid to your father for his books!" And he held up the small mahogany-colored leather purse that had been Felicidad's father's.

Sometime since, when with cruel, malicious delight he had started to tell her of his criminal operations, Felicidad had drawn away from him in horror. Now she started up, crying out in supreme contempt:

"So you stole all the money that was to keep my father in his old age! Oh, you-you disgusting thief!"

He saw then that he had been too open, too bold, too braggard. He tried to quiet and soothe her with caressing hands, with kisses. But her lips had become cold as ice, and they shrank away from his in profound loathing.

They were alone in the regulation separated continental coach. She tried to tear herself from his arms and to throw herself from the moving train. Death was all she thought of at first. By allowing herself to be cajoled into running off with a creature who had no more decency than to rob the father of his all, while he stole from him also his only daughter, she had disgraced the high name of Torreblanca y Moncada. What a blow this would be at the pride of the eagle-haughty Don Jaime! He had never forgiven her mother for her desertion. Of a surety, never would he forgive Felicidad!

But even as Felicidad despaired and thought of death, there had come to her the protector of her childhood days, Jacinto Quesada. And to him she now appealed, saying with the ferocity of desperation:

"The leather purse is still strapped under his armpit next his skin! Go quickly and take it from him! You should have found it in the search; then I would not have had to do as I have since done. That purse contains the happiness of my father's old age. Tear it from that yellow-livered Frenchman and return it in some way to Don Jaime!"

With nervous eager hands she sought to hurry Jacinto Quesada from the carriage. But he did not think to resist her, so glad was he to turn from talk to action. Then, as he dashed impetuously away, she said in a half-whisper, her voice breaking with sobs:

"If God has intended that I should live on as the wife of a criminal, I will suffer my fate in silence and patience, knowing that I, in my waywardness, am alone to blame. But my father shall not be robbed of his buena ventura-he shall not end his days in want and misery. Seguramente, no! Dios de mialma, no!

"I have dishonored Don Jaime-and Don Jaime most certainly will kill me if ever he sets eyes on me again-but no lo quiera Dios! that I should suffer this obscene crime against him to be committed! There is blood and pride in me yet-I am yet a Torreblanca y Moncada!"

Half-way to the muster of people, Jacinto Quesada halted to throw back to her a heartening look and to call:

"Despacio! Softly!-gently! And watch, my Felicidad, how easy it is to rob the robber!"

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