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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 11610

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


High overhead a bustard sailed on slow, lazy pinions, but below, across the flat, tawny Manchegan plain, not a gust of desert dust whirled, not a buck-rabbit bounded, not a cow or bullock lumbered. Hot and large, empty and silent was the slow-crawling afternoon.

Jacinto Quesada faced the herded people. He had been gone five minutes; now, in visible trepidation, they awaited the upshot of his return. Their eyes adhered stickily to his; they were utterly without voice. Suddenly, he called, "Bring up and search the Frenchman again!"

Dios hombre! but the thing was swiftly done. The Frenchman's protests went for nothing; he was mauled about, roughed and ruffed, fine-combed and intimately worked over. Jacinto Quesada himself was lead-hound in the second search. He it was who drew forth the small, mahogany-colored leather purse from its nook of concealment in the fellow's armpit.

Looking black as thunder, Jacques Ferou retreated once again into the background of people. There situated, he gave vent freely to his exasperation and fury, muttering savagely: "Name of a name of a name of a name of a dog!" Also, many other choice French curses. But the more he cursed, the more acrimonious and virulent he became. His face went livid with stirred-up bile; his slate-colored eyes snapped in bitter resentment; he bared his long white teeth in a passionate carnivorous snarl of envenomed hate.

But hate for whom? At first his hate was directed against no one in particular. Because he had lost the purse, life had suddenly changed to a more somber color and bitterly he detested the whole world!

Then he turned his eyes upon Jacinto Quesada, thinking, for obvious reasons, to concentrate his spleen upon him. Jacinto Quesada caught the Frenchman's burning look and smiled contemptuously. That contemptuous smile should have infuriated the Frenchman all the more; but strangely, it did not! Somehow the Frenchman sensed that Jacinto Quesada was not the prime mover in his downfall; and, his hate still at a loss for a target to direct itself against, he took his eyes altogether off the youthful bandolero.

Then Sacre Bleu! who was that he glimpsed out of the ends of his irises? Was it not Felicidad, his promised wife? She had made an inconspicuous, an almost clandestine exit, from the third-class coach wherein she had hid herself; and now she was furtively seeking to rejoin the muster of people. Watching her, the Frenchman saw plainly that she it was who had betrayed him to the bandoleros. And his whole malignant rancid soul bunched and crouched in his eyes, and threw toward her a look searing and scalding, a look of vitriolic vindictiveness.

Ever since Felicidad had pushed him with impetuosity and precipitation from the third-class coach, telling him to go quickly and tear from the Frenchman the purse, Jacinto Quesada had been dominated by the will of the girl, doing swiftly and with utter obedience that which she had bade him do. He had worked in a white vacuum of action, without prejudice or plan of his own, without forethought. Never did he doubt but that once the mahogany-hued purse was taken from the Frenchman the whole wrong would automatically right itself. And now-what should he do with the purse? It would be some time before he could plan ways and means to return it safely to Don Jaime.

Of a sudden, then, to make matters more perplexing, Jacinto discovered the Frenchman looking at Felicidad in that ugly and ominous way. At that, he ceased worrying about the mahogany-colored purse; he shoved it into an inside pocket of his sheepskin zamarra and straightway forgot it. The question of its disposal was an insignificant matter; a greater question bothered him. What should he do with the girl?

As one wrestler closes with another, Jacinto Quesada closed with that great question. The while he gripped and folded it in the doughy coils of his brains, however, he did not stand quiet and pensive. Enough time already had been lost. Loudly Quesada shouted orders.

One of his supernumeraries, Pio Estrada, dipped down into the dry gutter of the Arroyo Seco for the horses. The others, Rafael Perez and Ignacio Garcia, fell to prodding the herded passengers with their carbines back upon the train. Instantly the whole panorama took on a brisker look. At haphazard, into any of the coaches which presented themselves, plunged those boarding the train, not caring in what style they rode, or what comfort, so long as they soon speeded away.

Pio Estrada reappeared, leading by their bridles three hairy Manchegan ponies. Another galvanic command from Quesada and, from the work of bundling the passengers aboard the train, hurriedly the other two salteadores detached themselves. They bustled about their ponies, roping upon them the weighty sacks of mail and conglomerate loot, looking to their curved bits and cinch-straps. With dispatch, everything was being prepared for a nimble get-away.

The last of the waylaid passengers were crowding back into the train, the engine driver and his stoker were high in their cab once more and busily engaged in getting up steam. It needed only the word of Quesada, and the Manchegan ponies would be mounted, the train released on its way, and the hold-up of the Seville-to-Madrid consummated.

Still dodging the great question of the disposal of the girl, sparring for time, Jacinto Quesada stole a look toward where he last had seen Felicidad. He started and scowled. She and the Frenchman were together. They were among those few not yet distributed through the various coaches.

As the laggards milled and pushed along the line of opening and closing doors, along the line of compartments crowded and jammed, the Frenchman, Jacques Ferou, had sidled near her. He had caught her by the arm.

Now, his tall athletic body bent forward sharply, his calculating eyes narrowed to mere blazing slits, the nostrils of his high predatory nose twitching and working, his whole ashy face working and grimacing like a horrible mask of rubber, he was whispering into her ear!

There was no mistaking the active threat in the man's attitude; there was no mistaking the real and terrible fear in the girl's cowering pose. She made to put up her hands as if to ward off blows; she trembled like a tag of paper hung in the wind; and suddenly the cry that had chilled in her throat at his first touch, burst up through the walls of her lungs, and shrilled out in a terrified wail.

Jacinto Quesada leaped, as though lashed, toward the two. The lumpy problem was smashed, by that cry, into smithereens. The great question demanded action. There was but one kind of action to do.

Rafael Perez bulked up before him.

"Give the word, maestro," said he, "and we shall signal the engineer to start the train."

"The word is given, then!"

Rafael Perez made a semaphore of his arms. Another salteador farther up the track repeated and relayed the signal. The locomotive whistle shrilled shortly once, then the bell clanged and clanged with warning insistence.

As Quesada flung past Rafael Perez, he threw out the words:

"Tell Garcia and Estrada to mount and make ready to start away, the moment I give the command. You wait to hold my pony for me. As was the plan, my pony goes unburdened by any of the sacks of stuff; but, though it was also the plan, I will not linger behind to cover the get-away. I have a new worry to trouble me. You lagartos will have to look to your own safety. Should we get separated, you know the pass in the mountains where we have planned to meet. Am I understood?"

"Si, maestro!"

With the emission of the waste steam through the chimney, the engine of the Seville-to-Madrid commenced puffing slowly; the cars began shuddering and groaning as though about to start. Jacques Ferou held open the door of a second-class coach for Felicidad. But it was already packed full of men and she hesitated to enter.

"Come, hurry!" roughly ordered the Frenchman. "The train in another minute will start. You do not wish to be left behind, do you?"

"But this is not our coach! The coach we rode in thus far is up forward." Almost it seemed as if the girl were sparring for time.

"Enter, it is no importa, se?ora dona!" said, with kindness, one of the men within-a man in a yellow bullfighter's costume, one of the picadores of Morales' cuadrilla.

"Yes, enter, please," spoke up another in a green costume, the great Morales himself. "You are most welcome here, I assure you!" And he reached down, seeking to help her climb aboard.

"Quick, or the train will start without you!" cried another, the blue-eyed American. Then in English, for suddenly the train had commenced to bang back and forth, and he had become beside himself with excitement:

"Make haste, girl! The accursed slow freight is about to move. Gad! here it goes."

Just as the train puffed rapidly and, with a roar and a tremendous yank started off, he crowded between the knees of the cuadrilla of bullfighters, pushed aside Morales, and leaped through the door. Staggering from the precipitant leap, he made toward the girl, intending to lift and fling her into the moving train.

A man came between them.

"What do you do here?" cried this man sharply. "Back, into the coach!"

The American recognized Jacinto Quesada. He tried to fling past him. A huge long-barreled revolver showed in the bandolero's hand.

"Back, you, into your coach!" cried Quesada once again. "And you, you dog of a Frenchman! Quick! enter! or I will shoot you through the fat of your breeches!"

Swiftly the Frenchman went. He dashed after the moving coach, caught up with it and flung himself headlong in upon the floor. Then he pulled himself to his feet again, went over to the open door, and banged it shut.

The American did not budge.

"But the girl!" he shouted. He drove at the bandolero. Quesada dodged his fist. He reversed the revolver in his hand and swiftly crashed it butt-first down upon the American's forehead.

The American reeled back, stunned, falling. Quesada looked down the length of train moving up toward him; he saw another open-doored coach rattling near. Suddenly stooping, he tackled at the legs of the American, lifted him bodily into the air, and flung him back upon the floor of the open, moving coach. The American never knew how he boarded that train no more than he would had he been a soulless sack of barley!

All over sweat and panting deeply, Jacinto Quesada turned to Felicidad.

"Come; I must take you with me," he said to her, "to my mother in Minas de la Sierra. We will send back the purse to your father. We will tell him the true story of events. Depend upon it, my Felicidad, he will forgive you, he will relent. Until he does that, however, my mother will take care of you, and I will be your guardian angel, besides." He could not prevent a smile. And he added, "A sinful and thieving sort of guardian angel, but one strong to protect you, you may be sure of that! Come! Up on my horse!"

He swung her up upon his Manchegan pony. Before her, he mounted. He dug his heels in the pony's sleek mouse-colored barrel. They started away.

"Hold tight with your little hands, my Felicidad!" he remarked. "It will be fast riding for quite awhile."

"Ah, thankfully I go with you, Jacinto!" she said, after a little, despite the unevenness and hardship of their fast pace. "Jacques Ferou whispered to me that he would show me, once we got to Madrid, how the Apaches, the depraved criminals of Paris, treat those women who to them are unfaithful!"

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