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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 11663

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


After lumbering slowly across the rickety Arroyo Seco bridge, the Seville-to-Madrid swung eastward on its gleaming rails and pursued, across the desert uplands, a course parallel to that of the bandoleros. From the coach windows on one side, the passengers could see Rafael Perez, Ignacio Garcia, and Pio Estrada fleeing across the parched and tawny flat on their plunder-laden, loping Manchegan ponies. They were speeding for the distant gray and purple mountains.

A jump behind these worthies and rapidly overtaking them were Jacinto Quesada and the golden-haired girl. Distinctly the passengers could make out Felicidad and her kidnaper. And the sight was as a red muleta to a Miura bull.

A young bride stolen from her husband! A young girl abducted by highwaymen! That was she behind the last of the retreating bandoleros-see the flying green skirt, see the glint of her golden hair in the sun! They were taking her off with them, carrying her away into the savage mountains! Had there been no men among all those creatures in trousers scattered throughout the train-no men to rise in their masculinity and to sacrifice their lives if need be, but at all hazards to prevent this abominable crime?

Women screamed, and women prayed. Hideous visions rose before their eyes; visions of the bandoleros in some craggy retreat shaking dice for possession of the girl! One of the black-clad nuns fainted outright.

On its gleaming rails, the Seville-to-Madrid swerved once again. With distance, the fleeing horsemen grew small, smaller. They were little as bounding rabbits; then they were little as low-skimming birds. And then at last they lost themselves in the ocean of ilex and thorny acacia, the dun immensity of sand.

The Seville-to-Madrid had been under way for a full twenty minutes and was nearing the steel cantilever bridge over the river Zancura, when a man, lurching heavily and looking very sick, picked his steps slowly and cautiously along the footboard on the right side of the train-that footboard used by the train guards in going from compartment to compartment of the many-coached continental-style caravan, collecting tickets and locking the doors between stops. The man clung to door knobs, window jambs and window sills. And gradually he worked forward along half the length of the train.

At last he had progressed to a second-class coach that resounded with the voices of indignant and outraged men, that quivered and rang with bass and baritone curses in both Spanish and French. When he had closed in upon this coach, the man on the footboard smiled triumphantly, yanked open the door, and flung himself within.

For a space, it was not as though he had entered a crowded coach; it was as though he had flung himself into a surf of rolling breakers. Masses of words struck him with the velocity and flying weight of charging masses of water. He spread his feet, braced his shoulders and chest to the impacting masses of words, and waited.

The pounding tumulting seas crashed over him; he held his footing; they receded, drew back, ebbed away. Then, before the great zipizape of words could recommence, he held up his hands for silence. Silence was given him. He said:

"I am a Norte Americano, a Yanqui. In my country if a girl were kidnaped by bandits, quite well I know what we Yanquis would do. But this is Spain, not the United States. What are you Spaniards going to do?"

"What can we do, Senor Americano?" asked one of the cuadrilla of bullfighters, a banderillero by his dress. "We ask you that-what can we do?"

"Do not think it an everyday thing," spoke up the matador, Morales, "for blossoming girls to be stolen by Spanish highwaymen and carried off into the mountains. One reads about such happenings in the bizarre and romantic novels of the elder Dumas; but one does not think to see such things occur in real life.

"You would search far in our country's history for a parallel to this outrageous crime! José Maria. Diego Corrientes, Agua-Dulce and Visco el Borje left our women severely alone. They were simple-souled men of the people, risen against oppression. Even as would any humble and pious and hardworking labrador, so these bandoleros en grande feared God and public opinion. Right well they knew they could continue to exist as outlaws only by reason of the favor of Spanish public opinion, not to speak of the favor of God. And they set the fashion for future Spanish outlaws. They made the conventions by which all bandoleros are supposed to conduct themselves to-day. The bandoleros, just before this man Quesada, honored those conventions. El Vivillo and Pernales committed no crimes against Spanish women.

"Senor Americano, you may have noticed that we Spaniards accord our bandoleros a certain respect. Because they have been altogether masculine, varonil, and yet treated our womenkind with the utmost reverence, the bandoleros have wrung from us this esteem which amounts sometimes even to love.

"And even this Jacinto Quesada to-day! He treated me with great consideration, chatting pleasantly about his love of bullfighting and other very human things. And he struck me as being a bandolero of the splendid good old sort-the José Maria, the Visco el Borje sort! Why, he even asked after the health of my wife, Marta, and my two little ones! But now! To find out that he is a renegade, a damnable turncoat from the old bandolero code, an inhuman wretch, a despicable rapist-Porvida!"

Morales' boyishly rounded face flamed with anger and with a great deal more of shame.

"In my country," said the American, "should a man abduct a girl, a posse would be organized at once, the criminal pursued, brought to bay, and made to pay with his life for the crime. The posse would be composed of every rich man, poor man, beggar man and thie

f in the community, and it would never rest until its work was completely done and the girl brought safely back to her promised husband."

Three of the bullfighters spoke up at once.

"A posse? We have never heard of that!"

"Well, I come from the western part of the United States, and if you ever had lived there for even a short time, you could not be so blissfully ignorant. When I say a posse I mean a posse comitatus, which is a lawyer's term for the citizens who may be summoned to assist an officer in enforcing the law. My father was a pioneer in the State of California; he made his start in Inyo County mines and his millions in Bakersfield oil wells; and many's the story he has told me of quickly formed posses and their rapid, sure work. We would be forming a posse of a sort, if we all agreed to go after this Jacinto Quesada and bring back the girl."

One of the two yellow-costumed picadores was on his feet, his swarthy face ruddy with agitation and strong emotion.

"Then, in the name of Spanish womanhood, let us do that!" he cried. "I, Coruncho Lopez, the most superb picador in Spain, volunteer to be one of the posse!"

"And I, Alfonso Robledo, a banderillero as great as any!"

"And I-"

Suddenly, those about to volunteer became tongue-tied; the whole cuadrilla of bullfighters looked sheepish and confused. The youthful matador, Manuel Morales, had stepped before them, on his face a cold and contemptuous scowl.

"You are the peones of my cuadrilla," he said brutally, "and I am your maestro. You will do exactly that which I order you to do and nothing else! But, perhaps, you have forgotten the strict laws of discipline of our profession?"

Shamefaced and abject, the whole cuadrilla replied at once, "Forgive us, maestro. We await your orders."

Morales seemed to feel better after that. With the easy magnificence of a matador and maestro, he turned to the American.

"Senor Americano," he said, "I have become a successful and renowned espada only after years of hard work and vigilant heed to the duties of my profession. And now that I am the great Morales, I am as much a slave to my fame as any of my peones is the slave to me. In his offices in Seville sits my manager, the Senor Don Arturo Guerra, signing contract after contract; and these contracts I must fulfill, or lose much money and much prestige with the presidentes of bull rings and with the aficionados. Therefore, I must be discreet, circumspect, and full of forethought.

"Senor Americano, these peones have no franchise to speak for themselves. They are but my thoughtless, irresponsible children. If I did not rule them with a hand of iron, they would be off on a thousand wild escapades in a month! But one of them, just now, said a very splendid thing. 'In the name of Spanish womanhood,' he said, 'let us form of ourselves a posse!'

"Carajo! I am discreet, circumspect, and full of forethought as the great Morales should be, but my heart tells me those words are good words! My heart leaps with eagerness to be pursuing the despicable Jacinto Quesada in the name of Spanish womanhood!

"What are contracts! What is money! What is prestige, fame! Senor Americano, join out with me, and we will chase this scoundrel up and down the peninsula until we have bayed him down and brought back the girl! If you wish it, I will command my whole cuadrilla to come with us; but it is my own wish, that we two go alone and unencumbered. This same Jacinto Quesada who stole the girl called me one of the three bravest men in Spain. And he named himself as the second most brave man, and you as the third! Let us go then, we two brave men together! Two such as we are equal to a posse of a dozen common men!"

The blue-eyed American looked a little uncomfortable; he did not quite know how to take the matador's flamboyant words. But he answered, heartily enough:

"Sure I'll join out with you! My name is Carson-John Fremont Carson-and here's my hand on it! But better take the whole cuadrilla along with us. We two may be as wonderful as you say we are, but just the same, numbers count, and every man can do his little bit to get back the girl. And now-"

"In this posse I am included, too, of course!"

It was the Frenchman, Jacques Ferou. He, the one to all outward appearances most injured and aggrieved by Jacinto Quesada's outrageous conduct, had played little part in the proceedings up to this moment. But now, his tone was very peremptory and harsh, and he looked as if he meant business.

"Of course!"

"Por los Clavos de Cristo! we can't leave you out!"

The American produced a pencil and notebook.

"And now," he said, "to arrange the details. There will be horses needed, and provisions and guides and-"

"It will be mules in the mountains," said one bullfighter.

"Manchegan ponies are cheap," said another.

"We will need Mausers and revolvers, too," said a third. "We cannot conduct a man-hunt without weapons."

"But how will we finance the expedition?" asked the practical Frenchman. "Myself, I have not a franc, what you call a peseta. And I have no means of replenishing my rifled pockets!"

"Ah, then, it is for me to finance the expedition!" cried the matador, Morales. "I will telegraph to Seville when we get off at the next stop, and so much money will be sent me by Don Arturo, my manager, that you will be surprised, astounded! It is just that I should do this-I and my bullfighters make up the bulk of this troop; I am the most rich of you all."

"I don't know about that," said the American dryly. "Please allow me to go halves with you."

"Ah, I had forgotten; you Americans are all as rich as Monte Cristo. You and I will share the expense, then. We get off at the next stop and make our start after this Jacinto Quesada, do we not?"

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