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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 20891

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The two were Spaniards. They wore the uniform of the Guardia Civil, and they rode hairy, vigorous little police ponies. They had been in the saddle since daybreak, persistently pushing southward. The cobs were dog-weary but as steady-paced as machines of clockwork; the men were hunched of shoulder, heavy-headed, their faces coated with a gray-brown powder of dust.

They drew rein atop a naked hummock in the immensity of sand and ilex and thorny acacia. At the hip of the younger and taller of the two was slung a pair of binoculars. The one, and then the other, trained these glasses upon the rolling, everlasting veldt and swept the horizon round, their scrutiny long, patient, and searching.

All the long morning and the longer, more dreary afternoon, they had seen upon the endless despoblado only half-wild cattle and half-wild asses, and an occasional high-soaring falcon or an ugly, three-foot-long eyed-lizard. And this time was not the first time they had paused to peer through the binoculars; they had paused often, and then continued on without remark. Now, however, as he put back the glasses in their leather sheath, the younger policeman rather bitterly said:

"There is no one abroad upon La Mancha. Not even a solitary salteador de camino hiding out from us of the Guardia Civil."

"Yet I tell you, Miguel-most surely are they out there somewhere!" returned his compa?ero; vehemently dissenting. "How could they have attained, so soon, to the Sierra Morena ahead-I ask you that!"

Touching their ponies with their barbed heels, they enterprised once more upon the long traverse. There was a terrible sun that day, a sun African in the ferocity of its passion. The sun glare tortured their eyes. It caused their lacquered three-cornered police hats, made of shiny patent leather, to reflect and flash like the mirrors of a heliograph. The men sweated until they were as dry as cinders and could sweat no more.

In the more subdued glare of the late afternoon, the two came at length to the brown rolling foothills toward which they had been making throughout the whole hideous day. The foothills billowed away, in undulations rising even higher and higher, until finally they became part of a distant and purple alpland of massive and lofty peaks-the exalted spires and crags of the Sierra Morena.

As their jaded ponies took doggedly the initial rise, the younger and taller of the two policemen-he called Miguel-drew from his breast a yellow paper on which was mimeographed a copy of a typewritten telegram. He commenced to read aloud.

The great Manuel Morales-his full cuadrilla-an American, the Senor Don John Fremont Carson, and a Frenchman, name unknown. It is especially important that you discover news of the American, Carson; he is a millionaire and of high social position in his own country. Both the American Ambassador and the Bank of Spain desire to ascertain his whereabouts, his reason for carrying such a large sum of money upon his person, and his purpose in setting off into the wilderness. The Bank of Spain is also much interested in the well-being of Manuel Morales, for he also withdrew a large account by telegraph before disappearing from sight.

The nine men left the Seville-to-Madrid at Alcazar de San Juan, four days ago, secured horses and enough provisions to last them a week and, traveling together, rode southward towards the Sierra Morena. They were well-armed, having bought carbines and automatic pistols from the Jewish cacique of Alcazar, Dicenta. They told no one their errand. They took no guides.

You of the Guardia Civil, find them and give them escort. Report all information to me-Echegaray, Ministro de Gobernacion.

He looked up now, the young smooth-faced policeman who had been reading, and turned his handsome head to gaze back over the long monotony of purgatorial desert. It was the words, scribbled in ink in a strong hand and added like a postscript or annotation to the telegraphed instructions, which he went on to read aloud now:

They are somewhere in Ciudad Real or Jaen. The country they are traversing is lawless and sparsely-populated, a country infested with ladrones, among whom the most notable is the notorious Quesada.

Spain will never forgive us if any harm should come to the great Morales. And we must answer to the American Ambassador should this John Fremont Carson be not safeguarded. The Constabulary will please give its most careful attention to the search.-Alvarez, Captain-General of the Guardia Civil for the District.

Putting the yellow paper back in the breast of his tight blue jacket faced with red, the younger policeman, Miguel, rode on up the slope beside his compa?ero?-a squat, fiercely mustached and apelike fellow.

"Pascual," he asked presently, "would you know that magnificent one, Morales, should you meet him face to face-"

"Seguramente, yes! Have I not watched him murder a thousand bulls?"

Then, thoughtfully, the apelike one added:

"Once we chance upon their spoor, once we scent them from afar, it should be a most simple matter for us of the Guardia Civil to run down these fools-errant of Manuel Morales. We know these plains and foothills; they do not. And they are a large troop and must make a great to-do of noise and dust whenever they move about. It is not as though we seek a bandolero riding alone, friend Miguel. A bandolero riding alone is a very fox to catch!"

"Ah, that Jacinto Quesada!" ejaculated the other with boyish enthusiasm. "Is not he the crafty lizard, the sly tricky one? He has given us more work to do than any twenty other lawbreakers in Spain. If Morales and his fools-errant-as you call them, Pascual-conceal their movements but half so well as does he, we will be chasing will-o'-the-wisps for the next hundred years! But, by the way, Pascual, could you describe Jacinto Quesada to me?"

The older man pondered.

"That is most difficult," he said at length, chewing in a ruminating manner one end of his black mustache. "He is of the Sierra Nevada, this Quesada; he is not a native of La Mancha. Few men hereabouts could describe him, I think; he does not go abroad much to fiestas and wedding feasts, since he took to the highroads, you know. And the few folk that have met him since he became a bandolero have been too frightened to note well what he looked like. But I have been told by a paisano of his, a serrano of the Sierra Nevada, that he looks very much like me, myself!"

That last was said with downright pride. The policeman, Pascual, did not even take trouble to conceal his vain pleasure in the thought, his flattered conceit in himself. He sat a little straighter in the saddle and, with self-conscious braggadocio, fingered his black mustache, looking about him fiercely the while.

He was squat, broadly uncouth of shoulder, prognathous jawed-an ugly apelike sort. There was something bestially predatory in the simian look of him which the black mustache rather heightened than detracted from. He did not resemble any of his immediate progenitors who had been men of Aragon and Guardias Civiles every one. More he resembled, perhaps, certain Miquelets and reclaimed brigands from whose loins his line had originally sprung. He did not look at all like Jacinto Quesada!

The youthful Civil Guard eyed the apelike Pascual a moment, and then derisively laughed.

"That is strange," he said, with a sneer. "Certain Gypsies of my acquaintance have seen Quesada in the mountains and on the plains. Outlaws such as he often repair to the Gitanos when hard-pressed, you know; the Gypsies look upon them as blood-brothers, for the Gypsies are all thieves. And it is strange, Pascual, but these Gypsies of my acquaintance have told me that I was the living image of Jacinto Quesada. He is very young, they say, little more than a boy even, and he is tall and smooth-shaven and handsome, indeed, very much like me!"

Youthful, tall, smooth of face and very handsome was, indeed, that policeman called Miguel. He was lean, supple and gallant looking as a sword of Toledo.

"Fools and children tell the truth," returned the apelike Pascual, quoting an old Spanish proverb. Then, barbing it with a sting of his own making, he added: "But Gitanos, never!"

Surlily, he rode on ahead, the while the other slid down from his horse and ran in pursuit of his shiny leather police hat which was tumbling in a quick succession of flip-flops down the hill. He had knocked it from his own head inadvertently when, while talking, he had raised the binoculars to his eyes for another look back over La Mancha.

After a short erratic chase, Miguel retrieved his recalcitrant headgear; but, strangely, he did not return immediately to the saddle. Instead, stooping low, he stood motionless near the place where he had picked up the hat, peering down as at a nugget of gold half hidden in the dust and grass. Then, becoming altogether inexplicable in his actions, he went scurrying off up the slope at a tangent, his body bent far forward, his head turned toward the ground, and his face sharp and pale with excitement and expectancy.

"Caspita!" he was heard by Pascual to mutter. "Caspita!"-"Wonderful! Wonderful!"

Every so often, he halted and stooped lower, crouching almost to the very ground. It was as though, each time, he discovered something of sober interest to him and paused to examine that something.

Pascual followed him with puzzled and astounded eyes. At last, as the curious performance persisted, he called out, "Dios hombre! what ails you, man?"

His face flushed, his eyes smiling with triumph, the youthful and handsome Miguel came back to the spot where he had started his mysterious shadow-dance up the hillside.

"Pascual Montara!" he called. "This way, quick!"

As the other trotted his pony over, he pointed a finger to the ground before him and said, "Do you see that which I see, Pascual?"

"Seguramente, yes."

"What is it, then?"

"Carajo, Miguel! it is only a handful of grass, plucked and left in a tiny hillock by some one."

"Bueno! But who plucked it, then, and left it in a heap upon the ground?"

"Zut! How should I know? Who is it plucks grass, anyway?"

The young policeman seemed to take joy in the r?le of Grand Inquisitor. He smiled a superior smile and moved on a few feet, and then again halted.

"And this-what is this?" he demanded, pointing before him once more.

"You buffoon, you-what game are you playing with me? It is only another hillock of plucked grass, as any fool can see!"

"And this?" The Grand Inquisitor had moved on another couple of yards.

"I shall call it a mountain, an it please you better. The Devil take you and your little hills of grass, Miguel Alvarado!"

"And this?" Once again the policeman with the superior smile had moved on up the hillside. But this time he did not point at any hillock of dead herbage.

"That? Why, that is only a cross made by two sticks that have fallen by chance one upon the other."

"Which way does the longest arm point, Pascual?"

"Straight up and down the slope."

"Muy bueno! I have pointed out everything to you, then. Chew upon what you have seen, Spaniard!"

He returned to his horse, mounted and started on. The apelike Pascual, his face a study in curiosity, drew alongside.

"You have asked me a lot of questions, Miguel Alvarado," he said. "Now I will thank you a thousand times if you will explain your great mystery away."

"Great mystery-za! It is only because you are a lunkhead that you perceive any great mystery here. There are Gitanos encamped in the hills ahead, that is all!"

"Did those hillocks of plucked grass spell out that for you?"

"Yes; and the crossed sticks, also. The hillocks and the crossed sticks are the Gypsies' trail-what they call their patteran. They leave them in their wake that their brethren, who have lagged behind, may be guided by them to the meeting-place."

"Y pues?" grunted Pascual. "Well, and what of that? It is a matter of no moment to me. But hola! why turn your horse to the right?"

"I am going to the camp of the Zincali. They may have word of these men we seek. Should they have seen Morales and the rest upon the plains, or even have heard of their presence abroad, they will tell me such news as they have by chance acquired. Do not come with me, Pascual Montara, if you do not wish to."

Now, it is against all orders and precedent for one of the Spanish constabulary to go where his fellow goes not; the men of the Guardia Civil hunt forever in braces. The apelike Pascual grumbled, but loyally he followed his arrogant and imperious camarada.

Their horses topped the rise and, suddenly taking heart, entered briskly a tiny barranca set transverse between the hilltops. It was only a long gully or dingle, but it was cool and reposeful with wild olive and algarroba trees, white buckthorn, holly and arbutus. Through gutters strewn with moss-overgrown boulders, edged with rhododendrons and overarched by oleanders, raced down the whole length of it a glad, loud-chattering run of water.

Sighing their delight, the two surprised and pleasured policemen rode under an upstanding and ancient wild olive at its portal and plunged into the secret, beautiful place. Instantly a great flutter of butterflies of all sizes and colors lifted in spangled clouds about them.

"But the Gypsies may be a great way ahead in the hills!" grumbled Pascual filled with a hasty but mighty desire to linger in this barranca, smoking cigarettes and dreaming the moments away in the cool of some shady tree.

All on the moment, the youthful Miguel Alvarado was off his horse again. They were following a narrow, barely discernible trail up the canyon's deep long alley; along this trail he now ran, leading his pony by the bridle and looking ever to the left side. Soon he paused and looked back at Pascual Montara.

"The Gitanos have pitched their tents just beyond the first turn above," he announced.

"Hola! Have you seen more of their sign writing in grass-ricks and sticks?"

"Si, Pascual. Look well at the forked rod set upright in the soft loam to the left of the trail-one prong is broken off, the other points to the right. I knew, if it was here, it would be found to the left of the trail. It is a signpost only set up to guide night travelers. The Gitanos erected it here no more than an hour, or an hour and a half ago."

Pascual grunted noncommittally. But the younger man seemed possessed of a strange and febrile excitement.

"Let us bathe our faces and heads in the runlet," he suggested urgently. "It would be an error of strategy if we failed to look as gallant as possible when we ride into the camp of the Zincali. Besides, the Gypsy girls may not be overclean themselves, Pascual, but greatly they admire a Busno-a White-blood-with a face freshly laved and as handsome as yours or mine!"

"Za! The Gypsy wenches are all jades and strumpets!"

But he went, this surly Pascual Montara, and bathed his head in the brook. Puffing prodigiously, he mounted and rode on beside the other. Miguel Alvarado looked altogether the gay and haughty cavalier after his ablutions. Pascual could not help eyeing in admiration his camarada's lean, clean-cut youthful profile, his smooth, brown, handsome face. Alvarado's cheeks were tinged with red, his eyes bright and sparkling as though with some concealed but hopeful expectancy.

"You bristle with eagerness, senor caballero of my soul!" remarked Pascual slyly.

Miguel Alvarado shrugged his shoulders, but did not answer. Suspicion growing in his glance, the apelike one continued to eye him. Then, as if he were accusing his camarada of something rather to be ashamed of, he said pointedly:

"It is because Gypsies are so near, that you burn and bristle-is it not? You are enamored of them; they captivate you with their uncouth glamors; towards them you are drawn, eh?

"Ah, I understand now, Miguel, that which heretofore has made you seem mysterious in my eyes-your trick of reading cabalistic signs written in chalk on the stonework of bridges and the adobe of posadas and providencias; your trick of reading hillocks of grass and crosses of sticks placed beside the road; and your trick, too, of ordering your pony about in the thieves' Latin of the Gitanos. You are like so many other Moors of Andalusia, Miguel Alvarado. You are one of Los del Aficion-Those of the Predilection! I have guessed rightly, have I not?"

Miguel Alvarado shrugged his shoulders once again, and smiled his superior smile. Lightly, he remarked, "The Gypsy wenches are like she-leopards, soft and caressing of movement, but free and bold of eye. I cannot resist the lure in their golden glances."

The other snorted and spat disgustedly down into the watercourse. He drew a little away from Miguel Alvarado. After that, he rode on, through the gathering dusk, very much in the manner of a man companioned by one possessed of a demon-full of a certain respect but also full of reserve and caution. Scarcely could you say he became more at his ease, more the boon compa?ero and dorado. Was not the man he rode with one of Those of the Predilection?

In Spain, especially in Andalusia, there has long existed a large class of men given over utterly to a zest for Gitanos, their ways of life, their dances and their songs. These admirers of the Gypsies cannot shake off the fascination; they follow after the wandering Roms like the slaves of an evil eye; they cultivate the Cales, the Black Men of Zend, wherever met; they delight to watch the strange obscene dances of the Gypsy maids that are like nothing so much as writhings of snakes in an ecstasy of desire. These men are Those of the Predilection.

In the hushed and golden gloaming, they came at last, those two of the Guardia Civil, to a turning of the narrow canyon and then, beyond, to a Gypsy camp set in an opening among the trees. The brown tents were patched with rags of a hundred hues, and strings of rags, slovenly washed and as variegated, hung drooping and gathering smoke between the ridgepoles and the trees.

There were seven dusty dun wagons in a wide circle, and great huddles of gaunt and hungry dogs lazying about, and horses, foals, and burros coming and going at will among the trees. From the limbs of the trees dangled all manner of saddles, traces, and other odds and ends of harness. There were three fires sending black smoke and dancing sparks up into the lines of washing and the overarching greenery; and there were a dozen men and women, and three times that many children, postured about the fires and beneath the wagons.

"Alto à la Guardia Civil!" bellowed thunderously Pascual Montara, thinking to give the Gypsies a start with this dread call of the police.

The men about the fires did not move. The golden-skinned sloe-eyed women, stooped above the pots and kettles, looked up idly. Only the rabble of children seemed affrighted; they scurried away, those tousle-headed, chocolate-brown, ragged brats, some of even five and six years old stark naked, and hid themselves in the black insides of the wagons.

A young man, his shirt open to the waist, a yellow faja or scarf wound about his middle, was busily engaged with winding a battered accordion. It was outlandishly sweet under his hands. Nearby, a Gypsy woman of seventeen nursed a new-born bantling, her breast uncovered. A slim young girl leaned against the trunk of an algarroba, pensively brushing the calf of one nut-brown leg with the toes of the other. A man, tall, massive and nobly upright of port, got up from beside one of the fires and advanced slowly toward the two policemen on the edge of the clearing.

A red kerchief tightly bound his head, and he wore the leather slop of a blacksmith. He had a short, curly grizzled beard. What with his gigantic body, herculean shoulders, monolithic throat, and haughty, savagely beautiful head, he looked like some Byzantine emperor of the old Roman strain. He was sixty, but he had every appearance of being under forty-eight.

Even as the colossal one approached, Miguel Alvarado caught sight of the slim young nut-brown girl under the algarroba tree. He went deathly pale. He clutched at his throat, devouring her with his gaze. His eyes were like two hot pulsing embers.

"Go forward to meet this man, Pascual Montara," at length he stuttered. "His name is Pepe Flammenca. He is a Gypsy count and lords it over the clan encamped here. Find out what he knows of Morales and the others. Question him shrewdly; he may know much!"

Without realizing that Miguel Alvarado was not to follow, Pascual pressed forward obediently. Meanwhile, the other policeman turned his horse in between the trees, skirted the clearing, and approached the spot where the Gypsy girl stood.

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