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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 10271

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"What do you do here, Quesada?" asked Pepe Flammenca.

Quesada ignored the question.

"Tell me," he said, "how long have you been encamped in this spot?"

"Four of our wagons have been here a fortnight. But three that had been delayed on the way joined us in this spot only this afternoon. I and my daughter, Paquita, came with the vanguard."

"There is a singular troop of cabalgadores somewhere upon the plains," remarked Quesada, studiously regarding him. "They are nine-all strangers to the countryside. They are led by a man known from end to end of Spain, the redoubtable espada, Manuel Morales. Two among them are outlanders; the one a Frenchman, the other an American.

"I seek news of them, Count. Perchance you may have encountered them in traversing the high parameras of La Mancha? Perchance you may have entertained them with a puchero in your encampment here?"

"Neither have I bespoke them nor have I had sight of them," returned Pepe Flammenca with great certitude.

"No? But of course not! It is only four days ago that they first enterprised abroad. However, the wagons of your caravan that just came up to-day will surely have some word of them. These cabalgadores of Manuel Morales are an uncommon looking lot; some of them are outfitted in the full ring regalia of bullfighters; and the bright reds, greens and yellows of their costumes have caused the vaqueros and herders, who chanced across their path, to become puzzled and amazed and extravagantly talkative. Then, too, they bristle with Mausers and Mannlichers, and are heavily weighted with bandoleers in which cartridges are as thick as teeth in a man's mouth.

"Small wonder, Pepe Flammenca, that tongues have wagged and legends been fabricated-Morales and his men are nine of the most outlandish cabalgadores ever seen in these parts; they are nine Quixotes, as fantastic looking and out of place upon La Mancha as was the Ingenious Gentleman himself! Myself, I had word of them borne me across the wastes by a dozen different arrieros, and by the hard-riding horseboys of certain innkeepers of my acquaintance.

"It is strange, but I, and I alone, know on what business they ride. But then, I am the man they seek-I, Jacinto Quesada! But, Count, you are not making any inquiries among the men of the three wagons that joined you to-day. Do so at once!"

"There is no need, Don Jacinto. Already I have asked questions of them."

"But, man, you have not budged a foot! Carajo! do you think to trifle with Jacinto Quesada?"

"God forbid, no!" returned the gigantic Gypsy hastily. "But I speak the truth, Senor Quesada-already have I made inquiries among my men for news of this Morales and his cabalgadores. Don Jacinto, it may surprise you, but others have been here no more than an hour ago seeking news of this selfsame Morales and his fantastic troop. They were two men of the Guardia Civil and-"

"Hola! Two Guardias Civiles? And no more than an hour ago? When they left you, which way did they ride?"

"Right on up the barranca-towards the mountains-and they did not stop for food."

Jacinto Quesada, keeping the Gypsy chieftain transfixed with his eye, raised his voice so that it carried all through the clearing and even out to the shadows beyond:

"Carajo! they were here, eh? Two Guardias Civiles-and they went right on up the barranca!"

At once and silently, two of the cabalgadores waiting in the shadows moved off up the dark defile. It was as though they were play-actors hidden in the wings of a stage, and the loudly shouted words of Jacinto Quesada were to them an awaited signal, a cue to be immediately obeyed.

"What do you desire of us, Don Jacinto?" asked Flammenca of Quesada, without seeming to notice his change of voice.

"Food."

"Sit down and eat. You are most welcome."

"Do you think Jacinto Quesada will be satisfied with your leavings and the leavings of your brats and wenches? Besides, there is not enough stew left to satisfy my stomach. I have the appetite of three men."

He looked at Flammenca a long moment, then added, "And again, I have a following of four cabalgadores who will be here shortly. Their stomachs must be well garnished. They have ridden hard and steadily these last four days."

"Any you bring with you are most welcome here, Senor Quesada, my friend. Are not the Gypsies forever the friends of outlaws?"

"One of those who will come will be a lady, a gentle highborn lady-"

"Tell her to come forward out of the shadows, man! Why keep her waiting outside the clearing because of your foolish distrust of us? We Gypsies mean no treachery by you or yours, ley tiro solloholomus opre lesti-you may take your oath on that!"

The two men looked at each other for a long minute. Then Jacinto Quesada, in perfectly good grace, turned his head and called, "Forward, my Felicidad!"

She came forth, the golden-haired girl, riding a tobacco colored mare of the small but hardy Manchegan breed. She looked very proud and highborn and lonely, as she walked her horse slowly toward them.

"You are safe from all harm here, madama," said Flammenca, bowing

low. "Rest yourself and soon you will eat. My own daughter, Paquita, will serve you. We are your good friends even as we are the good friends of Jacinto Quesada."

Very courteously, he helped her dismount.

Just then sounded, very suddenly, the hoot of the eagle owl. It came from up the barranca. As it vibrated sharply between the steep high walls of the canyon, Flammenca turned and looked at the young bandolero, cocking his ears the while. Quesada, in the act of dismounting, paused also and listened. The sound came again, a singular bird note, not much the ordinary hoot of an owl, but more a growl and something of a gruff scream.

Pepe Flammenca strode quickly to Quesada's side.

"The men you sent up the canyon after the Guardias Civiles have returned, I see," he said. "Call them in! You are overwary of me and my people, Don Jacinto. Such caution is commendable in most circumstances, but not when you deal with the Zincali. Trust us, Quesada; we will not betray you! Have we not for hundreds of years been outlaws hunted like wolves? Do you think the men of the Guardia Civil look upon us as their allies? We of the Zincali are thieves, and we honor you for being a greater thief than we. No reward the police of Spain can offer would make us prove false to you and yours!"

A long silence followed. Again Jacinto Quesada looked steadily into Flammenca's eyes and strove to read the soul of the man.

"Very well!" he said at length. He raised his carbine aloft and fired it into the air.

Briskly his three dorados, Rafael Perez, Ignacio Garcia, and Pio Estrada, rode into the clearing. It was noticeable then, in the light from the replenished fires, that no one of them was laden with the plunder from the hold-up of the Seville-to-Madrid. The chances were that they had left the telltale sacks of mail and conglomerate loot in the posada of some protecting cacique, or buried them between the concrete feet of some windmill, or cached them between the boulders in some gully in the foothills.

The three dismounted. With gratification they shook out their saddle-cramped limbs. Jacinto Quesada led his own horse and that of Felicidad over to one of the wagons and picketed them to a wheel. As he did, a nut-brown chit of a girl came and stood before him.

"You are that arrogant and absolute one, Jacinto Quesada!" she asked with rising inflection.

Jacinto Quesada nodded without speaking. The Gypsy girl looked at him in a way that gave him a singular feeling. Boldly she measured him with her eyes, appraised him. Her glance was at once inquisitive, prying, annoying, and yet ardent and approving. She had, too, the strange slow stare peculiar to persons of the Gypsy race, that fixed uncouth look that makes one feel much as if one were being hypnotized by a serpent.

"You are very young to be a bandolero," she remarked, half to herself.

Once again Quesada nodded without speaking.

"You are altogether unlike the bandoleros I have seen."

"It is the deed, senorita," said Quesada. "The deed makes us bandoleros-not the length of our limbs nor the cast of our faces."

"But you are very handsome!" she said. "You are as handsome as the very Hyperion himself!"

Surprised at the ardor with which she said these words, Quesada looked at her with a more curious interest. Small but oddly statuesque, a superbly shaped figurine in her close-clinging calico dress of glowing vermilions and blazing saffrons, she stood with head ecstatically upraised toward him, her dusky eyes radiant with admiration. She thrilled a little toward him, her olive bosom undulating deeply and slowly.

"Who are you, child?" he asked.

"Paquita. I am the daughter of Pepe Flammenca."

Without comment, he made to return to the group about the fires. But she stayed him with a hand upon his arm.

"Tell me," she asked, panting with eagerness; "have you murdered many men on the mountains and on the plains?"

"Carajo, no! No man have I killed as yet, though I have battled with many," returned Quesada, wounded in his manhood. "I am but a simple Moor, not a ferocious beast that lusts to slay."

"But you are magnificent with pride and courage!"

"I love the fierce ecstasy of the running fight, the hand-to-hand skirmish! But there is little cold murder, know you, in my bowels. Now, leave me, ninita!"

Impatiently, he thrust her hand from his arm and started away. But she put herself before him, and once again uplifted her face and bathed him in the gaze of her ardent eyes. And she cried, her voice tremulous with a kind of passion:

"Don Jacinto, I have never before met any one like you! You are bold and imperious, you are savage and mighty, but you are not weakly cruel! And ah, you are handsome-handsome as the very Hyperion himself!"

She suddenly burst into tears and fled away. Quesada looked after her, perturbed, amazed, and sorely puzzled. Her conduct was altogether inexplicable. But the underwood hid her from further sight. He shrugged his shoulders as one who should say, "She is only a Gypsy, poor thing!" and returned to the fires. His meal awaited him.

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