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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 14331

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


After they had garnished their stomachs with the puchero, they sat brooding around the three fires, the girl, Felicidad, and Jacinto and his three ruffians. The Gypsy lad with the shirt open to the waist and the yellow sash brought out his battered accordion again and played upon it for their entertainment.

He made it scream and exult obscenely; he made it lament like a fallen angel. He made it sing wild and wanton songs of Gypsy love; he made it chant of Gypsy treachery and Gypsy chiromancy. When you heard its uncouth and haunting assonances, you believed in the Evil Eye, the Querelar nasula; in the Hokkano Baro, the Great Trick; and even in the Chiving Drao, that sorcery by which the Gitanos cause horses to become sick and glandered, and swine to die as suddenly as if poisoned. In short, you believed all you ever had heard of the strange doings of the Zincali!

The hours fled by. Those about the fires grew sleepy. One by one, the Gypsy wenches withdrew into their tents. Then the girl Paquita spoke to Felicidad and led her away. They lay down to sleep that night-the highborn young lady and the girl of common Gypsy clay-in a certain wagon of the Gitanos. To that wagon came Jacinto Quesada and his three dorados, a short time later, and upon the open sward before it, threw themselves, their ponchos wrapped around them to protect them from the night cold and dew.

After breakfast next morning, Quesada talked long and earnestly with Pepe Flammenca.

"You had best remain in camp, at least this morning," advised the Gypsy count. "Up above, there is going to be a great monteria, and there will be many men upon the mountains. Some one may see the Senor Don Jacinto and report it to the police."

"It is good, friend Pepe. And the other matter?"

Flammenca called aloud in the Gypsy gerigonza. Instantly followed a scene of extraordinary liveliness and interest. Flammenca, Quesada, Perez, Ignacio Garcia, and Estrada sat cross-legged on the grass. Flammenca's Gypsy lads led before them, first the horses of Quesada and his dorados, and then the three- and four-year-olds attached to the Gypsy caravan. There was a great chaffering; the various points of the horses were appraised enthusiastically and with minute care. It was an impromptu horse fair. Wherever found, whether in Spain, England, Russia, Hungary, or the United States, the true Gypsy is an expert chalan or horse trader.

When all the bargaining was over, Quesada and his dorados discovered they had not got off second best. They had acquired five new horses, unfatigued and glossy coated after a fortnight in the barranca. Their own jaded animals had come into the possession of Flammenca and his bucks.

"It would please the young lady who rides with us," said Quesada to the Gypsy chieftain, "if she could change her attire for something more suited to the saddle."

"My Paquita will attend to the matter," returned Flammenca. "Let them go together into one of the tents and find out whether their clothing be fit to barter and whether their two pretty shapes are mates."

The girl, Paquita, had been hovering about Jacinto Quesada all the morning. At breakfast, she had anticipated his every desire, waiting on him with silent devotion. Continually she kept her great dusky eyes upon him, following him everywhere he went with a gaze abject and doglike in its utterness of adoration.

Now, Quesada drew forth a packet of tissue papers and a pouch of tobacco, of a sudden and altogether unexpectedly, she stooped above him and seized the papers and tobacco from his hands. Looking fixedly into his astonished eyes, she rolled a cigarette, wetting the edges with her lips. Then she handed the papelito to him, made a long obeisance, and turned away.

Her father chuckled and gave her the word to take Felicidad apart and find her fit riding clothes. She withdrew, looking over her shoulder at Quesada with passionate Gypsy eyes.

Sometime later, she and Felicidad came out of the tent into which they had vanished, and Felicidad wore a brown jacket and a brown bisected riding skirt, both rather the worse for wear, and Paquita was completely attired in Felicidad's green traveling dress. The Gypsy girl looked very charming in the more conventional attire, what of her nut-brown skin and dye-black hair against the contrasting green.

She walked about the clearing with the grace of a she-leopard, continually smoothing the tight, revealing skirt over her hips, and rearranging and patting her hair which she had put up in imitation of Felicidad. Preening herself thus, she smiled often in a frank and childlike pleasure in herself. But there were no men about to admire her.

Quesada's dorados had gone behind the wagons to currycomb and further polish their new horses. The Roms, every last dishevel-headed and swarthy-faced lad, had left the camp immediately after the conclusion of the horse trading. Led by Pepe Flammenca, they had stalked silently up the barranca, their Mausers and Mannlichers couched tenderly in their arms.

They were bound for the heights above the barranca. There, in the tag-end mountains of the Sierra Morena, a great monteria, or mountain drive, was under way that day. Senor D. Pablo Lario de Quinones was the host. He was a rich Catalan who had made his millions in the cork industry. He had purchased two or three of the mountains for a sporting estate, and in one of the higher passes he had erected a shooting box. It was the only habitation within miles, for he had ousted the few native mountaineers from their landholds.

Among his guests for this particular monteria were many Spanish notables, high and mighty ones of Letters, the State, and the Church, as well as several foreign ambassadors and their attachés. The Duke of Fernan Nu?ez, the Duke of Medinaceli, the Marquis of Viana, the Conde de Agrela, the Marquesa de Manzanedo, Colonel Barrera and Senor D. I. L. de Ybarra were among the crack guns invited.

Lario de Quinones had his own pack of podencos, or hunting dogs-a recoba of about forty dogs. But, as is the custom of the sporting gentry of Spain, certain of his guests-the Duke of Fernan Nu?ez, the Conde de Agrela, and Colonel Barrera-had brought with them their own packs of podencos and their own huntsmen, to reinforce De Quinones' pack and make the drive a more stupendous affair.

Now, Pepe Flammenca and his Gypsy lads were arrant trespassers on the hunting grounds of the grandees. Should the mountaineers who served as beaters and extra huntsmen come upon them in the brushwood, they would thrash them unmercifully and drive them out of the mountains at the points of their guns. But Pepe Flammenca and his bucks were hardened and desperate poachers. It was their plan to skulk along the line of the drive and to hide themselves in thickets near the armada or firing line of gentlemen sportsmen; and should a wounded stag come bounding toward their places of concealment, it would be most swiftly killed and most swiftly borne away to their camp.

A head or two of game would not be missed, nor a rifle report away to one side cause much sensation in all that great to-do

of the monteria. To drown the sound of the poachers' guns, there would be the baying and tinkling of bell-carrying dogs, the trumpeting of huntsmen upon their caracolas, the shooting of blank cartridges to announce that some game-beast had been jumped, the crashing of beaters through the thorny cistus, and the running reports of magazine rifles along the rayas or open rides.

After the poaching Gypsies had gone on their quest, Quesada sauntered down to the brook. Here, where an arcade of oleanders shaded a tiny white beach, he seated himself upon a huge stone above a pool. He busied with watching the trout in the riffles and with spying upon two water shrews that swam beneath the surface of the slack water, and dipped and dived, seeking everywhere for food. For something like half an hour, these velvety-black little creatures engrossed Quesada's attention. Then, as pebbles tinkled down near at hand, he looked up to see the girl Paquita coming down the bank.

She seated herself beside him on one end of the stone, swinging her bare brown feet above the pool.

"You have not said that I look very pretty in this green Spanish dress," she said at length. "But that is your thought, is it not? It would not be difficult for me to be the proud and aristocratic lady, eh, man? But I would rebel if I must wear shoes! I think my sun-burnt little feet are prettier naked as they are!"

Quesada smiled and continued to smoke his cigarette.

She leaned her body against the bole of the tree behind, and clasped her hands behind her head, and thoughtfully regarded him. After a time, she said:

"Tell me, caballero of my soul-tell me, have you ever loved a Gypsy girl, a brown, soft-cooing maiden of the Zincali who was sugar and wine to kiss, and velvet and Filipino silk to caress?"

No, Jacinto Quesada had not.

"It is not too late, intrepid one, to make amends! Any Gypsy wench would be most glad to have you for a lover. Even a Gypsy count's daughter, even the loveliest Gypsy maid in all the Spains, would not be too proud to cling to your kisses, Busno though you be! Don Jacinto, I-I-Paquita-could love you, and no trouble at all!"

Persistently, he watched the water shrews in the runlet.

"Am I not prettier than she?"

"Of whom do you speak?"

"This highborn lady, this slow-blooded and cold aristocrat-she who is as pale as a sickly lily, as slender and ungraceful as a growing boy-this Felicidad!"

"I would not say she is too slender, Paquita; I would not say she is too pale! It is only that her sort of beauty does not please you, because it is not the Gypsy kind with which you are familiar."

"It is not that, Don Jacinto! I have seen her unclothed, I have seen her costumed only in her alabaster skin. There she stood in as much loveliness as the Senor Don Dios had thought fit to give her. And I looked her up and down with a woman's eye. Chachipe! the wench had nothing of fascination and beauty about her that I have not! She is young, yes, and soft, yes, and smooth of skin, and somewhat gracefully shaped. But she is at least three years older than I, and she is no more a woman, no better rounded. My breasts are as fully blossomed and alluring! My-"

"Paquita, you are indiscreet!"

"Indiscreet? I, a Gypsy girl, indiscreet? Don Jacinto, we Gitanas are never indiscreet! A kiss or two, an errant arm about the waist, or a hand upon the breasts-what of that? An uncovered bosom, a shapely leg bared to the knee-there is little evil in that. But if you venture too far, if you touch upon our honor, thinking that we and honor to each other are strangers-Tate! you will find a dirk has nosed its way between your ribs!"

She laughed mockingly, showing her fine white Gypsy teeth.

"Am I indiscreet in speaking as I did about this girl of the Busne? Did I not undress and dress her with my own hands?"

"But you need not tell these things to me. I think her beautiful to death!"

"Oh, you cannot love her!"

"Love her? I do not know."

"Ah, but if you once turned your eyes upon poor wistful me-chachipe! you would soon know whether you loved me! I would make you hunger for me like a famished wolf, I would make your blood race and burn! When I danced the jota, or the Romalis, or merely moved languorously about, you would suffer all the thirsty bitterness of hell, all the exalted sweets of heaven!"

Jacinto Quesada looked away.

"But I do not desire to love you, Paquita."

"Si, si; but ah, if you only would! Could you not love me only a little-you who are so proud and courageous, you who are so strong and absolute?"

Jacinto Quesada turned his head and plunged his austere glance into her deep yearning eyes.

"Paquita," he said, not coldly, but without any weakness of pity, "it is because I am strong and absolute that I cannot love you. When your eye caresses me with its look, your tongue with its subtle flattery, my masculinity rebels at the thought of being wooed by a woman; I am revolted, sickened! Fling your soul with the same impetuosity and passion to some Gypsy lad, and he may love you; but I-no, never I!"

She groaned aloud, knowing full well that he spoke a primitive truth. But she could not help yearning toward him, her face bloodless with desire.

Said he, "If you would but flee away from me, or shudder when your glance meets mine, or even treat me with disdain and coldness, perhaps then-who knows? But I must be the predatory one, the seeker, the stalker! Else I cannot love."

He made as if to rise. But before he could get upon his feet, she leaped up and bent above him and kissed him full upon the lips. Then swiftly and blindly she fled.

Once she had gone, Quesada did not bestir himself. He sat gazing morosely into the limpid tarn below his rock.

From a great distance, from away up in the mountains, there dropped down vaguely to his ears the ringing note of a pack of hounds in full cry. Came also, every little while, the bark of rifles remote and far. Quesada gave no heed to these sounds. All through the morning, the mountain airs had wafted through the barranca vagrant notes of this same refrain.

Very suddenly, however, Quesada heard, from much nearer at hand, the voices of men shouting and hallooing. He heard his own name called. The voices drew nearer. The shouting men were in the barranca itself; they were noisily proceeding through the rattling underwood. He heard them on the path above his nook by the pool, still calling his name. He did not lift his voice in reply, nor even turn his head. But suddenly, from the bushes within touch of his hand and right behind his head, a voice spoke out, sharply, peremptorily:

"Aupa, Don Jacinto! There is no time to be lost. Already they are entering the gateway to this barranca!"

Looking over his shoulder, Quesada saw, no more than a yard in the rear and peering through a hole in the bushes, an uncouth disheveled face like the face of a satyr or faun-the Gypsy-eyed, bronzed, and grizzle-bearded face of Pepe Flammenca.

"Of whom do you speak?" asked the bandolero.

Answered Pepe Flammenca; "Of Manuel Morales and his fantastic cabalgadores!"

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