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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 12710

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Hypnosis is an abnormal cerebral state that soon wears off. As one who wakes from a sleep or a spell, the girl Paquita now stretched her arms wide, blinked her eyes, and looked swiftly over her shoulders and this way and that.

Then slowly, her head bowed in thought, her brow knotted in a little puzzled frown, she walked to where lay rumpled on the sand her ocean-green Spanish gown. She slipped into it, returned, stamped into the beach the debris of the two images and then clambered up the rocks. She left the watercourse behind, and neared the camp of the Gitanos.

As she came through the trees that palisaded the clearing round, she heard her father's voice and answering voices that she never before had heard. She hesitated a moment, then crept forward quietly, almost to the edge of the line of trees. Her body hidden by a bush, she parted the screening foliage with her hands and looked out as through a little window.

Her father, Pepe Flammenca, known to the Gypsies as Flammenco Chorolengro, stood face to face with an oddly attired stranger and with him busily talked. The fantastic stranger was hardly thirty. He was a little below the middle height, had a long body and short muscular legs, and seemed all iron and strength.

He wore the black rosette and ribbons of a matador in his coleta, his queue-that long, thick, and sacred lock of hair all bullfighters wear as the time-honored insignia of their ancient profession. His brown Andalusian face was the typical young bullfighter's face-boyish, almost effeminate with its mild contours. Upon his hands he wore riding gloves. Over the shoulders of his short, gold-braided green jacket were slung bandoleers crowded with cartridges. On a belt about his waist hung a revolver and a sheathed knife. The pink silk stockings that clad his legs were almost concealed by a pair of riding-boots of Cordovan horsehide.

Addressing Pepe Flammenca, he said, "A hundred times, in the last four days, we have lost our way on the plains. And now we are about to assault the defiles and goat paths of the Sierra Morena. We must have a guide. You know the mountains; agree to guide us at your own price!"

Behind him, standing in various attitude of attention, was a whole background of men in oddly assorted costumes. When he spoke, they all nodded assent like a Greek chorus, and remarked, "Si, si!" Evidently, the young matador was their spokesman.

"I cannot," Pepe Flammenca answered; "I must stay here. I am the chief of this clan and must remain with my own people. But there is another Gitano somewhere about the camp. To replenish our stock of wild meat, the others went early away, but he and I stayed behind to look after the horses and foals. With my permission, he can guide you. He knows the Sierra Morena thoroughly. I will call him."

Pepe Flammenca turned round, cupped his hands about his mouth and bellowed, "Aguilino!"

Came forth from behind the wagons, another man whom Paquita had never laid eyes on before.

He was clean-shaven, and brown as a mulatto. He wore the corduroy leggings of a Gypsy and a red-striped shirt, and in true Zincali fashion, his head was wrapped tightly with a red kerchief. Where his left eyebrow once had been, was a hideous yellow scar that curved down as far as the cheek bone. What with his harsh and evil features and his mulatto-mahogany skin, this yellow scar gave him an altogether villainous look. In his left hand, he held a currycomb.

As the man approached, Pepe Flammenca turned to another of the strangers and remarked:

"When you first accosted me, after dismounting, you asked me for news of the bandolero, Jacinto Quesada. Three times you asked me, and three times I gave you the same reply. I was most truthful, but you were not assured. You showed me a hand in which lay five gold coins. You thought I had clenched my tongue between my teeth for some good reason, and the sight of the red metal would make me loosen it. But even your tempting golden Alfonsos did not cause me to lie. I have not seen Jacinto Quesada in months, I repeat. I have had no word of him in months. Of his recent movements I know nothing.

"But question this buck of my clan, this Aguilino! You will be assured of my honesty, then. I desire that. I know one of you to be Manuel Morales, the greatest matador in all the Spains, and I desire Manuel Morales to be convinced that Pepe Flammenca is no teller of lies."

"I am convinced already, my friend!" interposed Morales at that. "Your last words convince me."

But another of the strangers, a foreign-looking hombre, proved more cautious.

"We will do what you say and question this man," he agreed in stilted and strongly accented Spanish. "But first let us find out whether this Little Eagle of yours will guide us through the mountains. That's the most important business."

The man with the foreign accent was big, broad-shouldered, fair-haired and as smooth-shaven as any bullfighter. He was square of face, his jaw was a round resolute knob, and his eyes were blue and very steady in gaze. He was garbed in a dark sack suit of rather formal cut, a pair of tan riding boots and a peaked Manchegan sombrero; and heavily equipped with a belt of cartridges, a carbine and a Colt's automatic. It was the American, John Fremont Carson.

The nine fantastic looking cabalgadores closed about the ruffianly Aguilino. They listened eagerly while Carson spoke to him in low persuasive tones. At length Aguilino commenced nodding his head, saying, "Si! I agree. Si! I will go with you."

The tall Frenchman with the waxed mustache, Jacques Ferou, whispered triumphantly in Carson's ear, "We have our guide. Now let fall the name of Jacinto Quesada!"

But the man Aguilino did not recoil at the sharp and sudden mention of the bandolero.

"Seguramente, yes; I have heard of him often. On the plains and in the mountains. He is a most celebrated man. No, I have never seen him in the flesh. Nor have I word of his recent movements. You say that he must have passed this way either in the dark of last night or in the gray of this very morning? Ah, senores, you do not know how many barrancas there are that gutter these foothills! You do not know how like a shadow this man Jacinto Quesada is-how like a fox that skulks and dodges and keeps always his distance from the hab

itations and bivouacs of men such as we! Jacinto Quesada come to our camp and break bread with us? Ah, senores, senores, that would be too much honor!"

The nine men exchanged glances of disappointment and dismay. They had been altogether off in their guess. Jacinto Quesada had not stopped in passing to hobnob with the Gypsies. He had not passed that way at all. The cabalgadores felt themselves like beagles who mill around and bark in vain braggadocio. Jacinto Quesada had shaken them off his heels. Neither sight nor smell of their game had they.

At this disheartening stage, suddenly from the forest a nut-brown girl in a green dress came out and stood before them. She was round limbed and delicately graceful as any nymph or naiad of the glens and waterfalls. Her dye-black hair hung loose upon her shoulders; two spots of hot crimson burned on the roundness of her cheeks; and her eyes pulsed like fiery opals. She seemed all aflame with some strong emotion. In a throaty shaking voice, she cried out:

"My father lies! This Aguilino whom I have never seen before-he too lies! Jacinto Quesada has been here, in this very spot! He came to this barranca in the dark of last night-he and three dorados and a tall ungraceful wench, pale as a sickly lily! They were given food, they were given shelter for the night. Then went away but two hours ago. They went on up the canyon!"

A sharp gust of wind shrilled through the barranca, rattling among the trees overhead. The sky seemed suddenly to darken, the day to grow colder. Pepe Flammenca snarled aloud, between bared fangs, in the gerigonza of the Gypsies which the strangers did not understand:

"You horrible flea, you maggot of the dung, you vile daughter of an unfaithful mother! Into my tan and say not another word! For every word you have said, you shall pay with ten lashes of greenhide across your bare back!"

The cabalgadores could not know what he said, but they sensed the threat shaking his voice. No one spoke or made a move. The girl looked at her father a moment with eyes like cold gloomy mountain lakes, then moved slowly toward the large tent of the hetman. Her lips were set in a disdainful and a triumphant smile.

About the clearing and above her head, the trees shook and swayed as in an agony. Three great drops of water fell with the weight of leaden bullets and made slow stains upon her green gown. The dog-grass, vetch and darnels of the clearing lifted up and seemed to drink the air. A storm was approaching. Leaves whirled about like a hundred excited birds.

Of a sudden, the girl Paquita paused near the tent to turn her head and fling back the words:

"I have not lied! Though my father will beat me for it, I have told the truth! I hate Jacinto Quesada!"

"Say another word, thou child of a witch-woman and a demon!" sibilated Pepe Flammenca in the Gypsy gerigonza, "and I will kill thee with my bare hands!"

The girl Paquita entered the tent of her father, there to await him and his whip of greenhide.

Suddenly and with great gusto, it began to rain. Great drops of water, lead-gray and heavy as shot, pelted down. The cabalgadores sought the cover of the trees. But the trees afforded little shelter, as the rain volleyed this way and that at the will of the gusts of wind, and each drop seemed to hold a whole cupful of icy water. In a trice, the men were wet to the skin.

Pepe Flammenca motioned them to the tents. Manuel Morales, Jacques Ferou, and the American, Carson, found themselves together beneath the same protection of canvas and vari-colored rags.

"What do you think?" asked Morales.

"That she spoke the truth," returned the Frenchman. "She had on my Felicidad's green traveling dress. Jacinto Quesada has indeed been here."

"But will that great bearded Gypsy beat the girl?" anxiously asked Carson.

The tall Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.

"The Zincali are a strange people, mon Americain!" said he. "And, besides, she said he is her father. Would you interpose between a father and his daughter?"

Carson subsided into a gloomy silence and looked about the tent.

"But this guide, Aguilino," continued Ferou. "He lied to us, Morales. Should we trust ourselves to his guidance?"

"What would you?" returned Morales in Spanish fashion. "We must have a guide in these mountains, and there is no one else to hire. Surely, this Aguilino is better than no guide. We will watch him, we nine men, and above all, we will go on."

The American motioned them into silence. He nodded over his shoulder toward the rear of the tent. Behind them, they saw a naked child asleep on a blanket between two dogs and an old hag of a Gitana crouched in a corner, her eyes alive and fixed unwaveringly upon them.

The men remained wordless but they did not sit down. The smell of unwashed bodies and much-used body blankets of a sudden breathed into their nostrils. The tent was filthy. All at once, the three wished themselves out in the sweet, clean, if wet open again.

"What these folk need is education," whispered Carson in Morales' ear. "Education can do everything!"

"Education, si!" returned Morales in the same manner. "But what they need more is some one with a lion heart, a great golden arrogant heart, to lead them in the fight, to lead them up!"

Jacques Ferou said nothing, but as he followed them out into the open, he smiled his calculating and very superior smile.

Outside, the very mountains above seemed to have melted away into opaque sheets of driving water. The earth was sliding in brown streams from under their feet. The barranca boomed like a thousand drums beaten by mad Arabs.

To make himself heard above the booming of the rain, Jacques Ferou cupped his hands about his mouth and screamed into the faces of the others: "Let us go back. Sacre, we are soaking water here!"

"No!" returned the others, and they grimaced in disgust. But the rain fell with such outrageous passion that it was unendurable; there was naught to do but return within the tent.

Driven to it, they sought the shelter of the tent once again, but found it now a very poor shelter beneath that onslaught of rain. It leaked like a Japanese paper umbrella. And all the time the trees ran with heavy tears, and the rain flooded down with a tumultuous booming and a morose persistency.

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