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   Chapter 21 No.21

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 6423

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The cabalgadores started in horror and a kind of personal fear. Explained Quesada with grave composure:

"In this autumnal season of sudden weather changes, it is forever scaling these hills, the cholera, and skulking into the pueblos in the night. When the rain sweeps down, muddying our water and making howling torrents of the dog trails, we cannot descend the sierras for the fruits of the plains; we must subsist on our few scanty vegetables; and the impure water and the poor, changeless diet bring on the plague. When the sun breaks through the squalls and fogs, the abrupt alteration of damp and dry stony heat aggravate the conditions. Therefore, whenever one of us dies in this season and there is no doctor to tell us exactly why that one died, we instantly think of the cholera.

"It was thus in my mother's case. The only doctor near here who will journey up these perilous goat paths and moaning gorges to help the poor serranos, is the hidalgo doctor, Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada, a grandee of Spain and Felicidad's own father. We sent one of the villagers for him, but he was away looking for Felicidad and for his stolen money. And my mother died. It may be nothing, senores; it may be the dread cholera; but at least, mis caballeros, I have warned you."

Questioningly, almost with haughty challenge, he looked at Morales. The matador hesitated. He glanced at his cuadrilla. Whether because of the privations they had suffered, or because of the pale light from the chance moonbeams, or because of an inconcealable revulsion and dread, the faces of the bullfighters looked blanched and sharply haggard. The matador turned for moral aid to the American.

Carson was engrossed in a perplexity of thought. Was this but an obstacle suddenly contrived and cunningly put in their way to cause them to take the bandolero's word on its face value, without seeking further to ascertain the facts about the girl? Quesada had left himself room to crawl out. It might be nothing, he had said, or it might be a noxious pestilence. It could always prove to be nothing.

"We will risk the chance," decided the American with determination. "We will go with you to your barrio."

There was a noisy rustling and crackling of the gorse as the men scrambled afoot. Well, suddenly above the noise, from the foliage-embowered darkness up the road, exploded a voice of command:

"Throw up your hands, you Jacinto Quesada!"

It was the voice of the Frenchman. He stepped into the moonlight. Tall and blond, his ashy skin drawn tight with virulent resolution over his hawklike face, his slate-colored eyes showing bright as an animal's, he pointed his large-calibered revolver at the bandolero.

Quesada obeyed with quick dispatch. Yet he found occasion to whisper to the others, "I have told you the truth, senores. I am altogether in your hands."

Whether they should intervene just then or allow things to take a certain limited course, the American and the matador were uncertain. How much had the Frenchman heard? Did he know that he himself was accused of crime, of thievery and abduction, and of worse than crime-failure to share with them while they were enduring the intolerable pang

s of starvation? Was this but a bold move to retrieve favor in their eyes? Carson and Morales decided, all at once to wait.

Never removing the menace of the revolver, slowly Jacques Ferou drew near.

"Carson," he instructed with biting command, "you search him. He has my roll of five-thousand peseta bills!"

Plainly then Carson realized that the Frenchman could not have overheard Quesada's history of that money. This was but a presumptuous and shameless attempt to recover the doctor's bills!

"He hasn't your money, Ferou!" objected Carson with promptitude and energy. "He just has told us that he turned those bills over to Felicidad, whose dowry they were."

It was, of course, a lie. Quesada had explained quite definitely, in the course of his story, that he was holding the purse against an occurrence he dreaded. He knew, with a fearful certitude, that Doctor Torreblanca y Moncada must soon hear where his disgraced daughter had found refuge; and then would he come, stony of eye and agate of heart, to wreak vengeance upon her. Quesada intended to produce the bills, at that trying moment, in the hope that their appearance would have the effect of mitigating the awful anger of the haughty Don Jaime.

But the Frenchman, not having overheard any of Quesada's recital, swallowed the bait in blissful ignorance.

"Is that so?" he queried with a lift of his blond eyebrows. He leaped into a sudden and importunate impatience. "Let us go, let us go to my fiancée!" he urged. "Oh, I must see Felicidad!"

Said Morales very coldly, "Jacinto Quesada is just about to lead us to his native pueblo where the girl is domiciled."

"But I trust him not! How do we know that he will lead us aright; how do we know that it is not all a lie? Blue devils! he may have the very money on him now and be but leading us into a snare! Here you, Quesada! Keep up your arms! I will search you myself alone!"

But Carson stepped between.

"Senor Quesada has offered to guide us to his village," he said, "and Don Manuel, his cuadrilla and I have signified our willingness implicitly to trust him. You must abide by the decision of the majority. Ferou, put down your gun!"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders. It was wise to obey; there were two and more against him. He stuck the weapon in his coat pocket.

But Quesada shook his head.

"I will trust him not, this Frenchman, senores. My offer was to you. If the Frenchman is to go along, he must go along unarmed."

"Mais non, mais non!" expostulated the Frenchman, lapsing in his agitation into his native language.

"Pues y que?" asked Morales sharply. "Why not?" And he snatched the revolver, with the words from Ferou's pocket.

The Frenchman seemed of a temperament to blow hot and cold by turns. He recovered almost immediately from his first fears. He shrugged his athletic shoulders. A man like a gutta-percha ball he was, resilient, full of elasticity, rebounding when struck. Behind Morales' back, slyly and covertly he smiled his calculating and very superior smile.

Now, following the striding long-legged figure of the bandolero, the nine cabalgadores pursued on and upward through the moon-shimmering night.

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