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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 12148

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Quesada led his horse back around the bend and out of sounding distance. He picketed him behind a feathery smoke-plant up the side of the gorge. Then he stole forward toward the camp.

He caught now, as he drew near, the clatter of tin as of men preparing breakfast, the tempting aroma of coffee, and the hot sizzle of frying meat. Creeping through the underwood on hands and knees, silent as a cat of the wilds, he came to where he could peer through an entangle of white buckthorn and genista, and out into a trampled space about an alder tree.

There were two men in the trampled space. They wore the blue, red-trimmed uniform of the Guardia Civil.

The one holding a blackened frying pan over the small blaze of faggots was facing toward Quesada. His uniform but poorly fitted his squat frame and broadly uncouth shoulders; it showed palpable signs of having been slept in the night before. His heavy-jawed, black-mustached face was sweating copiously from the hot nearness to the fire; he had tossed his tricorn police hat off his unkempt head and into the weeds behind; he looked, forsooth, more the type of brigand than ever did Quesada himself. He was the apelike gendarme, Pascual Montara.

The other, with back toward Quesada, was busying about the wiry, coarse-haired ponies to one side. He was a tall man, his uniform as trim on his military figure as if he had not spent the night on the ground, and his polished three-corner hat set snugly on his head, white linen sun-shield behind, in thorough preparation for the day's work. As he currycombed and brushed the ponies, there was visible on one sleeve the red-braided chevron of a sergeant.

"Hola, Don Esteban, mi sargento!" called Pascual at the fire. He put the frying pan down upon the trampled grass and lifted the coffee pot from its bed in the coals.

The tall man turned about and, in full view to the peeping Quesada, came striding toward the fire. His hair, closely clipped, showed white beneath his hat; yet there was in him no sign of the weakness of age. He had a short, knife-sharp white beard, a face as lean and haughty as a griffon vulture's. He was Sergeant Esteban Alvarado, father of the lover of the Gypsy Paquita, Miguel Alvarado.

The two men squatted cross-legged upon the ground opposite each other, and ate and drank in silence. But Montara, munching prodigiously, kept continually shaking his ugly head. Finally he said:

"Seguramente, yes! It is the wild-goose chase."

"Pascual Montara," said the old man severely, "your talk shows you unfaithful to your duty."

"Duty, za! It is my head I use, Don Esteban. Did not the Americano tell us last night, from the great rock above, that the village is in the throes of the cholera? We cannot go into the barrio for fear of taking the disease, and they will not leave the pueblo for fear of spreading it about the countryside.

"We have done our duty, mi sargento. We have found the American, the great Morales, and his whole cuadrilla. They are safe. And they can please themselves when they want to come down. Valgate Dios, it is not in our instructions to drag them into civilization by the hair of their head!"

"Muy bueno. But it is in our instructions to capture and kill Jacinto Quesada-"

"Who is not in Minas de la Sierra. I tell you, Don Esteban, that Americano does not lie. This is Quesada's native barrio, true; but he is no friend of Jacinto Quesada. Jacinto Quesada robbed him in that affair of the Seville-to-Madrid; for weeks he has been pursuing the Wolf through the sierras. He says Quesada is not in the village."

The sergeant chewed his meat in silence. It was a dour silence, as if he refused to argue, yet was not convinced by the logic of the other. Beneath it, there seemed an undercurrent of imperial anger.

Opening his mouth wide as he ate, Montara looked at him sharply, from under black bushy brows.

"Must I argue as I did last night?" he asked aggressively. "You say that we have them all bagged, including Quesada, in this eagle's nest. But I say Quesada is not there. He has not been up in this barrio for months. He has been swinging like a pendulum back and forth across the two Spains. My soul, he is like ten men for being in more places than one. If he were up here, how can you account for that affair of the Despenaperros over three weeks ago?"

"I must admit that," qualified the old man condescendingly. "My son Miguel and I were stationed in the Pass at the time. Miguelito said he was sure it was Quesada who stuck-up the automobile and beat to death the rich Englishman. The Englishman's pale wife described the bandolero. It was indeed Quesada. But that outrage, coming on top of the hold-up of the Seville-to-Madrid, must surely have caused the outlaw to seek refuge in his village."

"But it didn't, Don Esteban. You've heard of that happening in the Alameda of Valladolid on a night two weeks ago. While the people, bent on enjoying the open-air cinema, were all gathered on the grass in the hot night, he appeared before the large white sheet and, pointing two guns at them, brazenly called out that he was Jacinto Quesada. Then, while the members of the civic orchestra were playing some outrageous gypsy tune in obedience to his command, he slipped quietly away. I cannot account for it myself. He gathered no gold from the crowd. But sacred blood! it was bold."

"It was too bold for me to believe," objected Alvarado, shaking his head. "Tut, it is but a story of the people. They are forever building wonderful adventures and sentimental romances about these hungry dogs of bandoleros. One would think that the wolves were gentlemen and fine heroes, and we of the Guardia Civil only ratty red-eyed ferrets!"

Pascual vehemently nodded his heavy head.

"I know, I know!" he agreed heartily. "It is no longer any honor to wear the uniform of the police in Spain. But what think you now of my argument, Don Esteban? Need I recite that shocking affair of the Plaza de Toros of Seville? The glamorous Moors of Spain do not make up stories about

their bandoleros robbing brave matadors in the House of God. It is a lizard's trick. Since Quesada stuck-up the popular espada, Lagartijo, in the bullfighters' chapel of Seville, all Spain has been stunned by the sacrilege. And that was but one short week gone-"

Jacinto Quesada drew back from the entangled buckthorn and genista. His brow was ruffled as a mountain stream. So this was the meaning of his dorados' sullen insinuations! Come to think of it, even old Pedro down in Granada had been struck aghast at sight of him whom he had known from a boy.

"Ah, Mother of God!" old Pedro had exclaimed, a strange quavering note in his voice. "It is Jacinto Quesada about whom all Spain talks!" And he had added, upon hearing of the plague: "It is the hand of God, Jacintito! It is a scourge of God striking down those about you because of the terrible vile things you have been doing, these last nights, throughout the peninsula!"

Some unknown was sticking-up persons on the road and in far-off alamedas, and then, with bluster and insane braggadocio, announcing he was Jacinto Quesada! The fool had cold murder in his bowels! He had killed a foreigner, an Englishman. He slayed like a ferocious beast or a crazed man. And he had abused the sanctity of the chapel of the bullfighters in the Plaza de Toros of Seville. The thing was unheard of. It was sacrilege!

"By the wounds of Christ!" swore Quesada softly. "The fellow is odious and detestable. And all his vile ordure is flung at my head. The creature is braiding a noose for my neck!"

Out in the trampled space about the alder tree, the sergeant's voice had risen with a peremptory note.

"Do not stay here, Pascual Montara! It is against all the code of the Guardia Civil, but zut! ride away without me, and you please. I stay here. Understand, hombre; I stay here! Every wolf has his lair, every bandolero his home. This barrio above is Quesada's home. In a week or a month, he must return here. I shall wait that week or that month. He can come only this way. When he comes this way, by the Life! I shall rid Spain forever of his baneful presence!"

Jacinto Quesada stole back around the bend to his picketed horse. From behind the cantle of the saddle, he removed those canvas packs which contained the drugs, preparations, and liquors he had gathered at the doctor's casa. He unwound the reins from about a branch of the sumach bush and tied them loosely to the pommel of the saddle. He broke off a hairy flower stalk from the smoke-plant. Then, with an eye to quietude, carefully he led the pony down the brushy side of the gorge.

Once in the dust-coated road which wound through the bottom of the gorge, he faced the pony down the way he had come and inserted, under the brows of the saddle against the spine, the setule of flower stalk. Immediately the animal, irritated out of his weariness, began fidgeting, flicking his tail, snapping his head round on either side, baring his long yellow teeth and crinkling again and again the skin of his back.

Quesada stepped to one side. With his open hand, he struck the horse a resounding thwack upon the rump. The pony leaped forward, the bristle of flower stalk painfully rubbing his spine. Ere he could recover from the shock of the blow and pause to lessen the aggravating pricking under the saddle, Quesada snapped out his revolver and discharged it in the air behind him-bang, bang! Exasperated and thoroughly frightened, the horse fled precipitantly down the road.

While the winding gutter of gorge detonated with the hoof-clatter of the racing horse and while the rock walls flung back and forth, like sounding-boards, the sharp metallic explosions of the pistol, Jacinto Quesada bounded up the brushy side to where, behind the feathery wig-plant, he had flung the canvas saddlebags.

He was none too quick. Like a louder echo of the echoes sounded up the gorge, of a sudden, the crang of a carbine; then the thundering hoof beats of horses careering down at full tilt; and then the voices of men lunging up in the dread challenge and command of the police:

"Alto a la Guardia Civil! Halt for the Civil Guard!"

Quesada crouched behind the whitish-green thicket of sumach, and waited tense as a trigger at half-cock.

Around the bend up the road drove into view like a lean racing terrier a wiry rough-coated pony, hoofs pounding in a quick rataplan, barrel low to the dust, and ears flattened sharply back. Upright in the saddle, a carbine across the hollow of one arm, was the tall sergeant of police, linen sun-shield flying straight behind like a white guidon snapping in a wind.

"Don't shoot, Montara!" he called back from an eager keen-edged face. "Don't shoot till you see the hair on his neck!"

"Shoot his horse!" answered a roaring shout. "Carajo! In all our lives, we may never get another such chance at Jacinto Quesada!"

Around the bend, like a screaming projectile, lunged another pony, neck extended, nostrils blowing red, and the ugly policeman Montara standing a-tiptoe in the stirrups. Montara was like some wild Arab in a mad display of horsemanship. He swayed back and forth; he waved the carbine in one long apelike hand. Carried away by the lust of the chase, he shouted repeatedly from his blood-darkened countenance:

"Alto a la Guardia Civil! Alto, alto! Alto a la Guardia Civil!"

Ponies and riders plunged behind a huge brown boulder down the road and out of sight. Quesada snapped up. Active as an ape, he slung the canvas packs over his shoulders and leaped down the brushy side of the gorge. What time the stony defile echoed and reechoed with the distance-dimming clangor of pounding hoofs and turbulent shouts, he sped, on his long mountaineer's legs, up the convolutions of the goat path to the empested barrio.

The crang of a carbine suddenly spearing aloft from down the gorge caused him to halt on the great rock at the brink of the village. He looked back. He smiled somberly.

"That will be my poor horse," he remarked. "He has halted for the Guardia Civil!"

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