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   Chapter 26 No.26

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 6154

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Carson paid no heed to the mutterings all about him. Alone and unassisted, he swathed the body in a new clean blanket.

"That will stop communication of the disease from the body to the bearers," he said. He surveyed the group about him. "Now, who will carry out the dead?"

The men looked at one another. No one stepped forward to volunteer.

Jacinto Quesada, standing in the background, sensed immediately, then, to what a stage things had come. He elbowed through the throng. Quietly he picked up the blanket-swathed figure.

"Senor Carson," he said, as he turned around, the form of the picador held before him in his arms; "you are doing the correct thing. Cremation is the sanitary expedient."

The American thanked him with his eyes. He followed Quesada out the doorway. They went down the uneven village street. The men of the cuadrilla trooped after. From the cabanas on either hand serranos, stirred up by the insidious Ferou, crept out like wolves stretching forth from their dens.

Carson never looked back. He could hear the men muttering behind him; he realized some dark scheme was pulsing in their brains; yet he never looked back. He strode, at the head of all that muttering milling throng, down the street toward the rock.

As they neared the rock, suddenly he swung about. The men stopped, huddled back from him.

"Get wood!" he shouted. "Anything inflammable!"

The men shoved forward, crowded together, and eyed him with furtive, wily eyes. No one moved to obey.

"Go ahead, Don Juan!" shouted a voice from behind. "I'll collect the wood!"

It was Manuel Morales, proving bigger in the emergency than any superstitious dread. A deep-throated muttering went up from the men. But his quick courageous action had robbed them, for the moment, of that focus of interest, anger, and insubordination which leads to mob violence.

Carson swung round to start on again. As he did, he saw that Quesada, behind his back, had deposited the dead burden upon the muddy ground and was stooping and cupping up water from the old Moorish flume to quench his hot thirst.

"Stop!" he cried, his voice chill with warning and terrible dread. "Jacinto, you are in a sweat! Don't you know that copious drinking of cold water while in this condition is one of the direct causes of cholera!"

Quesada stepped back, momentarily aghast. The sweat quickened and poured from his brown youthful face. Suddenly he laughed.

"It is no importa," he said, with returned calmness. He strode on under the weight of his gruesome burden.

Carson followed at his heels and, at the heels of the American, straggled like so many famished wolves, the men of the cuadrilla and the serranos of the pueblo.

Quesada was in haste to deposit the body upon the rock. He felt a strange dizziness in his head. He did not want to admit it, yet he feared it foretokened an attack of the pestilence. At this crucial time, he did not want the dizziness to show in his actions. That would evidence the plague. And were the men to note it, they would think it the hand of God s

triking him down for aiding in the cremation. It would precipitate them into some insensate and ferocious act.

He held himself severely erect. There were spots dancing before his eyes, yet he made out that one of the cuadrilla, a short thick-set banderillero named Baptista Monterey, had stepped forward from the mob. The banderillero, his ordinary black street clothes rendering him inconspicuous in the mob, had been standing quietly alongside the tall blond Frenchman. It was Ferou himself who had shoved him forward. The man spoke.

"You cannot burn the body, senor caballero of my heart! Cremation is a desecration of the earthly vessel of the soul. It is against our religion!"

"Jacinto Quesada himself has given you the reason for the need of it," returned Carson coldly. "Cremation is the sanitary expedient."

"But the body belongs to the Espiritu Santo! You cannot-"

"What is this, Baptista Monterey!" came a new voice, an astonished and wrathful voice.

Quesada found himself unable to see its owner. An opaque blackness was fogging his eyes. But he knew that the voice belonged to Manuel Morales.

"Put down the wood, Manuel!" he heard Carson say. There was a strange note in the American's voice, a grim metallic note. "Go away. Get more wood, Manuel. Leave me alone. They tell me I cannot burn the dead. They are rebellious. I'll show them!"

Quesada gripped himself that he might bear on. There was a rushing and pounding of blood in his ears. The voices seemed fainting low and dim with distance, as if the speakers were drifting away from him.

"Senor Carson," feebly he heard Morales say, "this is your affair, but I am stanchly behind you. When you took up this task of cleansing the scourge from the barrio, I said that Manuel Morales and all his cuadrilla would be yours to command. It is so; they are yours; they must obey you! I go away; I leave them to you. Do with them what you will. Teach them!"

Like the noise of a remote waterfall came to Quesada's ears a muffled crash. It might have been the sudden casting upon the rock of a bundle of faggots. He only knew, of a sudden and all at once, that he was reeling. The water he had drunk seemed turned to liquid fire; his stomach was burning up, his whole tottering frame was burning up!

As from far away, he heard a shout. He could not see.

"Heart of God-look! Jacinto Quesada! He is falling! He has got it, he has got it!"

Quesada felt himself pitching forward and falling, falling, falling as if from one of the cinder-gray precipices of the sierras. A rush of sound boomed in his ears:

"It is the hand of God! Aupa, aupa! It is a divine sign that we are right! Porvida, men! Down the sacrilegious Americano! Sweep him from the rock! Kill him, kill him! He must not burn our dead!"

A tremendous sound seemed to burst the membranes of the bandolero's ears. Perhaps it was the report of an automatic. At any rate, as if a bullet had thudded on his own frontal bone, he felt a sudden dazzling crash against his forehead. He had banged down upon the rock!

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