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   Chapter 28 No.28

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 9431

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Chill and damp took turns about with rock-glare and sudden heat to aid and abet their deadly ally, the cholera. Thick neblinas, dank mists, and wispy rains cloaked the sierras, night and morning; the noonday sun broke through and refracted its rays with intense heat from stony gorge and crag; easterly gales or levantes swept down from the pinnacles and drove all away with dense snowstorms, abrupt and blinding, violent and icy; and all the while, inside the four mud walls of cabana and chapel, the barrio continued to retch and writhe in the grasp of the vomit.

Felicidad was showing signs of slow but evident improvement. Within the hospital, there was hope for Quesada's recovery, but imminent danger of a relapse and speedy death.

The bandolero was languishing in the third reactive stage of malignant cholera. There had come to him a surcease of the agonizing symptoms. No longer was there any want of pulse; his skin had returned to its almost normal hue; his body was once more warm. It was too warm. He was burning up with a kind of typhoid fever that kept him on his back and affected his brain.

He had weird dreams and horrible vagaries. Always was he the hounded victim of a terrible mistake. Pursued relentlessly by two beagles of the Guardia Civil, he saw himself, in one fancy, seeking sanctuary in a monastery. Under the irrevocable seal of confession, his past crimes were forgiven him. He went from monastery to seminary where he achieved in all piety the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Garbed in black chasuble, he imagined himself saying Mass, one day, when a tall, lean-faced, white-haired sergeant of police entered. As he turned from the golden pyx, containing the Host, and raised his arms in a Dominus Vobiscum, straight through the lungs the policeman shot him. Like Thomas à Becket of old, he pictured himself falling wounded to death upon the stainless cloth of the altar!

Carson was suffering, meanwhile, all the agonies he so often had witnessed and so intrepidly had tried to assuage. He had caught the cholera. The excitement of that crucial time upon the rock had over-stirred and heated him, and made of his body a hot forcing place for the virulent micro-organisms of the plague.

Ere he could be removed from Quesada's cabana to the sick bay, he was enduring all the intolerable tortures of purgatory. With that firm unshakable courage of the great-souled woman, Felicidad had offered, then, to watch over him and to nurse him back to life.

Alone of all the directing geniuses, only Manuel Morales and Jacques Ferou were left upstanding upon their two feet. Even the three bullfighters, who had been so helpful to aid, were stretched out on the platforms in the hospital, sick and wretched and wholly impotent.

The work had settled down to a fearful routine. More than once Morales fairly cleared the hospital of healed and dead, only to find, as he breathed a sigh of relief, that new cases were falling and filling the sick bay to overflowing and pouring out into the cabanas. There had been some hundred souls in the pueblo. There still lingered fourscore.

There came a day when the boy whose mother had died and who had wailed in a corner of the chapel, sunk through a slow process of harrowing ravages into the algid stage of the scourge. Morales carried out the little fellow. The boy was chattering with subnormal cold. Morales immersed him in the steaming bathing pool.

Later, returned to the sick bay, in making an incision with a penknife to inject into one of the boy's lesser veins a solution of salt, the knife slipped beneath the matador's grasp and cut his own hand. He gave the cut no attention. He did not even bother to bind it up. Coming out into the open, to lift the lower floodgate which would allow the infected water to sluice out, he plunged the wounded member full into the hot pool.

He was surprised but no whit frightened when, an hour later, a painful throbbing began to chase up and down his arm from that open gash in his hand. He attempted quickly to close the cut by packing it with a little salt. Then, shrugging his shoulders with incomprehension, fearlessly he sought to forget about it. He busied himself doling out to his many querulous patients copious doses of aperient and astringent medicines.

By nightfall, he was stretched in the hospital, prostrated from the plague. The change in him was at once inconceivable and appalling. The man that in the morning had been so strong with firmness of spirit, fortitude of soul, and a large enveloping tenderness of heart, was now cramped with griping, unendurable pangs and as weak of pulse, voice, and body as an old, old man.

From having served so many sick,

Morales knew what he needed. He called for a mild opiate.

Jacques Ferou approached the end of the platform. Save for two convalescing serranos with matted hair and irregular features who were now acting, perforce, as nurses, Ferou was the only able-bodied man in the hospital.

The Frenchman watched the sufferings of the matador with small, bright slaty eyes. The trick of the eyelids, drooping at the outer corners, lent him a calculating sinister aspect. He curled one spike of his straw-colored mustache.

"I will give you the opiate, monsenor, but you must pay for it! You must pay five hundred pesetas!"

Morales attempted to sit up. But he could not sit up.

"Wounds of Christ!" he gasped in a husky whisper. "What is this-a fancy or some mistake of my ears? Has the disease touched my brain? Tell me, tell me, Senor Ferou!" he almost supplicated.

"It is neither the mistake nor the fancy," returned the Frenchman in coldly even tones. "It is merely that you are a rich man, Monsenor Morales, and that you can afford to pay. These others are only hungry serranos and underpaid bullfighters. Even Quesada there, with his feverish imaginings, is but a poor hounded thief. He has no money."

As if he were about to smile at some choice recollection, the nostrils of his high predatory nose twitched, the hard grim lines about his mouth momentarily widened and deepened. But he did not smile. In a voice that sounded to the matador like pulsing chill points of steel, he went on:

"But you, Monsenor Morales; you withdrew a large sum by wire from the Bank of Spain. It was when we first started on this little expedition, and it was so much money we were indeed astounded. Dicenta, the Jewish cacique of Alcazar de San Juan, cashed that order for you in many peseta bills. Most of those bills you still have on your person. I could take them away from you with a little force; but I prefer to give you their value in narcotics, medicines, and soups. Sacre, monsenor, life must be worth more to you than any money, eh?"

The black eyes of the matador, deep-sunken from the quick ravages of the disease, blazed up at Ferou as if they would sear and brand his ashy face. Slowly as he looked, clamping his strong white teeth together with the effort, Morales straightened out his contracted right arm and felt, beneath the blanket, for the revolver at his waist.

An astounded look that changed in a rush to one of stupefied dismay staggered his eyes. The revolver was gone! There was not even sheathed knife or belt!

Ferou watched the matador's eyes, his lids continuing to droop with pitiless analytical scrutiny. Significantly he tapped the heavy revolver that hung at his own belt. And he laughed, a thin chill laugh.

"You forget, monsenor. I am the only man armed in the barrio. It was at my suggestion that Senor Carson went about disarming the serranos. It was at my whisper, when your cuadrilla hesitated to shed their weapons, that you angrily threw off your own belt and gun. I have hidden them all!"

He threw up his sharp cinder-hued face in an accession of pride. Just as, on the Seville-to-Madrid, he had acted with Felicidad, so now he seemed to swell with pride, to grow and strut with importance, as he bared thus his real repulsive self to Morales.

"Monsenor," he exclaimed, "you do not know me; but the French police have long dreaded me as an adept and fearsome criminal. I am a White Wolf of Paris. I use my brain. I do not conceive and carry forward a plan in the one breath. I lay strings long in advance, and then, when the time is fit and proper, parbleu! I jerk.

"Ah, you understand, I see! It is thus now. I am ruler here. I am the only man armed in the village. What I say-"

Came an abrupt and alarming interruption from down the slant of the platform. Quesada sat rigidly up. His forehead pouring sweat, his eyes stark in his head, his hands clutching his chest, in a frightful voice he cried out:

"No, no! I never did it. Kill me if you will, but by the Life, you must believe me! It was some other man ... some other man!..."

His voice fainted away. With the exertion of shouting, with the fear of his grisly fancies, his face darkened with congested blood. Completely exhausted, he fell back upon the platform.

It was as if the interruption had come to strengthen the argument of Jacques Ferou. Overwhelmingly thereat Morales saw how powerless he was. Quesada was out of his mind; John Fremont Carson was on the rack of the plague; even the peones of his cuadrilla, who obedient to his command might have aided him, were stretched out on either hand, sick and helpless. The matador was completely at the mercy of the Frenchman.

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