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   Chapter 29 No.29

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 6986

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


One of the uncouth serranos bent over Quesada. To mitigate the fever, he poured some concoction down his burning throat.

Morales' tossing head came to an abrupt stop on the pillow. A sudden hope bourgeoned in his distracted eyes. He was like a man falling down a cliffside, clutching madly at an adnascent shrub. His eyes glowed from their deep sockets like pulsing coals. Here was help in his hour of need. His eyes seemed fairly to devour the serrano.

Ferou, watching all, bent sharply toward him.

"But you forgot again, monsenor!" he whispered. "You have burned their dead! You have transgressed the teachings of their religion, walked roughshod over all their superstitious dreads. They are my men, heart and soul!

"Ah, Morales, I have told you, I lay the strings of my plots long in advance! It was I who gathered these serranos and egged them on at that rebellion on the rock. I have whispered to them in the long nights. They believe all your sanitary methods are tricks of the devil which have aided, rather than lessened the ravages of the plague. The fact that the cholera has stricken you and Quesada and Carson is to them as a sign from on high. With the death of you three, they look for the lifting of the scourge. Sooner than aid your recovery, they would poison you!"

A fit of retching, sudden and violent, seized Morales. Ferou moved away. When Morales recovered from the griping vice of the fit, the Frenchman was proffering a cup of some darkish mixture to the convalescing banderillero on the matador's left hand.

"Here, Alfonso Robledo," he said quite loudly. "Drink this narcotic, and you will sleep like a babe. It is only fine old brandy with a pinch of opium."

It was just the mild form of opiate Morales craved. Ferou looked over at the matador with the words. He was tormenting Morales with the afflictions of a Tantalus. He went down the lane between the platforms, most solicitously dosing each sufferer in turn.

Behind the Frenchman's back, surreptitiously, the banderillero Alfonso Robledo proffered his opiate to Morales. Morales shook his head.

"I thank you a thousand times, my son," he said in a feeble husky whisper; "but it is not right that I should rob you of that which your debilitated system needs. We are both sick men."

"But I am recovering, growing stronger hourly. Maestro, you have just slapped down!" The banderillero became quietly yet earnestly impassioned. "Ah, it breaks my heart to see my brave espada so weak! I want to help. Should you die through sacrifice to me, I will not care to live! I am only a peon of your cuadrilla; you are the great matador. My loss will not be felt! Take it, take it, please, Don Manuel of my soul!"

Morales hesitated. But only for a trice.

"No," he decided with heroic stubbornness. "This Frenchman can't have so black a heart. Seguramente, no! He is but teasing me to test my caliber. If I must, rather than rob you, Alfonso, I shall pay the hawk!"

"Eh?" broke in the thin nasal voice of Ferou. Unaware, he had returned and overheard Morales' words. "And you have changed your mind, Don Manuel? You are willing to pay? That is good! Now let me see; what was it you wanted?"

"I think your joke a little cruel, Senor Ferou. I would have you give me a mild opiate."

"Ah, yes; brandy and an opium pill. That will cost you now just one thousand pesetas! This wait, which you think such a cruel joke, Monsenor Morales, has cost you precisely five hundred pesetas more!

"

The man was altogether inhuman.

"You hawk, you vulture of the slime, you blood-leech!" execrated Morales in a furious voice that shook through his lungs like a hoarse wind. "I shall rot in hell before ever I put one centesimo into your filthy claws!"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders. His face was stiff and livid with restrained bile.

"I leave you now, Don Manuel," he said with acid politeness, "to visit that other Eldorado, Senor Carson. Perhaps mon Americain won't think so much of his peseta bills. And who knows? Perhaps the great espada will also change his mind by the time I return!"

At the door, he turned and called out bitingly to the two sullen serranos:

"You will see, mis paisanos, that Monsenor Morales, who burned your dead, will want for everything and get nothing! When he changes his mind, one of you may come for me!"

He smiled toward Morales his peculiar aggravating smile; then, twisting the spikes of his straw mustache, swaggered out the doorway.

There was a soft thud up near the altar at the end of one platform. The mountain boy, Gabriel, had rolled off upon the ground. On discolored hands and knees quaking from the disease, he came creeping with stealthy quietude and laborious feebleness down the passageway. Half-tilted between rigid teeth, he held a tin cup containing a preparation in wine of powdered aromatic chalk.

He had achieved half the length of the runway when, on the sudden, one of the serranos discovered him. The fellow roughly swung the boy up under one arm. The contents of the tin cup was spilled. The boy began a frenzied squirming and kicking. In a tumult of febrile revolt and piteous pleading, he wailed:

"Let me go, let me go to him-to Don Manuel of my heart! He is good, he is brave, he is like the very God Himself! He is sick only because he helped me and the knife slipped! Ah, Diego Lerida, I have known you since I was born. Won't you let me go, won't you let me give him something to ease the pain? He did the same for the wife of you, ere the good Dios called her. Only a little chalk, Tio Diego, only a little chalk and wine.

"No? You won't let me go! Then may Satanas claim you for a gnat of a dunghill-you and all your vile spawn! And may the Christ and His Compassionate Mother bring hope and health to my own brave espada-"

Came a hoarse shout from Morales: "Hola, my brave little golden one! I drink to you, Gabriellito!"

And accepting the lesser of the two sacrifices, Morales lifted from between the banderillero and himself the cup containing the partly finished brandy, and quaffed it down in one great draught.

He was none too soon. With an oath of commingled surprise, anger and dismay, the second serrano leaped forward and lunged at the matador. He only succeeded in knocking the empty cup from Morales' hand.

Save then for the feverish Quesada and those who slept under the influence of narcotics or the cold pall of death, the whole sick bay chortled with nightmare hoarseness at the frustrated and suddenly apprehensive serranos.

The hours snailed by. While Manuel Morales tossed and mumbled in painful slumber, the mountain boy watched him steadily from down the lane of blanketed figures. There was in his unblinking, deep-socketed eyes that highest emotion one can exercise toward another human being. Morales had called him his dorado, his brave little golden one! In his eyes was a reverence that amounted to venerating love, wistful adoration!

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