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   Chapter 31 No.31

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 6529

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A man wasted from disease sat, all this while, in the morning sunlight on a chair tilted back against one whitewashed wall of the village chapel. His young haggard face was screwed up, and he frowned through Moorish amber eyes toward where, some distance below, the Frenchman sprawled on the great rock at the brink of the village. He could not account for the unseemly posture and gesticulating hands and head of the Frenchman.

No word of Ferou's bartering reached him. He lacked even one clue to the strange and absorbing business going forward. He did not know that the waiting members of the Guardia Civil had advanced up the gorge and now, out of sight, down at the foot of the goat path, were making cold-blooded arrangement with the Frenchman for the delivery of his own living body!

Quesada lacked the strength which would urge him boldly to investigate. And he was too weak to concentrate his mind, for any length of time, on an apparently unsolvable problem. He shrugged aside his perplexity, after a little, and sunk back into that trick of strategic plotting so natural to the feeble in body but strong in spirit.

Twisting his head about, he looked through the doorway into the hospital. Within, in that fetid moaning place where lay the sick Morales, there were no attending serranos; they had finished their rounds for the nonce. Below on the great rock, the engrossing and unaccountable business had every appearance of engaging Ferou for some time. The way was clear.

Quesada thumped down his tilted chair and walked on weakly rickety legs to where, near the cork-oak tree in the center of the uneven street, a number of the villagers were brewing a puchero in a great iron pot.

"Come, mis paisanos!" he said in a voice surprisingly commanding for one so enervated from disease. "Ladle out to me a bowl of the stew."

"We have no orders to refuse you, Don Jacinto," answered one of the men obsequiously. "We only mind that Morales and the Americano should get none."

The bandolero snorted, but held his peace. He took the steaming earthen bowl proffered him; then quaking like one palsied, exerting a deal of effort so as not to spill a drop of the precious haricot, he slowly retraced his steps toward the sick bay.

Here he glanced back over one shoulder. The serranos had returned to the business of stirring the puchero; they were not watching him. In he staggered, through the chapel doorway, to share the soup of the stew with the sick matador, Manuel Morales.

Minutes clicked by-a good ten minutes.

Within the cabana where Carson convalesced, Felicidad was sitting in a chair at the American's bedside, her golden head nodding with drowsiness, when the blut of approaching feet on the earthen floor startled her into alertness. She saw the slim gray-suited form of the Frenchman darkening the doorway. Her blue eyes widened and filled with apprehension and deep abhorrence. She shuddered involuntarily and shrunk back in the chair.

But Ferou only bowed in mock respect.

"Senor Carson," he addressed the American, "my serranos are stewing, out in the street, a fine savory ragout of meat and lentils. Would you care for some of the soup? It would be very strength-giving."

Carson, his angular hollow-cheek

ed face white as the pillow pressed about it, made no answering movement of head or mouth. With eyes deep-sunken and chilly blue as high mountain lakes, he looked up at the Frenchman unblinkingly.

"It will be very simple, monsenor," continued Ferou suavely, the hard lines deepening about his mouth in a grim smile. "All you have to do is to give me one of your five-thousand peseta bills! Since yesterday, the price of lentils and meat has soared on these mountains. But to you who are so rich, that is no importa. Only five thousand pesetas for a bowl of soup!"

All at once, like an unexpectedly loosed avalanche, the girl was on her feet, her blue eyes coldly ablaze like points of steel.

"You-you thief! You know he has left only one bill of five thousand pesetas! You have taken all the others! Oh, you rapacious hawk, you vile, vile vulture!" she cried out, shuddering with horrid remembrance and a sudden increase of detestation. "You would rob him of his all, everything! You would have him end his days in want and misery, just like the pobre padre of me!"

The Frenchman did not wither beneath her scorn. He shoved his sharp blond head nearer her. And his face livid with stirred-up bile, his slate-colored eyes narrowed to mere blazing slits, he bared his long white teeth in a passionate carnivorous snarl of envenomed hate.

"You baggage, you treacherous snake! I'll show you what! When I get done my work in this barrio, you'll go with me. Mon Dieu, I'll show you how an Apache Parisien treats one such as you!"

The movement was unexpected. Sudden as the sweep of a hawk, he bent his tall athletic body forward sharply and made a grab at her wrist!

She recoiled from him. The nostrils of his high predatory nose twitching and working, his whole ashy face working and grimacing with fury like a horrible mask of rubber, he leaped after her. She sidled along the edge of the bed. Trembling in every limb like a terrorized doe, she retreated out the doorway.

Bent sharply forward, bounding from spot to spot like a leopard, the Frenchman followed.

The American attempted to lift his head from the pillow. He fell back like a load of lead. He worked his hands together and groaned aloud at his helplessness.

Came a sudden clatter of horse's hoofs out in the village; then the loud shaking voice of a man:

"Alto! Halt, you nameless wench! You have soiled my honor, profaned my name, defiled my blood! Heart of God, you must die!"

It was not the voice of the Frenchman. It was the voice of Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada. The terrible doctor had come!

Sitting stark upright upon his horse on the great rock at the brink of the village, his narrow face a cinder-gray, Don Jaime was leveling his huge horse-pistol at the backing form of the golden-haired girl!

"Ha!" exclaimed the Frenchman, his eyes lighting up like sunlight on ice, his grimacing face wreathing into an outrageous smile. "It is the haughty hidalgo come to wipe out his dishonor in the blood of ma chérie Felicidad!"

With a laugh that was worse than brutal, that was pitiless and fiendish at such a time, he sprung back into the dark shelter of the doorway.

The frail slip of a girl was left, unaided and alone, to face the avenger.

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