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   Chapter 32 No.32

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 12273

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Attracted by the vibrant loud outcry of the terrible doctor, Jacinto Quesada put down the earthen bowl of stew, left the bedside of the sick Morales, and showed himself in the doorway of the hospital. With weakness his rickety legs tottered under him; with weakness the world reeled and swam before his eyes. He shaded his eyes with a pale and unsteady hand and peered out into the cold sunlight.

He understood the threat. Down at the end of the uneven street, on the great rock at the brink of the village, bulked Calamity on horseback!

Quesada clutched at the jamb of the door. Shaking like a tag of paper in an ugly wind, for an intolerable moment he clung there. Then all at once, in a blind broken-legged stagger, out into the street he lurched.

With every leaden stride, he seemed to gather to his need what scattered rags and tatters of strength he yet possessed. His legs straightened under him somewhat; his heavy toppling shoulders came up.

On the sudden, he slewed completely round. Back the way he had come, back toward the sick bay, he pitched.

But again and all on a sudden, he halted. He threw his arms aloft, he lifted drawn face to the cold gray sky. Hoarsely he cried out:

"Give me strength! Senor Don Dios, give me strength to do that which I now must do!"

On he sped back toward the hospital. And his feet pounded down and up, down and up without infirmity, without numb and leaden shuffle. Gone were the staggering lurch, the sagging shoulders, the rolling giddying head. Gone utterly all the various stigmata of disease-engendered weakness!

He was like a man who, suddenly overwhelmed by an ocean of water, casts off his clogging garments and strikes out nimbly and heartily. He was altogether a new man, agile to move, galvanically energized. He was mighty with an unwonted strength.

It was not a body strength. It was a strength above body strength, a strength beyond body strength. It was that strength secreted deep down but seldom drawn upon, that strength which lifts some men up and steels them to their endeavors in moments of prodigious stress. It was that epic strength which makes of weaklings, cold-eyed and high-handed heroes!

Something must be done to thwart the granite will of the implacable Don Jaime. There was need for a man. There was no time to lose.

Quick as an ape, Quesada bounded through the hospital doorway. Down the runway between the platforms and the dying men, he dashed. At the end of the smelly place, near the dingy altar, he halted. There, on the slant of the pine slabs, lay the disease-wasted form of little Gabriel, the mountain boy.

He bent over the pitifully sick child. Carefully, round and round the puny little body, he swathed the tossed and crumpled blanket. Then up in his two arms he lifted the blanketed boy and bore him back along the runway, out the hospital door.

The child rested his head like an infant in Quesada's neck; he raised to the gaunt face of the bandolero, two dull and feebly wondering eyes. A great pity smote Quesada. Convulsively his arms tightened about the boy. He felt suddenly weak, almost unmanned. For the moment he could not continue on.

He put his mouth close to the cradled head of the boy.

"Ah, forgive me, nino of my soul!" he whispered fervently. "I do not desire to be brutal. I desire only to save our good Felicidad from cruel death at her father's hands."

Gabriel smuggled his arm about the bandolero's neck. It was a mute but trustful answer. Quesada looked over one shoulder to call back through the doorway:

"Alfonso Robledo! You can walk. Lend a hand here, man! Follow me!"

Then down the long uneven street he ran, the blanketed form of Gabriel borne before him in his tight but tender arms.

Everything was happening with breathless velocity, in a rush, in hardly an appreciable flicker of time.

As Quesada went by, from deep in the shadowy doorways of their cabanas, the mountaineers of Minas de la Sierra peered forth at him. They were like so many beady-eyed lizards in so many dark crevices. At the first rustle of danger they had hid themselves.

No sound came from the huts. But once Quesada had put them behind two by two, there breathed up, from each cabana, an aghast whisper:

"Ah, God in Heaven! There goes Jacinto Quesada, and our own little Gabriel in the two brave arms of him! And Alfonso-Alfonso Robledo tottering after! What would they? Turn the hidalgo doctor from his terrible purpose? Ave Maria Purissima!"

Where trivial anxieties talk and gesticulate, there great anxieties stand dumb and make no sign.

Thus with the two principals in the on-sweeping tragedy. Mute and motionless as boulders of basalt, they stood transfixed against that steely background of cold sky and glacial desolate mountains-the one bulking high on horseback like some black-browed Destroying Angel, the other petrified below him in the street, a pale flower of a girl.

They did not hear the whispers from the cabanas, those whispers that were like the murmurings which come with the inchoation of a great storm or an earthquake. They did not see Quesada swinging fast down the street, the blanketed form of Gabriel in his arms and the sick bullfighter, swathed Indian-like in another blanket, lurching and tottering behind him. They had ears and eyes only for the grim and calamitous business at hand.

Poor Felicidad! For a long unendurable interval, stupefied by the shock of the hidalgo's sudden coming, she stood terrorized and iced with dismay. Then the appalling desperation of her extremity struck home to her. A violent tremor shook through her ivory and gold form, her strength ebbed away, her knees gave under her, and she began to fall.

But no! Out of her memory leaped like scalding vitriol the words with which Don Jaime had greeted her.

"Halt, you nameless wench!"

And, from deep in her being, rushed forth to hearten and uphold her a new, surprising reserve of strength and courage. With an unconscious but fine little movement of hauteur, she drew herself erect.

He had called her a nameless wench. Well, she would show this ha

rsh hidalgo there was blood and pride in her yet. She would show him she knew how to die bravely, proudly-aye, in a manner wholly befitting a Torreblanca y Moncada!

The golden head, that was so rare in one Castilian, lifted up. Up she gazed at the avenger out of fearless and scornful blue eyes.

For a vehement moment, an emphatic quivering trice, over the long glittering barrel of the horse-pistol, Don Jaime answered her gaze.

Za, he knew the jade! She had soiled his honor, profaned his name, defiled his blood! She had run off with a creature who had no more decency than to rob the father of all his money, while he stole from him also his only child! Name of God! how he despised her!

Like was he, then, to that morose and vindictive Jehovah of the ancient Jews. His hand tightened on the heavy butt. There was, in the cold stillness, the sharp click of an old-fashioned pistol being cocked!

Harshly the sound cracked against the ears of Jacinto Quesada. His running body lurched forward in a desperate spurt. He stumbled against the startled nag. He held up in his arms to the doctor the blanketed form of Gabriel. And hoarsely he cried out:

"God forbid, Don Jaime! Wait-for the love of Our Lady of Pity, wait! You are a physician, and we are sick here. We are sick with the dread cholera, sick unto death. Your first duty is to us. You must help us. We need you, urgently, woefully-"

Again everything was happening with breathless velocity, in a rush, in hardly an appreciable flicker of time. Quesada's voice rose almost to a scream:

"Turn your eyes upon this dying boy, Torreblanca y Moncada! Look at the glassy eyes, the deep eye pits! Look at the cheek bones bursting through the paper-dry skin! Have pity on him, Don Jaime. Eleven years old, innocent as a babe at the breast, and yet wrinkled and wan and all crumpled in a heap like a disease-riddled old man!

"Ah, Blood of Christ, Don Jaime, you are no Barbary savage to turn away from the outreaching hands of a dying child! You are a priest of the body, a servant of mankind! Your first duty is to this mortally sick child, to all the mortally sick in this village. After that, if you must, you may kill!"

Quesada trembled violently with the ardor and hunger of his entreaty. The dark-eyed, pasty-faced Gabriel shook in his uplifted arms like a poor played-out doll of rags. An end of the blanket slipped from about the boy's shoulder, dragged free from him, fell in a heap upon the rock. Aloft to the doctor, Quesada held the little fellow stark naked in the full light of day!

Quesada fell to his knees, clawed frantically for the blanket. The child lifted slow deep-sunken eyes to the stony eyes of the grandee, as if dimly wondering what it was all about.

Quesada raised one end of the blanket to enwrap the boy, then suddenly hesitated. He had appealed to the honor of the physician. Well he knew how dear was that professional honor to Don Jaime!

Don Jaime was the sort of physician who looks upon his business of serving the ailing as a sacred commission from on high. He was like one who had taken Holy Orders with his doctor's degree. No Jesuit was more slave to his oaths; no Jesuit worked with more zeal for God and the Society than did Don Jaime for Humanity and Science.

Quesada thought, now, to essay farther. With the little fellow standing upon his own reedlike legs and clinging desperately to him, the bandolero lifted his gaunt face to the granite face of the hidalgo. In a low patient voice, he said:

"Would you let this poor child endure all the agonies of purgatory and wretchedly die, while you carry out your cruel scheme of vengeance? Look at him, Don Jaime! Give heed to the legs that are like walking-sticks, the poor thin wrists, the bony little neck, the body limp as a soaking dish towel!

"Have pity on him, Don Jaime-you who know what it is to suffer! The Senor Don Dios has been far more cruel to him than ever He has been to you! Not a month gone. He took the child's widowed mother from him; she was one of the first to be claimed by the plague. Now the poor baby is all alone in the world!"

Quesada swathed the boy in the blanket. Cradling him tenderly in his arms, he got quietly to his feet. He waited.

Don Jaime hesitated. The horse-pistol shook violently in his hand. His agate eyes softened.

Then, all at once, an appalling change swept over Don Jaime. Deep in the crypts and catacombs of his brain, old rankling memories stirred-old painful and dolorous memories got up, and walked about, and paraded back and forth in somber procession. He could have screamed, so tortured was he that moment!

Why should he, the grievously outraged one, show pity? Why should he turn aside from his scheme of vengeance to succor this dying child, these wretched people? Once before had he been robbed when he sought revenge for a mortal wrong. This jade's mother had run off with a gypsy picador. And though the hand of God had intervened in that elopement as a sublime instrument of vengeance, always had he regretted, through the dreary and bitter years, that his own hand had not slain the mother of Felicidad.

Not another time would he suffer himself to be turned aside. He was like that awful Jehovah of the Jews! He would be revenged up to the hilt, paid back in full!

He tore his eyes from the piteous face of the boy Gabriel. He freshened his grip on the horse-pistol, lifted it up. Slowly over the level of it he eyed the waiting girl.

Rose suddenly a shout from Quesada:

"Take the boy away, Alfonso Robledo! He is only a peasant's sniveling cub, a mountaineer's orphan brat! What cares the grandee of Spain for our little Gabriel? Take him away; the hidalgo Don Jaime will have none of him! Let him die!"

Robledo tottered forward. He took the blanketed child in his arms. Turning about, slowly back toward the hospital he made.

Quesada lifted his haggard face. With a contempt biting and goading in its virulence, he cried:

"Proceed, proud Torreblanca y Moncada! You have your high knightly honor to defend, your name and blood to purge! Shoot!"

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