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   Chapter 35 No.35

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 16319

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Doctor Torreblanca Y Moncada strategically overcame the trouble engendered by cremation. He had the serranos burn whole trees and from the ashes, by percolation through water, produce a leaching of lye. Then, a goodly distance from the water supply coursing through the old Moorish flume, on the lip of the gorge where a void had been left by the dismantling of the two infected cabanas, he had the men of the pueblo dig a deep pit. Therein he purposed burying the dead in sheets of the burning alkali.

On the morning following that on which poetic justice had come to Ferou, he approached Quesada, who was superintending the work of digging the pit. Save for a certain wolfish gauntness, the bandolero was almost himself.

"Jacinto," he said, "do you feel hardy enough, my haggard one, to journey down these hills to my casa near Granada?"

The Moorish oblong eyes of the bandolero showed surprise and a shade of fear.

"I am easily strong enough by now, Don Jaime. But-"

"Is it the police you fear? They rode away immediately after the killing of Ferou."

Quesada shook his head.

"I am frank with you, my hidalgo doctor. Should I absent myself from the barrio, I would fear for Felicidad of the gold hair and heart of fire!"

With his cold gray eyes, the grandee looked at Quesada and through and through him. As if mouthing some religious dogma, he returned haughtily:

"You know, son of a mangy she-wolf, that no man can halt a Torreblanca y Moncada once he says, I will! Ea pues! It is thus with my vengeance. The ancient name of my house, the blood of my veins, must be cleared of all tainture! Felicidad must die!"

"God preserve you, Don Jaime! You are still the soul of granite, unforgiving and unsparing even though your stolen money is all returned to you now, and your daughter's disgrace altogether wiped out by the death of the French poodle!"

The hidalgo laughed harshly. He refused in his lordly pride to argue. Cleverly he countered:

"And you, Jacintito; you are still the Wolf-Cub, ever leaping to the jade's defense as you did when you were only a bantling!

"But it is not because I wish to be rid of you that I ask you to journey," he went on. "You have reminded me that I am a priest of the body. It is of my profession I speak. I need medicines. The supply is nearly exhausted."

"But I carted up such a lot, fully four canvas packs!"

"I know. But mi gran espada Manuel and the Senor Carson, both well-meaning but untutored, made extravagant inroads on the treasures you brought. And hearing from old Tio Pedro that you had stocked yourself so well, I rode extra light to make speed."

"Yet things are going better now," objected Quesada. "There are fewer deaths and more recoveries."

"Thank God for that! But one can never tell. The present even tone of the weather may suddenly change and cause the scourge to redouble its havoc. I must not run short."

"That is true," nodded Quesada. Yet it was evident that he still hesitated to go for fear of leaving Felicidad unassisted and helpless before the cold implacable wrath of her father.

Said Don Jaime, commencing to offer inducements, plainly weakening before the obstinacy of the bandolero:

"If you will go, Jacinto, you may take my horse. No other has ridden him in over ten years. He will carry you well, though only at a snail's pace."

Quesada realized what that offer meant.

"I will take the horse," he agreed. "That horse of yours shall be as a bond given in hand to me, Don Jaime, that you will remain here and stay your vengeance until I return!"

"My vengeance? Well, like the Judgment Day of Christ, that can wait!"

"Is it a promise?"

"It is a promise!"

"Vaya, Don Jaime!"

"Con Dios, Jacintito!"

Garbed in the once elegant clothes of the dead Frenchman, even to his slouch traveling hat, Quesada sat deep in the doctor's saddle and carefully guided the old rawboned nag down the loops of the goat path.

He kept a wary eye out for the policemen. The Guardias Civiles might chance to be lingering on in the gorge. But the trampled space about the alder tree was wholly deserted; the ashes from the breakfast fire of the day before were being rapidly dissipated by the draughty wind.

He pushed on down. Crackling over the fallen leaves in the gorges, clattering along the stony hogbacks and ridges, he came, in the waning afternoon, to the boulder-strewn pocket of the Christ of the Pass. And suddenly from below, louder than the ring of his horse's hoofs, there echoed up to him a sharp sound like the report of a pistol.

Come of long outlawry, Quesada was circumspectly cautious. The report might have exploded near at hand; the chances were that, with the odd carrying knack of sounds high on mountains, it had echoed, clear and distinct, from far away. But he would take no chances.

The ragged prickly gorse and huge boulders, which bestrewed the pass about the foot of the cross, furnished unusual hiding places. He dismounted hastily, tied his horse behind a sumach bush and, behind a tall boulder, hid himself.

Twilight deepened quickly into full dark night. It was gruesome waiting there beneath the pale white figure of the Saviour, with its crown of black horsehair and red-painted wounds. Save for the wind sweeping through the pass with little shrill noises, nothing stirred or sounded in the long defile.

After a little, Quesada conquered his vague apprehensions sufficiently to sup upon the cold sausages, dry bread, and bota of wine which he had had the forethought to sling to the cantle of his saddle. Then it was on again, through the dark night and the savage uncouth pass, in haste to accomplish his errand for the doctor.

A piece of moon came up and shot long pale slithers of light down the rock walls. Ahead, in the sudden wan light, he made out the bent and bundled figure of an old, shawl-wrapped peasant woman. She was coming toward him up the gorge. She seemed making little catching sounds, as if softly weeping.

"A Dios, mother," he greeted, as he rode past.

She gave him neither answer nor notice. Her few wisps of white hair streaming in disarray from under her flat worsted cap, she went by, sobbing quietly, as if utterly oblivious of his presence.

Quesada looked after her bent form and shook his head commiseratingly.

"Ah, there has been some little domestic trouble in her cabana this night!" he remarked to himself. "And she is going on, the poor creature, to seek strength and consolation from the lonely Christ of the Pass. It is the way they have in these desolate hills-Hola! What's the matter, my bony Pegasus!"

The nag beneath him, suddenly shying, had come to a dead stop, and now was shivering in every limb. They had just rounded the bend which portaled the pass. Leaping afoot in the stirrups, Quesada gazed over the lifted frightened head of the horse. Ahead in the open road and shapeless in the vague moonlight, he saw something lying still and black!

Ever wary of ambush, resultant from long outlawry, he sprung out of the saddle and getting the horse by the bridle, shoved him violently back into the shadow of the spur. For an intolerable fraction of time, he peered round the bend and watched.

The black shapeless huddle in the road never moved. Was it some animal, sleeping or dead? He crept forward cautiously, Ferou's old revolver in hand. He put out his fingers toward the vague outline of it. He touched soft cloth, he touched a yielding mass. Wounds of Christ! it was the body of a man!

His hand jerked back in superstitious fear. The man did not move; he was lying on his face. Quesada put out his hand again and touched the still thing with a braver and more prying touch. All at once he turned it over.

Stark in the moonlight showed a short knife-sharp white beard, a fine-chiseled imperious nose, and a swarthy face, lean and haughty as a griffon vulture's! The revolver fell from his palsied hand.

"Sangre de Cristo!" his dry lips fluttered. "It is Don Jaime himself!"

But no! Don Jaime could not be here. Had he not left the hidalgo doctor, that every morning, in the village above in

the sierras?

A grave calmness came upon him then, and a questing thoroughness. Who was the man? Somehow his features seemed familiar. Was it only because of that striking resemblance to Don Jaime?

He noticed, all at once, that there was visible on the body, under the powdering of dust from the road, a kind of red-edged blue jacket. On one sleeve was a single red chevron, and to one side, almost hidden in the dust, the shimmer of a patent leather hat. With a stifled gasp, recognition leaped full-fledged into his brain. The man was Senor Don Esteban Alvarado, the aged sergeant of the Guardia Civil!

No more than a few weeks before, Quesada had seen the sergeant in the gorge below Minas de la Sierra, dominant with life and lording it over the apelike policeman Montara. To find the sergeant now only a still black huddle in the road was a distinct shock to the bandolero. He knew that just the day before either the sergeant or Montara had shot Ferou.

Almost incredulous, Quesada felt the body for signs of life. But the sergeant was dead. His body was not what one could call warm, yet neither was it cold with that soft stickiness so instinctively repulsive to the living touch. The sergeant had been killed only a short time before. A caking of dust on the torso of his jacket showed where the blood had oozed from a bullet wound in the chest, and quickly dried.

"It was that shot I heard!" the bandolero surmised. "But who killed him? And why?"

Of the sudden, he remembered the old woman who had passed him in the road, crying softly to herself. He bounded back around the bend. But in the intervening jiffy of time, the shadows of the defile had swallowed her from sight.

"She is the sergeant's poor old wife," he said to himself. "She must have come upon him, slain like a dog in the road. I knew Don Esteban, his wife, and son lived in these hills. Now the poor old woman is gone to pray before the Christ of the Pass for the eternal welfare of his departed soul. May it rest in peace!"

He came back to the black huddle, still profoundly puzzled as to whom had done the killing. He turned the body over into that posture in which he had found it. He retrieved his fallen revolver.

He was about to mount and ride on, when abruptly he halted, one foot in the stirrup. An enlightening but bitter thought had suddenly shocked his brain.

For a long time now, crimes had been committed which he never had a hand in, but which in every case had been laid at his door. Automobiles had been held up, toreros' chapels invaded, men robbed and even killed by a young man described as Jacinto Quesada when, all the time, Quesada himself had been quarantined in Minas de la Sierra.

There was a sinister purpose, a foul plan underlying the criminal's habit of masquerading and posing as Jacinto Quesada. Behind the personality of Quesada, he was cloaking his own identity and committing crimes without a suspicion pointing toward himself. What could be more probable than that this same criminal had killed the old policeman?

"It was that masquerader!" the bandolero exclaimed to the night. And he swore: "By the Nails of Christ!"

He circled by the prone body in the road, his horse nervous and quivering with instinctive fright. He kicked the nag into a brisk canter. He sought thus in action to quiet the thoughts which now were bothering his brain. He pursued the descent.

But the turgid thoughts would not be stifled. They fluttered in his head like the pale moonbeams on the rock walls. They filled him with gloom as profound as the shadow-haunted deeps of the narrow way.

He, Jacinto Quesada, had discovered the corpse. Was that not strange, portentous? It seemed to him now as if the hand of God were foreshadowing, in this grisly discovery, some tragic misfortune about to befall him. The masquerader had committed the crime of blood. Well, the penalty for it would strike most surely upon Quesada's head! Of that, he felt superstitiously certain!

He made the sign of the horned hand in an attempt to avert the impending evil. But no use. His mind would not still, nor would the misgivings die. He reined in the nag.

"There is but one thing for me to do," he announced to himself. "I must return to the side of the corpse, and kneel and say a prayer for his soul in purgatory. A mere word of requiescat is not enough. He was mine enemy in life; I must show complete Christian forgiveness toward him, now that he is dead. That alone will prevent a curse from falling upon me!"

He was kneeling in prayer beside the dead sergeant and had reached the words: "May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace," when, all at once from down the road, his ears were assailed by a startling sound-the hoof beats of approaching horses!

Hastily he made the sign of the cross and got to his feet. Dragging his horse by the bridle after him, he concealed both nag and himself completely in the deep shadowy elbow of the spur.

Came to him then, on the vagrant breaths of the night wind, the sound of voices. They were men's voices, loud above the steady hoofbeats of the horses, as if raised in some wordy contention:

"But I tell you, Pascual Montara, the Wolf-Cub is not dead!"

"And I tell you, mi capitan, Quesada is dead! Right now, were you not my superior officer, I should be on my way down to Getafe to file Don Esteban's report."

"You say the sargento, Don Esteban, has returned to his home in these mountains?"

"Si; seguramente, si! His work is accomplished. After killing the Wolf-Cub, Quesada, is he not entitled to a good rest? Test the truth of my statement, el capitan; ask his son, young Miguel there, if his father does not live in these hills."

"It is most certainly true, mi Capitan Guevara," answered a new voice. "I myself was born and raised in a portilla of the Picacho de la Veleta."

"Za, this is the wild-goose chase!" exclaimed the raucous voice of Montara. "This is the wild-goose chase, I tell you-this chase after a man already dead! Down in Getafe by now, ten thousand pesetas should be awaiting the Frenchman as a reward for having brought about the killing of Jacinto Quesada."

"And that was when, you say?"

"I have told you twenty times. It was but yesterday."

"Then answer me this, apelike one! I have asked it of you a hundred times before. How is it that the diligence from Granada to Montefrio was held up only last night and the bandolero announced that he was Jacinto Quesada himself? He fled into these hills, and we hot after him!"

The men of the Guardia Civil usually ride in pairs; but this was a troop of the Guardia Civil, an extraordinary troop. Peering around the spur, Quesada made out eleven uniformed men riding smartly toward him through the dim moonlight.

One was, of course, that apelike policeman, Pascual Montara, whom Quesada last had seen in the gorge below Minas de la Sierra with Don Esteban. It appeared, from the tenor of the conversation, that Montara had been on his way down to headquarters to file the sergeant's report of Quesada's death when he had been met on the road by the troop and turned back by the order of the captain.

Quesada well knew this captain as one Luis Guevara. Eight others he recognized as gendarmes with whom he had had an occasional brush. The eleventh was the dead man's son, Miguel Alvarado, youthful, tall, smoothly brown of face, and as subtle and gallant-looking in the vague moonlight as a sword of Toledo.

Now, such a large body of the Guardia Civil could be seldom seen on the main-traveled highroads, let alone in the gorge-pierced sierras of the Nevada. Something untoward was afoot. But it was not the mysterious murder of the old sergeant which had called them together. Not one of the approaching policemen had discovered as yet, close to the entrance of the pass, that huddle lying still and black in the road. They did not know Don Esteban was dead.

They were riding after Jacinto Quesada, whom Montara believed he had killed, for a crime that Jacinto Quesada himself was positive he never had committed!

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