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   Chapter 36 No.36

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 12426

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The party of policemen discovered, all at once, the body in the road. Hastily, from their huddling, quivering horses, they dismounted. They turned the body over. With amazement and deep consternation, they saw that it was one of themselves, the haughty sergeant of police, Senor Don Esteban Alvarado!

Miguel, the dead man's son, stood over his father's body.

"It is that Jacinto Quesada!" he said, terribly moved. "He has come upon my poor old father alone in the road, and he has killed him without ruth. By the Wounds of Christ!" he swore, lifting his right hand to heaven-"I will seek out this murderer; I will hound him down; at last, remorselessly, I will kill him! I have taken my oath."

In the thick shadow of the bend, Jacinto Quesada smiled bitterly to himself. Just as he had forecasted, just so had matters shaped themselves. He was blamed for the crime of another!

But the captain, Luis Guevara, was speaking:

"This proves that Montara is mistaken-the Wolf-Cub is still alive! As you say, mi pobre Miguel, without ruth he has killed your father, an old, honored, and brave member of the police!

"Carajo! Only once before, in the case of that traveling Englishman, has Quesada killed a man. His conscience will be more disturbed by this atrocity than by his usual crimes. Surely now, after this vile deed of blood, will he seek out a priest and beg forgiveness of God!

"Pronto, mis camaradas! Don Esteban has not been long dead. If we ride to the nearest church, we may be in time to capture Quesada while he makes his confession!"

"But there are few men of the cloth in these hills, and fewer churches," objected Miguel Alvarado. "I know; I was born in the portilla above this pass. My old mother still lives there."

"You do not think that Quesada is a heretic, despite his sacrilegious abuse of the bullfighters' chapel of Seville!"

Miguel shook his head.

"No. I think that he will go, straightway, to the shrine of the Christ of the Pass. It is but a little way on, in a lonely pocket of this gorge. For miles around serranos, burdened by sins, kneel before the shrine, and pray, and beg absolution or ease of mind."

"Muy bueno!" said the captain. "We will go at once to this shrine and wait there, in ambush, for Jacinto Quesada to come and confess his sin. We will listen, and then we will kill him!"

There was a creaking of leather as the men leaped into the saddles. Quesada shrunk back into the dark elbow of the jutting bend. He pressed the nervous horse in against the rock wall. To still any outcry he vised his hand over the trembling nostrils of the animal. He waited, hardly daring to breathe.

The gendarmes, following the lead of the captain, filed into the pass and looking straight ahead, unsuspecting the dark, went by him almost within arm's length.

He waited until they had all gone on, and the shadows of the pass had engulfed them. Then he did not dodge around the bend and pursue the decurrent way he had been going. He was seized with an unreasoning and irresistible impulse to follow the troop and witness whatever might be the outcome of their expedition to the shrine. Loosening but not removing his hand from the horse's nostrils, he stalked a goodly distance behind the party like a quiet long-legged shadow.

As they neared the boulder-hedged pocket which sheltered the shrine, a whisper sibilated through the ranks of the policemen. Some one was kneeling before the cross!

Noiselessly the gendarmes halted, dismounted, quickly hobbled their horses with the long reins, and crept stealthily forward between the boulders and the ragged prickly shrubbery. Quesada followed, a safe distance behind.

But it was only the old white-haired wife of Don Esteban who knelt before the pale figure of the Christ, with its crown of black horsehair and red-painted wounds. As he crept nearer, behind the police and between the weeds and rocks, Quesada heard her voice. In quavering tones, she was speaking aloud. She was confessing that she was the murderer of her husband, Sergeant Esteban Alvarado!

Thinking herself alone before the moon-white effigy of the crucified Saviour, in an anguish of soul, she was pouring out the whole pitiful story. For some time, she had been tortured by a harrowing secret. Her son, the darling of her life, although a member of the Guardia Civil like his father, was also a base poseur and highwayman!

It was his infamous plan to doff the policeman's uniform and steal out at night dressed to resemble the bandolero, Jacinto Quesada. Then, his crimes consummated, he would put the uniform on again. That honored uniform and the fact that all his crimes were laid, successfully and invariably, at the door of Jacinto Quesada, kept suspicion from resting upon him.

It had smote her with desolation to discover that her son was a stealthy outlaw. Since that long-ago time when her ancestors had been reclaimed from brigandage and become Miquelets, no one in her family ever again had turned criminal. They had all been policemen.

Her husband, the haughty Don Esteban, was fiercely proud of the record of his family of policemen. It had harassed her poor old soul, filled her with overwhelming terror lest Don Esteban should discover the perfidy of his only son. Pride of house and long years as an officer of the Guardia Civil had made him unforgiving of crime, unsparing and inexorable to mete out justice even to his own kith and kin.

That afternoon, after a lengthy absence on police duty, Don Esteban had come home for an interval of rest. He had just parted from Pascual Montara, he said, who was to take his report down to Getafe. Between them, the morning prior, they had killed the Wolf of the Sierras, Jacinto Quesada!

The old mother, aghast lest by mistake he had killed his own son masquerading as Quesada, had thereupon, in distracted fear and wild grief, blurted out the whole truth.

The righteous indignation and awful rage of the old sergeant knew no bounds. Solemnly he swore that he would have his son's life for this outrageous conduct. She had pleaded with him, wept and prayed. But he had cast her from him and gone out into the twilight to hound down the son.

She had followed him down the mountainside, insane with fear for the life of her only child. He had discovered her and commanded her to go back. But she crept after him, stifling her sobs.

As he reached the road and the slice of moon came out in the sky, she saw him take out a revolver and examine it to see that it was loaded and ready for use. She heard, on top of this, the clatter of an approaching horse. It was Quesada mounted on the doctor's nag. But she did not know. She thought it was her son, her pobre Miguelito, returning home to pay her a visit between duties!

Carried beyond herself by the sudden crystallizing of all her fears, she had dashed out upon her husband and struggled with him to wrest the revolver from his hands. The stern sergeant had forgot himself then. He went mad with a barbarous fury. He rained blows upon her old tear-stained face. Even did he try to choke her.

But her terror lent her strength superhuman. She clung to him, pulled and wrenched at the revolver. She was like some tigress fighting for her young.

All at once, there was a sharp hideous explosion. Don Esteban slumped like a burst balloon in her arms. He clutched his chest, made a gurgling sound in his throat, slipped to the ground, rolled over, and was dead!

Now, in a terrible turmoil of soul, she cast her gnarled workworn hands out to that compassionating Figure on the Cross.

"Dios hombre, what shall I do, what shall I do?" she cried. "I have suffered in the last few hours all the torments of the damned, like a soul lost a thousand years in purgatory! Oh, what shall I do? Lord and Saviour, Pitiful One, I do not seek forgiveness. I want to repay, I want to atone! I want to die myself!..."

Her voice fainted away. She got to her feet at last. Muttering feverish prayers, weeping like a soft rain, swaying and stumbling, she made up the path.

The policemen shivered out of their state of suspended animation. They recovered their wits; their dead eyes glinted. Savagely, they turned to look at the man among them who had caused the whole pitiful tragedy-the son of the dead sergeant and the poor old heartbroken mother, the masquerader and the traitor, Miguel Alvarado!

He was gone.

Seeking him, they dashed wildly among the boulders and bushes. They beat the ragged gorse with their carbines. They called loudly one to another. Suddenly, into the wan moonlight, stepped forth Jacinto Quesada.

"You seek Miguel Alvarado?" he asked.

"Heart of God, yes!"

"Then come with me."

They did not recognize Quesada. Not only because of the pallor of the moonlight, but more because he was garbed in the gray tweeds and foreign slouch hat of the Frenchman. He led them down the path to where they had hobbled their horses.

Here, supine in the weeds and bound hand and foot, lay the policeman, young Miguel. In the midst of his mother's pitiful confession, he had crept back down the road and, just about to mount his horse and ride away, had been captured by Quesada.

"Oh, Paquita, maiden of my soul!" he was wailing. "I am undone-undone! Your love has robbed me of my father, and broken the poor old heart of the mamacita of me!"

Quesada started visibly.

"What is that!" he exclaimed. "You speak of Paquita, daughter of Pepe Flammenca?"

"I speak and dream of her always! I love her-God, yes! And she told me she adored Jacinto Quesada because he was a bandolero; she told me she despised my uniform. I thought to emulate Quesada and thus win her love. But I have only caused the death of my old father and brought sorrow and heartbreak to my poor old mother in her last years. Ah, Senor Don Jesu, pity me!"

But there was that in the glint of the eyes of the clustered policemen which spelled death for Miguel Alvarado. He was a traitor to all the ethics of the Guardia Civil. He had dishonored and defiled the uniform they wore. He was a wolf in sheep's clothing. More; he was a shepherd dog turned poacher, depredator, wolf!

"He must die!" said the captain.

"Seguramente, yes! And we all must bind ourselves to keep the matter secret."

The captain nodded grimly. "This is an affair of honor between us of the Guardia Civil." He turned sharply upon Quesada.

"Hombre, you are the only outsider. Will you swear to tell no one, to lock all you have heard this night in your own breast?"

Quesada evaded taking the oath of secrecy. Why should he, the Wolf of the Sierras, make covenant with the podencos of the Guardia Civil? Besides, a higher emotion stirred him. In his unknowable Spanish soul, he was moved to pity for Miguel Alvarado.

"Mi capitan," he said, "if you kill this man, you will do a wrong. He is young; he has youth and true penitence to help him reform. It is a terrible lesson he has received this night. He is the dupe of a woman, a wench of the Gitano-"

"A plague on the yellow witch!" muttered Montara.

"Senores," Quesada appealed to them, "you cannot right what is now an irreparable wrong, you cannot bring Don Esteban back to life. Would you rob the poor old mother, then, of her only paltry happiness and hope?

"Heed me, you of the Guardia Civil! This man has outraged Jacinto Quesada more than he has you. Yet I know that if Jacinto Quesada were to have this Alvarado's fate in his hands, to-night, he would let him go!"

He had done what he could. He moved off to where he had tied his horse to a bush. The policemen conversed together in low tones. As he mounted, Captain Guevara exclaimed:

"But who are you that you tell us all this?"

He kicked his nag and started away. Through the moon-filtering dark, he flung back, "Jacinto Quesada!"

Ere they could recover from their stupefaction, he was only a clattering noise in the night.

He was circling, presently, by the dead body of the old sergeant in the road. Of a sudden, a volley of rifle reports detonated between the rock walls behind him.

"That will be Miguel Alvarado," he said gloomily. He shook his head. "Ah, Paquita!" he exclaimed to the night, "you have exacted a fearful payment for my rash scorn of you-you have killed two men, this night, and broken the heart of a poor old woman!"

He rode thoughtfully on.

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