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   Chapter 37 No.37

The Wolf Cub By Patrick Casey Characters: 10119

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Laden with medicinal supplies, Quesada returned to Minas de la Sierra. He found the American walking about on his own two legs and able, at a pinch, to lend a hand to the doctor. Morales, attenuated but rapidly repairing in strength, occupied the bandolero's old chair tilted against one mud wall of the sick bay. For long hours the matador thus sat in the crisp sunlight and held a-straddle on his knees the slowly recovering, oddly wrinkled little Gabriel. Like some sweet Sister of Mercy, Felicidad moved solicitously among the convalescing serranos, two pale roses of health constantly mantling her smooth ivory cheeks.

The bane was lifting. A period of continuous mild warmth, free of neblinas and snowstorms and icy blasts, had assisted and incalculably sustained the efforts of the hidalgo doctor in driving the pestilence from the pueblo.

Ensued more days of sun sparkle, more nights clear as crystal, and the hospital at last was empty. Announced Don Jaime thereupon:

"The barrio must endure five more days of quarantine. We must make sure the plague is snuffed out, buried. There must be no new cases."

Two days passed. Then three. No man slapped under. They entered upon the fourth.

The scourge was being weighed in a hair-fine balance. It was a deciding interval. It was a terrific time of waiting, and dread and hungry longing that tried the blood and iron of every man.

Quesada, shaking with the contagious apprehension, buttonholed the American as he came out of the cabanas after completing some mission for the doctor.

"How goes it, Senor Carson?"

"All right so far. But gad, it's tough! It wasn't so bad when they were dying. These days when there are no stricken, and the sick bay is empty, and each man watches the next in fear lest he should succumb-that's maddening!"

They talked jerkily. Quesada wanted to forget the trial of waiting, to ease his mind of the down-bearing strain. To change the subject, he said:

"I have learned something. About the man who was sticking-up persons and saying he was I, Jacinto Quesada. He was a member of the Guardia Civil named Miguel Alvarado. Down by the shrine of Christ of the Pass, his own kind, the Guardia Civil, shot him to death."

The American understood. When Quesada first had returned to the village poisoned with worry at what he had overheard from the policemen then waiting in the gorge, he had told Carson the beginning of the story of the masquerader. Now, at hearing its tragic end, Carson merely nodded. All the while, as he listened, he eyed Don Jaime with fearful anxiety as the physician moved in and out from choza to cabana.

The racking strain-the long torture of work and travail of waiting-showed plainly in the hidalgo doctor,-in the high cheek bones almost bursting through the deep swarth skin, in the thinly chiseled nose and the gray eyes that seemed crystallized to a hard quartz. He was working arduously, Don Jaime-prodigiously, epically, like a true son of Hispanus, that first Spaniard sprung from the loins of Hercules!

Hardly daring to breathe, the barrio entered upon the fifth and occult day. Twenty-four hours more of immunity from disease, and the tension would be over, the iron clutch of the quarantine lifted.

Night shut down, black, breathing, full of the nameless. Groups collected. The suspense was on them like thumbscrews.

Dawn came slowly, a leaden wash, Don Jaime went his final rounds.

No man had stuck his toes toward heaven; in the night, no man had gone under from the plague. The grip of the horror was broken!

"Infected Minas de la Sierra is once again clean and whole," announced Don Jaime. And he breathed fervently: "Thank God!"

The final requiem had been said. The last to waste away and wear forever the cold cerement of death was the banderillero, Alfonso Robledo, who so ably had seconded Quesada in halting, for the while, Don Jaime's cruel vengeance. That had been six days gone.

The pale gold sun hung high in the heavens like an eucharistic wafer emblematic of victory over disease and death. It was noon of that Day Resurgent. Now that the slavish and heroic labor was over for Don Jaime, the great good accomplished, he quietly got his horse prepared for the return to his lizard-haunted, gloomy, and lonely casa outside Granada.

Mounted and ready, he paused on the great rock at the brink of the village to bid the thankful serranos a saturnine adieu. All the while, unwaveringly, his gray quartz eyes remained fixed on the certain cabana which had been given over to Felicidad. And then, as loudly the villagers chorused their gratitude and well-wishes, that eventuated which Don Jaime knew would surely eventuate.

Her low white brow knuckled with perplexity, Felicidad appeared in the doorway of the cabana. The hullaballoo had bewildered and attracted her.

"Felicidad!"

As if drawn and irresistibly compelled by the electric fluid of some hypnotic influence, slow as in a trance, Felicidad moved toward the avenger. Watching her, Don Jaime's thin-edged ferule

of a face slowly iced into rigid and pitiless lines.

Yet, deep in his heart, the great passions that once had made Don Jaime so formidable-those classic passions of ire and resentment-like hard but friable rock had been slowly worn away. Too often, altogether too often, had his wrathful hand been stayed. Time and his prodigious struggle with the plague had combined to crush and crumble to bits the fury in his rock-ribbed soul.

No longer was he strong with faith in the righteousness of his cause. He was only moved, now, by a determination to fulfill his solemn word, to live up to the oath he had sworn. Pride alone possessed him. He was being swept along toward a damnation of crime by the momentum of an inexorable pride!

He himself felt the weakness, the blight. In an open confession that showed forth his inward doubt, in a heart-poignant appeal to Heaven beseeching leniency for that awful thing he felt he now must do, he cried out:

"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; but the bleeding wounds of Christ and the thorn-pierced heart of His Most Virgin Mother shall intercede for my grievously sinning soul on the Day of Judgment!"

He raised the heavy horse-pistol.

The serranos fell from about him like flung chaff. The spittle dried in their mouths; they could not speak. They were blind of eye, and blind and black of brain as to what to do.

The scene was much as before. On the great rock of the village, Don Jaime sat rigid in the saddle like some black-browed Destroying Angel and menaced, with his huge pistol, the pale trembling lily of a girl.

But this time it was not Quesada who intervened. The bandolero long had brooded upon the coming of this inevitable moment; yet now, when ultimately it had struck, the moment found him standing off to one side and a good twenty feet from the great rock where bulked up Don Jaime. Ere the bandolero could interpose himself to obstruct Don Jaime's will, ere he could dash forward to shoulder the perilous rebuttal, came interposition from an unexpected and astonishing source. Stepped forward the American, John Fremont Carson!

Big, broad-shouldered, and wornly angular of face, Carson stepped before the agitated girl, wholly between her and the threat of the leveled gun. He lifted dauntless blue eyes to her Hebraic Jehovah of a father.

"Senor Don Jaime, you have no longer the right to seek retribution on Felicidad," he said with quiet but positive defiance. "Ere you can retaliate on her, you must deal with me. She is now my affianced bride!"

Don Jaime's jaw sagged; an astounded gleam zig-zagged across the hard quartz of his eyes. But quickly came to his aid the iron composure of the hidalgo. Without lowering the pistol, he turned eagle-sharp white head and stony eyes to look down frigidly at the square-jawed American facing him in the street. With a forced politeness, he returned:

"In Spain, know you, Senor Americano, one must ask the father for the hand of his daughter. Should the father agree, the consent of the girl follows as a matter of course. We are very hidebound in these conventions, we Moors; no other ways command honor. The plighted word of a mere chit of a girl-Dios hombre! who would think of respecting that!"

He laughed harshly.

"Grandee of Spain," answered Carson in the same lofty Spanish manner as that used by the father, "in my country, should a man desire a girl, he asks that girl in marriage; if the girl reciprocates, they bother asking by-your-leave of no one else. Neither man nor American woman would consider for a moment allowing a parent to select the companion and helpmate of a lifetime.

"This is not America; this is Spain. I know that, hidalgo doctor; and whenever I can, I try to obey Spain's laws of conduct. I would have sought your agreement and your blessing but for one good reason. Felicidad is no longer your daughter! Because you believe she has dishonored your ancient name, you have publicly disclaimed her as a Torreblanca y Moncada.

"Good God, man!" Carson exclaimed, the untenable and even outrageous incongruity of the doctor's position suddenly hitting him like the smash of a bludgeon. "How can you contend for a father's rights over Felicidad after the harsh and cruel way you have used her! Why, at this very moment, you seek her life!"

That struck home. A murderous gleam leaped into Don Jaime's eyes. His eyes blazed like chips of glass.

"Senor Americano," he said huskily, in shaking voice, "do you not know that you are very rash? I am armed and ready; I look at you and see no weapon in your hands. Do you think that a Torreblanca y Moncada will long endure a quarrel in words? I warn you, my cheeky one! Cease challenging my prerogatives! Else shall you provoke me to kill you!"

It was more than a threat. Don Jaime de Torreblanca y Moncada, grandee by birth and breeding, hidalgo of the old granite-jawed, eagle-stern and eagle-haughty Spanish sort, trained the huge horse-pistol, with the words, upon the square-jawed American facing him in the street!

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