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There are crimes for which no punishment is adequate, offences that the written law cannot redress. The three friends, Pioccart, Manfred and Gonsalez, may be enjoying the exotic, Spanish city of Cordova with its heat and Moorish influences, but they are still committed to employing their intellect and cunning to dispense justice. They use their own methods and carry out their own verdicts. They are ruthless and they deal in death.
204 pages, with a reading time of ~3.25 hours (51,161 words), and first published in 1917. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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The man who sat at the marble-topped table of the Cafe of the Great Captain–if I translate the sign aright–was a man of leisure. A tall man, with a trim beard and grave grey eyes that searched the street absently as though not quite certain of his quest. He sipped a coffee con leche and drummed a little tune on the table with his slender white hands.
He was dressed in black, which is the conventional garb in Spain, and his black cloak was lined with velvet. His cravat was of black satin, and his well-fitting trousers were strapped under his pointed boots, in the manner affected by certain caballero.
These features of his attire were the most striking, though he was dressed conventionally enough–for Cordova. He might have been a Spaniard, for grey eyes are a legacy of the Army of Occupation, and many were the unions between Wellington’s rollicking Irishmen and the susceptible ladies of the Estremadura.
His speech was flawless. He spoke with the lisp of Andalusia, clipping his words as do the folk of the South. Also, there was evidence of his Southern origin in his response to the whining beggar that shuffled painfully to him, holding out crooked fingers for largess.
“In the name of the Virgin, and the Saints, and the God who is above all, I beseech you, senor, to spare me ten centimes.”
The bearded man brought his far-seeing eyes to focus on the palm.
“God will provide,” he said, in the slurred Arabic of Spanish Morocco.
“Though I live a hundred years,” said the beggar monotonously, “I will never cease to pray for your lordship’s happiness.”
He of the velvet-lined cloak looked at the beggar.
The mendicant was a man of medium height, sharp-featured, unshaven, after the way of his kind, terribly bandaged across his head and one eye.
Moreover, he was lame. His feet were shapeless masses of swathed bandages, and his discoloured hands clutched a stick fiercely.
“Senor and Prince,” he whined, “there is between me and the damnable pangs of hunger ten centimes, and your worship would not sleep this night in comfort thinking of me tossing in famine.”
“Go in peace,” said the other patiently.
“Exalted,” moaned the beggar, “by the chico that lay on your mother’s knee”–he crossed himself–“by the gallery of the Saints and the blessed blood of martyrs, I beseech you not to leave me to die by the wayside, when ten centimes, which is as the paring of your nails, would lead me to a full stomach.”
The man at the table sipped his coffee unmoved.
“Go with God,” he said.
Still the man lingered.
He looked helplessly up and down the sunlit street. He peered into the cool dark recess of the cafe, where an apathetic waiter sat at a table reading the Heraldo.
Then he leant forward, stretching out a slow hand to pick a crumb of cake from the next table.
“Do you know Dr. Essley?” he asked in perfect English.
The cavalier at the table looked thoughtful.
“I do not know him. Why?” he asked in the same language.
“You should know him,” said the beggar; “he is interesting.”
He said no more, shuffling a painful progress along the street. The caballero watched him with some curiosity as he made his way slowly to the next cafe. Then he clapped his hands sharply, and the apathetic waiter, now nodding significantly over his Heraldo, came suddenly to life, collected the bill, and a tip which was in proportion to the size of the bill. Though the sky was cloudless and the sun threw blue shadows in the street, those same shadows were immensely cold, for these were the chilly days before the first heat of spring.
The gentleman, standing up to his full height–he was well over the six-feet mark–shook his cloak and lightly threw one end across his shoulder; then he began to walk slowly in the direction taken by the beggar.
The way led him through narrow streets, so narrow that in the walls on either side ran deep recesses to allow the boxes of cartwheels to pass. He overtook the man in the Calle Paraiso, passed him, threading the narrow streets that led to San Fernando. Down this he went, walking very leisurely, then turned to the street of Carrera de Puente, and so came to the shadows of the mosque-cathedral which is dedicated to God and to Allah with delightful impartiality. He stood irresolutely before the gates that opened on to the courtyards, seemed half in doubt, then turned again, going downhill to the Bridge of Calahorra. Straight as a die the bridge runs, with its sixteen arches that the ancient Moors built. The man with the cloak reached the centre of the bridge and leant over, watching with idle interest the swollen yellow waters of the Guadalquivir.
Out of the corner of his eye he watched the beggar come slowly through the gate and walk in his direction. He had a long time to wait, for the man’s progress was slow. At last he came sidling up to him, hat in hand, palm outstretched. The attitude was that of a beggar, but the voice was that of an educated Englishman.