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4.

CIEN ZORROS DE CIGALES
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A STOP AT __________ convinced the cat that he had not been overly cautious in insisting that Pedro ride within a wagon instead of marching at the head of the caravan as he would have liked. He witnessed on the Paris road two men of unsavory aspect detain and question a youth of Pedro’s age and general appearance. The detainee squirmed loose and ran.

They let him go. “Dolt! I told you he wasn’t the one!” The larger of the two kicked at a rock.

“Ass! I’ll fine a duke in a dirty face before you find one in a velvet doublet! The boy is not far ahead, on this road. Spanish nine-year-olds are few and far between in these parts. Here’s the thing: he’ll be dressed down, common as you please. Forget appearance. Look instead for an arrogance. Listen for a Spanish, or even a Spanish inflected French. His mother was French. One does not loose an accent along with a clean shirt. He’ll slip up. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: Find a boy who pronounces his ‘s’ as ‘th’ in the Castillian style, and you‘ll have him. For this reason do I take any likely ragamuffin by the throat and threaten to crack his skull if he does not repeat the words: ‘Les gustan seis senores de Sevilla, siete senoritas de Castilla’ three times, fast. Don’t you get it? I’ll shake the truth out of him.”

“So that was it! I thought it a game! I was about to try it myself! You are a sly one, Don Rodrigo!”

Don Rodrigo rolled his eyes.

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Sly sauntered to his friend’s side. “I’ll bet, he said playfully, “that you cannot three times repeat a simple phrase: Les gustan seis senores de Sevilla, siete senoritas de Castilla. Quickly now, it’s a game!”

“You’re on!” laughed Pedro. He loved games. He started slowly, deliberately: Les gustan seis senores de Sevilla, siete senoritas de Castilla.”

“Faster!” cried the cat. He crossed his eyes and wiggled his ears. Pedro smiled, and began to stumble: Les guth ….Leth guth …. tan seis thenores de Cath….. It was no use. The style of speech which was most comfortable in his mouth took over upon the slightest lapse of vigilance.

“Listen,” said Sly. “I have an idea for a new act. We’ll dress as Spanish gentlemen. We’ll duel, cross swords, ham it up. What do you think?”

“We could be pirates,” giggled Pedro. “That would be even more fun!”

The cat shook his head. “No, my boy, pirates won’t do. You must act the fop. Make a point of exaggerating your fine vocabulary and, especially, your elegant accent. Each time you make that lisping sound, do so vigorously. Shower me with spittle.”

“I do NOT lisp!”

“Of course you don’t. I know it now. But it is a distinctive speech pattern, nonetheless. It advertises you as being not what you pretend to be. You were warned to conceal it, am I right?”

Pedro nodded sullenly.

“You have not succeeded. You have no choice but to over-do the thing so that it seems a comic characterization of your betters. Here’s my plan: You will be known as the Duke of Danger, I, as the Marquis of Mischief. We’ll parry words as we parry thrusts.”

“So! You want me to mock myself for the gratification of the mob! You would have me snickered at! I won’t do it!”

“I would have you survive, you little fool!”

“That may be,” argued the boy, “but it would not in the least displease you to see me humbled, and humiliated. You manipulate me, Senor cat, no less heartlessly than did my uncle. What am I to you? A toy? A cause? A pet? When you curl up in my lap so companionably I thrust my doubts aside. When you toss off one of your cutting remarks, I tremble anew. The truth, sir! Am I, in exchange for your protection, required to be a servant, a subordinate? If so, let us dispense with any pretense of friendship.”

Puss cocked his head. “You are NOT a servant,” he insisted. “What an absurd thought! I wouldn’t have you. You lack training, for one thing. Your backrubs stink!”

Tears welled in the youngster’s eyes. Sly was horrified.

“Hey! I’m kidding! Damn! I’ve done it again! I could kick myself! Why must I always go for the easy laugh? Here, here. You mustn’t take me so seriously.” He endeavored to brush away the boy’s tears.

“I am your friend. I pray that you are mine. We cats have a reputation for aloofness but we’re as affectionate as any dog, in our way. Once in a while one meets a know-it-all such as myself who must have the last word, even at the expense of decency. I’m a buffoon! It’s cats like me who give us all a bad name.”

Cats do not cry, they have no tear ducts. Sly tried. He scrunched his nose. He howled. It did no good. No moisture flowed. The boy giggled between sobs. Then he sobbed between giggles. Finally he stiffly accepted a hug.

“Anytime,” instructed Sly, “that I treat you badly or behave obnoxiously, please call it to my attention, immediately. I don’t promise to stop – let’s not look for miracles – but I do promise to listen. I will not take offense. Set me straight! Don’t worry. I won’t be angry. I won’t leave you in the lurch. I mean to see you safely to your Grandpere and heaven help the one who seeks to interfere. I am not without resources!” He winked.

Pedro sighed. More of the animal’s puffery! He nodded in agreement. He did not care to start another quarrel.

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Mama had been beguiled by their audition. Their artistry has surely grown by now. It’s time we have a look, don’t ya think?

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  1. Haute-Navarre is fictitious, although the country of Navarre did exist in this period.