eBooks Cube
 
III


In the brush and foliage of the sierra, Demetrio Macias
and his threescore men slept until the halloo of the horn,
blown by Pancracio from the crest of a peak, awakened
them.

"Time, boys! Look around and see what's what!"
Anastasio Montanez said, examining his rifle springs.
Yet he was previous; an hour or more elapsed with no
sound or stir save the song of the locust in the brush or
the frog stirring in his mudhole. At last, when the ulti-
mate faint rays of the moon were spent in the rosy dim-
ness of the dawn, the silhouette of a soldier loomed at the
end of the trail. As they strained their eyes, they could
distinguish others behind him, ten, twenty, a hundred.
. . . Then, suddenly, darkness swallowed them up. Only
when the sun rose, Demetrio's band realized that the
canyon was alive with men, midgets seated on miniature
horses.

"Look at 'em, will you?" said Pancracio. "Pretty, ain't
they? Come on, boys, let's go and roll marbles with 'em."

Now the moving dwarf figures were lost in the dense
chaparral, now they reappeared, stark and black against
the ocher. The voices of officers, as they gave orders, and
soldiers, marching at ease, were clearly audible.
Demetrio raised his hand; the locks of rifles clicked.
"Fire!" he cried tensely.

Twenty-one men shot as one; twenty-one soldiers fell
off their horses. Caught by surprise, the column halted,
etched like bas-reliefs in stone against the rocks.

Another volley and a score of soldiers hurtled down
from rock to rock.

"Come out, bandits. Come out, you starved dogs!"

"To bell with you, you corn rustlers!"

"Kill the cattle thieves! Kill 'em!


The soldiers shouted defiance to their enemies; the lat-
ter, giving proof of a marksmanship which had already
made them famous, were content to keep under cover,
quiet, mute.

"Look, Pancracio," said Meco, completely black save
for his eyes and teeth. "This is for that man who passes
that tree. I'll get the son of a . . ."

"Take that! Right in the head. You saw it, didn't you,
mate? Now, this is for the fellow on the roan horse.
Down you come, you shave-headed bastard!"

"I'll give that lad on the trail's edge a shower of lead.
If you don't hit the river, I'm a liar! Now: look at him!"

"Oh, come on, Anastasio don't be cruel; lend me your
rifle. Come along, one shot, just one!"

Manteca and Quail, unarmed, begged for a gun as a
boon, imploring permission to fire at least a shot apiece.
"Come out of your holes if you've got any guts!"

"Show your faces, you lousy cowards!"

From peak to peak, the shouts rang as distinctly as
though uttered across a street. Suddenly, Quail stood up,
naked, holding his trousers to windward as though he
were a bullfighter flaunting a red cape, and the soldiers
below the bull. A shower of shots peppered upon
Demetrio's men.

"God! That was like a hornet's nest buzzing over-
head," said Anastasio Montanez, lying flat on the ground
without daring to wink an eye.

"Here, Quail, you son of a bitch, you stay where I
told you," roared Demetrio.

They crawled to take new positions. The soldiers, con-
gratulating themselves on their successes, ceased firing
when another volley roused them.

"More coming!" they shouted.

Some, panic-stricken, turned their horses back; others,
abandoning their mounts, began to climb up the moun-
tain and seek shelter behind the rocks. The officers had
to shoot at them to enforce discipline.

"Down there, down there!" said Demetrio as he leveled
his rifle at the translucent thread of the river.

A soldier fell into the water; at each shot, invariably
a soldier bit the dust. Only Demetrio was shooting in that
direction; for every soldier killed, ten or twenty of them,
intact, climbed afresh on the other side.

"Get those coming up from under! Los de Abajo!
Get the underdogs!" be screamed.

Now his fellows were exchanging rifles, laughing and
making wagers on their marksmanship.

"My leather belt if I miss that head there, on the black
horse! "

"Lend me your rifle, Meco."

"Twenty Mauser cartridges and a half yard of sausage
if you let me spill that lad riding the bay mare. All right!
Watch me.... There! See him jump! Like a bloody deer."

"Don't run, you half-breeds. Come along with you!
Come and meet Father Demetrio!"

Now it was Demetrio's men who screamed insults.
Manteca, his smooth face swollen in exertion, yelled his
lungs out. Pancracio roared, the veins and muscles in his
neck dilated, his murderous eyes narrowed to two evil
slits.

Demetrio fired shot after shot, constantly warning his
men of impending danger, but they took no heed until
they felt the bullets spattering them from one side.

"Goddamn their souls, they've branded me!" Demetrio
cried, his teeth flashing.

Then, very swiftly, he slid down a gully and was lost....





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
Nabou.com: the big site