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VII


It was a heavenly morning. It had rained all night,
the sky awakened covered with white clouds. Young wild
colts trotted on the summit of the sierra, with tense
manes and waving hair, proud as the peaks lifting their
heads to the clouds.

The soldiers stepped among the huge rocks, buoyed
up by the happiness of the morning. None for a moment
dreamed of the treacherous bullet that might be awaiting
him ahead; the unforeseen provides man with his greatest
joy. The soldiers sang, laughed, and chattered away.
The spirit of nomadic tribes stirred their souls. What mat-
ters it whether you go and whence you come? All that
matters is to walk, to walk endlessly, without ever stop-
ping; to possess the valley, the heights of the sierra, far
as the eye can read.

Trees, brush, and cactus shone fresh after rain. Heavy
drops of limpid water fell from rocks, ocher in hue as
rusty armor.

Demetrio Macias' men grew silent for a moment.
They believed they heard the familiar rumor of firing in
the distance. A few minutes elapsed but the sound was
not repeated.

"In this same sierra," Demetrio said, "with but twenty
men I killed five hundred Federals. Remember, Anasta-
sio?"

As Demetrio began to tell that famous exploit, the
men realized the danger they were facing. What if the
enemy, instead of being two days away, was hiding some-
where among the underbrush on the terrible hill through
whose gorge they now advanced? None dared show the
slightest fear. Not one of Demetrio Macias' men dared
say, "I shall not move another inch!"

So, when firing began in the distance where the van-
guard was marching, no one felt surprised. The recruits
turned back hurriedly, retreating in shameful flight,
searching for a way out of the canyon.
A curse broke from Demetrio's parched lips.
"Fire at 'em. Shoot any man who runs away!"
"Storm the hill!" he thundered like a wild beast.
But the enemy, lying in ambush by the thousand,
opened up its machine-gun fire. Demetrio's men fell like
wheat under the sickle.


Tears of rage and pain rise to Demetrio's eyes as
Anastasio slowly slides from his horse without a sound,
and lies outstretched, motionless. Venancio falls close
beside him, his chest riddled with bullets. Meco hurtles
over the precipice, bounding from rock to rock.

Suddenly, Demetrio finds himself alone. Bullets whiz
past his ears like hail. He dismounts and crawls over the
rocks, until he finds a parapet: he lays down a stone to
protect his head and, lying flat on the ground, begins to
shoot.

The enemy scatter in all directions, pursuing the few
fugitives hiding in the brush. Demetrio aims; he does not
waste a single shot.

His famous marksmanship fills him with joy. Where
he settles his glance, he settles a bullet. He loads his gun
once more . . . takes aim. . . .

The smoke of the guns hangs thick in the air. Locusts
chant their mysterious, imperturbable song. Doves coo
lyrically in the crannies of the rocks. The cows graze
placidly.

The sierra is clad in gala colors. Over its inaccessible
peaks the opalescent fog settles like a snowy veil on the
forehead of a bride.

At the foot of a hollow, sumptuous and huge as the
portico of an old cathedral, Demetrio Macias, his eyes
leveled in an eternal glance, continues to point the barrel
of his gun.



The End






The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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