“By God,” the man said, “those ain’t poisonous spiders; they’re only townsmen scared of their own shadow. Come in here until they stop.”
“How many of them are there?” asked Demetrio.
“There were only twelve of them. But last night they were scared out of their wits so they wired to the town beyond for help. I don’t know how many of them there are now. Even if there are a hell of a lot of them, it doesn’t cut any ice! Most of them aren’t soldiers, you know, but drafted men; if just one of them starts mu-tinying, the rest will follow like sheep. My brother was drafted; they’ve got him there. I’ll go along with you and signal to him; all of them will desert and follow you. Then we’ll only have the officers to deal with! If you want to give me a gun or something. . . .”
“No more rifles left, brother. But I guess you can put these to some use,” Anastasio Montanez said, passing him two hand grenades.
The officer in command of the Federals was a young coxcomb of a captain with a waxed mustache and blond hair. As long as he felt uncertain about the strength of the assailants, he had remained extremely quiet and prudent; but now that they had driven the rebels back without al-lowing them a chance to fire a single shot, he waxed bold and brave. While the soldiers did not dare put out their heads beyond the pillars of the building, his own shadow stood against the pale clear dawn, exhibiting his well-built slender body and his officer’s cape bellying in the breeze.
“Ha, I remember our coup d’etat!”
His military career had consisted of the single adven-ture when, together with other students of the Officers’ School, he was involved in the treacherous revolt of Feliz Diaz and Huerta against President Madero. When-ever the slightest insubordination arose, he invariably re-called his feat at the Ciudadela.
“Lieutenant Campos,” he ordered emphatically, “take a dozen men and wipe out the bandits hiding there! The curs! They’re only brave when it comes to guzzling meat and robbing a hencoop!”
A workingman appeared at the small door of the spiral staircase, announcing that the assailants were hidden in a corral where they might easily be captured. This mes-sage came from the citizens keeping watch on housetops.
“I’ll go myself and get it over with!” the officer de-clared impetuously.
But he soon changed his mind. Before he had reached the door, he retraced his steps.
“Very likely they are waiting for more men and, of course, it would be wrong for me to abandon my post. Lieutenant Campos, go there yourself and capture them dead or alive. We’ll shoot them at noon when every-body’s coming out of church. Those bandits will see the example I’ll set around here. But if you can’t capture them, Lieutenant, kill them all. Don’t leave a man of them alive, do you understand?”
In high good humor, he began pacing up and down the room, formulating the official despatch he would send off no later than today.