They gathered dry brush and wood, built a fire and placed chunks of fresh meat upon the burning coals. As the blaze rose, they collected about the fire, sat down In-dian-fashion and inhaled the odor of the meat as it twist-ed on the crackling fire. The rays of the sun, falling about them, cast a golden radiance over the bloody hide of a calf, lying on the ground nearby. The meat dangled from a rope fastened to a huizache tree, to dry in the sun and wind.
“Well, men,” Demetrio said, “you know we’ve only twenty rifles, besides my thirty-thirty. If there are just a few of them, we’ll shoot until there’s not a live man left. If there’s a lot of ’em, we can give ’em a good scare, any-how.”
He undid a rag belt about his waist, loosened a knot in it and offered the contents to his companions. Salt. A murmur of approbation rose among them as each took a few grains between the tips of his fingers.
They ate voraciously; then, glutted, lay down on the ground, facing the sky. They sang monotonous, sad songs, uttering a strident shout after each stanza.
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.