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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 5/11 -
His cousin Gerado the Rurales taught him. I do well by him as I may, who have other things to think on. But I do well by him."
"What became of his father, Becodar? Dead?" asked Sherry.
The beggar crossed himself. "Altogether, senor. And such a funeral had he, with the car all draped, and even the mutes with the gold braid on their black. I will tell you how it was. We were great friends, Bernal's father and me, and when the boy was born, I said, I will be compadre to him. ('Godfather, or co-father,' interposed Sherry to me.) I had my sight then, senors, out of the exalted mercy of the Saints. Ah, those were great times, when I had my eyes, and no grey hairs, and could wear my sword, and ride my horses. There was work to do then, with sword and horses. It was revolution here and rebellion there, and bandits everywhere. Ah, well, it is no matter; I was speaking of the boy and his father and myself, the compadre. We were all great friends. But you know the way of men. One day he and I--Santiago, Bernal's father-- had been drinking mescal. We quarrelled--I know not why. It is not well nor right for a padre and a compadre to fight--there is trouble in Heaven over that. But there is a way; and we did it as others have done. We took off our sombreros, and put our compadreship on the ground under them. That was all right--it was hid there under the hat. Then we stood up and fought--such a fight--for half an hour. Then he cut me in the thigh--a great gash--and I caught him in the neck the same. We both came to the ground then, the fight was over, and we were, of course, good friends again. I dragged myself over to him as he lay there, and lifted his head and sopped the blood at his neck with my scarf. I did not think that he was hurt so bad. But he said: 'I am gone, my Becodar. I haven't got five minutes in me. Put on your compadreship quick.' I snatched up the sombrero and put it on, and his I tucked under his head. So that we were compadres again. Ah, senor, senor! Soon he drew my cheek down to his and said: 'Adios, compadre: Bernal is thine now. While your eyes see, and your foot travels, let him not want a friend. Adios!' That was the end of him. They had me in Balim for a year, and then I came out to the boy; and since then for twelve years he has not suffered."
At this point he offered us the pulque and the sandwiches, and I took both, eating and enjoying as well as I could. Sherry groaned, but took the pulque, refusing the sandwiches almost violently.
"How did you lose your sight, Becodar?" asked Sherry presently.
Becodar sat perfectly still for a moment, and then said in a low voice: "I will tell you. I will make the story short. Gentle God, what a thing it was! I was for Gonzales then--a loyal gentleman, he called me--I, a gentleman! But that was his way. I was more of a spy for him. Well, I found out that a revolution was to happen, so I gave the word to Gonzales, and with the soldiers came to Puebla. The leaders were captured in a house, brought out, and without trial were set against a wall. I can remember it so well--so well! The light was streaming from an open door upon the wall. They were brought out, taken across the road and stood against a wall. I was standing a distance away, for at the moment I was sorry, though, to be sure, senor, it was for the cause of the country then, I thought. As I stood there looking, the light that streamed from the doorway fell straight upon a man standing against that wall. It was my brother--Alphonso, my brother. I shrieked and ran forward, but the rifles spat out at the moment, and the five men fell. Alphonso--ah, I thank the Virgin every day! he did not know. His zarape hangs there on the wall, his sombrero, his sword, and his stirrups."
Sherry shifted nervously in his seat. "There's stuff for you, amigo," he said to me. "Makes you chilly, doesn't it? Shot his own brother-- amounts to same thing, doesn't it? All right, Becodar, we're both sorry, and will pray for his departed spirit; go ahead, Becodar."
The beggar kept pulling at a piece of black ribbon which was tied to the arm of the chair in which he now sat. "Senors, after that I became a revolutionist--that was the only way to make it up to my brother, except by masses--I gave candles for every day in the year. One day they were all in my house here, sitting just where you sit in those chairs. Our leader was Castodilian, the bandit with the long yellow hair. We had a keg of powder which we were going to distribute. All at once Gonzales's soldiers burst in. There was a fight, we were overpowered, and Castodilian dropped his cigar--he had kept it in his mouth all the time --in the powder-keg. It killed most of us. I lost my eyes. Gonzales forgave me, if I would promise to be a revolutionist no more. What was there to do? I took the solemn oath at the grave of my mother; and so-- and so, senors."
Sherry had listened with a quizzical intentness, now and again cocking his head at some dramatic bit, and when Becodar paused he suddenly leaned over and thrust a dollar into the ever-waiting hand. Becodar gave a great sign of pleasure, and fumbled again with the money in his pocket. Then, after a moment, it shifted to the bit of ribbon that hung from the chair: "See, senors," he said. "I tied this ribbon to the chair all those years ago."
My eyes were on the peg and the holes in the wall. Sherry questioned him. "Why do you spike the wall with the little red peg, Becodar?"
"The Little Red Peg, senor? Ah! It is not wonderful you notice that. There are eight bullet-holes in that zarape"--he pointed to the wall--" there are eight holes in the wall for the Little Red Peg. Well, of the eight men who fired on my brother, two are left, as you may see. The others are all gone, this way or that." Sherry shrugged a shoulder. "There are two left, eh, Becodar? How will they die, and when?" Becodar was motionless as a stone for a moment. Then he said softly: "I do not know quite how or when. But one drinks much mescal, and the other has a taste for quarrel. He will get in trouble with the Rurales, and then good-bye to him! Four others on furlough got in trouble with the Rurales, and that was the end. They were taken at different times for some fault--by Gerado's company--Gerado, my cousin. Camping at night, they tried to escape. There is the Law of Fire, senors, as you know. If a man thinks his guard sleeps, and makes a run for it, they do not chase--they fire; and if he escapes unhurt, good; he is not troubled. But the Rurales are fine shots!"
"You mean," said Sherry, "that the Rurales--your Gerado, for one-- pretended to sleep--to be careless. The fellows made a rush for it and were dropped? Eh, Becodar, of the Little Red Peg?"
Becodar shrugged a shoulder gently. "Ah, senor, who can tell? My Gerado is a sure shot."
"Egad," said Sherry, "who'd have thought it? It looks like a sweet little vendetta, doesn't it? A blind beggar, too, with his Gerado to help the thing along.
"'With his Gerado!' Sounds like a Gatling, or a bomb, or a diabolical machine, doesn't it? And yet they talk of this country being Americanised! You can't Americanise a country with a real history. Well, Becodar, that's four. What of the other two that left for Kingdom Come?"
Becodar smiled pensively. He seemed to be enduring a kind of joy, or else making light of a kind of sorrow. "Ah, those two! They were camping in a valley; they were escorting a small party of people who had come to look at ruins--Diaz was President then. Well, a party of Aztecs on the other side of the river began firing across, not as if doing or meaning any harm. By-and-bye the shot came rattling through the tent of the two. One got up, and yelled across to them to stop, but a chance bullet brought him down, and then by some great mistake a lot of bullets came through the tent, and the other soldier was killed. It was all a mistake, of course."
"Yes," cynically said Sherry. "The Aztecs got rattled, and then the bullets rattled. And what was done to the Aztecs?"
"Senor, what could be done? They meant no harm, as you can see."
"Of course, of course; but you put the Little Red Peg down two holes just the same, eh, my Becodar--with your Gerado. I smell a great man in your Gerado, Becodar. Your bandit turned soldier is a notable gentleman-- gentlemen all his tribe. . . . You see," Sherry added to me, "the country was infested with bandits--some big names in this land had bandit for their titles one time or another. Well, along came Diaz, a great man. He said to the bandits: 'How much do you make a year at your trade?' They told him.
"'Then,' said he, 'I'll give you as much a month and clothe you. You'll furnish your own horses and keep them, and hold the country in order. Put down the banditti, be my boundary-riders, my gentlemen guards, and we will all love you and cherish you.' And 'it was so,' as Scripture says. And this Gerado can serve our good compadre here, and the Little Red Peg in the wall keeps tally."
"What shall you do with Bernal the boy when he grows up?" added Sherry presently.
"There is the question for my mind, senor," he answered. "He would be a toreador--already has he served the matador in the ring, though I did not know it, foolish boy! But I would have him in the Rurales." Here he fetched out and handed us a bottle of mescal. Sherry lifted his glass.
"To the day when the Little Red Peg goes no farther!" he said. We drank.
"To the blind compadre and the boy!" I added, and we drank again.
A moment afterwards in the silent street I looked back. The door was shut, and the wee scarlet light was burning over it. I fell to thinking of the Little Red Peg in the wall.
A FRIEND OF THE COMMUNE
"See, madame--there, on the Hill of Pains, the long finger of the Semaphore! One more prisoner has escaped--one more."
"One more, Marie. It is the life here that on the Hill, this here below; and yet the sun is bright, the cockatoos are laughing in the palms, and you hear my linnet singing."
"It turns so slowly. Now it points across the Winter Valley. Ah!"
"Yes, across the Winter Valley, where the deep woods are, and beyond to the Pascal River."
"Towards my home. How dim the light is now! I can only see It--like a long dark finger yonder."
"No, my dear, there is bright sunshine still; there is no cloud at all: but It is like a finger; it is quivering now, as though it were not sure."
"Thank God, if it be not sure! But the hill is cloudy, as I said."
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