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Chapter III.5
DURING the night the expectant populace had taken possession of all the
belfries in the town in order to welcome Pedrito Montero, who was making his
entry after having slept the night in Rincon. And first came straggling in through
the land gate the armed mob of all colours, complexions, types, and states of
raggedness, calling themselves the Sulaco National Guard, and commanded by
Senor Gamacho. Through the middle of the street streamed, like a torrent of
rubbish, a mass of straw hats, ponchos, gun-barrels, with an enormous green
and yellow flag flapping in their midst, in a cloud of dust, to the furious beating of
drums. The spectators recoiled against the walls of the houses shouting their
Vivas! Behind the rabble could be seen the lances of the cavalry, the "army" of
Pedro Montero. He advanced between Senores Fuentes and Gamacho at the
head of his llaneros, who had accomplished the feat of crossing the Paramos of
the Higuerota in a snow-storm. They rode four abreast, mounted on confiscated
Campo horses, clad in the heterogeneous stock of roadside stores they had
looted hurriedly in their rapid ride through the northern part of the province; for
Pedro Montero had been in a great hurry to occupy Sulaco. The handkerchiefs
knotted loosely around their bare throats were glaringly new, and all the right
sleeves of their cotton shirts had been cut off close to the shoulder for greater
freedom in throwing the lazo. Emaciated greybeards rode by the side of lean
dark youths, marked by all the hardships of campaigning, with strips of raw beef
twined round the crowns of their hats, and huge iron spurs fastened to their
naked heels. Those that in the passes of the mountain had lost their lances had
provided themselves with the goads used by the Campo cattlemen: slender
shafts of palm fully ten feet long, with a lot of loose rings jingling under the
ironshod point. They were armed with knives and revolvers. A haggard
fearlessness characterized the expression of all these sun-blacked
countenances; they glared down haughtily with their scorched eyes at the crowd,
or, blinking upwards insolently, pointed out to each other some particular head
amongst the women at the windows. When they had ridden into the Plaza and
caught sight of the equestrian statue of the King dazzlingly white in the sunshine,
towering enormous and motionless above the surges of the crowd, with its
eternal gesture of saluting, a murmur of surprise ran through their ranks. "What is
that saint in the big hat?" they asked each other.
They were a good sample of the cavalry of the plains with which Pedro Montero
had helped so much the victorious career of his brother the general. The
influence which that man, brought up in coast towns, acquired in a short time
over the plainsmen of the Republic can be ascribed only to a genius for treachery
of so effective a kind that it must have appeared to those violent men but little
removed from a state of utter savagery, as the perfection of sagacity and virtue.
The popular lore of all nations testifies that duplicity and cunning, together with
bodily strength, were looked upon, even more than courage, as heroic virtues by
primitive mankind. To overcome your adversary was the great affair of life.
Courage was taken for granted. But the use of intelligence awakened wonder