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Chapter II.4
PERHAPS it was in the exercise of his calling that he had come to see the troops
depart. The Porvenir of the day after next would no doubt relate the event, but its
editor, leaning his side against the landau, seemed to look at nothing. The front
rank of the company of infantry drawn up three deep across the shore end of the
jetty when pressed too close would bring their bayonets to the charge
ferociously, with an awful rattle; and then the crowd of spectators swayed back
bodily, even under the noses of the big white mules. Notwithstanding the great
multitude there was only a low, muttering noise; the dust hung in a brown haze,
in which the horsemen, wedged in the throng here and there, towered from the
hips upwards, gazing all one way over the heads. Almost every one of them had
mounted a friend, who steadied himself with both hands grasping his shoulders
from behind; and the rims of their hats touching, made like one disc sustaining
the cones of two pointed crowns with a double face underneath. A hoarse mozo
would bawl out something to an acquaintance in the ranks, or a woman would
shriek suddenly the word Adios! followed by the Christian name of a man.
General Barrios, in a shabby blue tunic and white peg-top trousers falling upon
strange red boots, kept his head uncovered and stooped slightly, propping
himself up with a thick stick. No! He had earned enough military glory to satiate
any man, he insisted to Mrs. Gould, trying at the same time to put an air of
gallantry into his attitude. A few jetty hairs hung sparsely from his upper lip, he
had a salient nose, a thin, long jaw, and a black silk patch over one eye. His
other eye, small and deep-set, twinkled erratically in all directions, aimlessly
affable. The few European spectators, all men, who had naturally drifted into the
neighbourhood of the Gould carriage, betrayed by the solemnity of their faces
their impression that the general must have had too much punch (Swedish
punch, imported in bottles by Anzani) at the Amarilla Club before he had started
with his Staff on a furious ride to the harbour. But Mrs. Gould bent forward, self-
possessed, and declared her conviction that still more glory awaited the general
in the near future.
"Senora!" he remonstrated, with great feeling, "in the name of God, reflect! How
can there be any glory for a man like me in overcoming that bald-headed
embustero with the dyed moustaches?"
Pablo Ignacio Barrios, son of a village alcalde, general of division, commanding
in chief the Occidental Military district, did not frequent the higher society of the
town. He preferred the unceremonious gatherings of men where he could tell
jaguar-hunt stories, boast of his powers with the lasso, with which he could
perform extremely difficult feats of the sort "no married man should attempt," as
the saying goes amongst the llaneros; relate tales of extraordinary night rides,
encounters with wild bulls, struggles with crocodiles, adventures in the great
forests, crossings of swollen rivers. And it was not mere boastfulness that
prompted the general's reminiscences, but a genuine love of that wild life which
he had led in his young days before he turned his back for ever on the thatched
roof of the parental tolderia in the woods. Wandering away as far as Mexico he