For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 27

El Sordo was making his fight on a hilltop. He did not like this hill and when he saw it he thought it had the shape of a chancre. But he had had no choice except this hill and he had picked it as far away as he could see it and galloped for it, the automatic rifle heavy on his back, the horse laboring, barrel heaving between his thighs, the sack of grenades swinging against one side, the sack of automatic rifle pans banging against the other, and Joaquín and Ignacio halting and firing, halting and firing to give him time to get the gun in place.

There had still been snow then, the snow that had ruined them, and when his horse was hit so that he wheezed in a slow, jerking, climbing stagger up the last part of the crest, splattering the snow with a bright, pulsing jet, Sordo had hauled him along by the bridle, the reins over his shoulder as he climbed. He climbed as hard as he could with the bullets spatting on the rocks, with the two sacks heavy on his shoulders, and then, holding the horse by the mane, had shot him quickly, expertly, and tenderly just where he had needed him, so that the horse pitched, head forward down to plug a gap between two rocks. He had gotten the gun to firing over the horse’s back and he fired two pans, the gun clattering, the empty shells pitching into the snow, the smell of burnt hair from the burnt hide where the hot muzzle rested, him firing at what came up to the hill, forcing them to scatter for cover, while all the time there was a chill in his back from not knowing what was behind him. Once the last of the five men had reached the hilltop the chill went out of his back and he had saved the pans he had left until he would need them.

There were two more horses dead along the slope and three more were dead here on the hilltop. He had only succeeded in stealing three horses last night and one had bolted when they tried to mount him bareback in the corral at the camp when the first shooting had started.

Of the five men who had reached the hilltop three were wounded. Sordo was wounded in the calf of his leg and in two places in his left arm. He was very thirsty, his wounds had stiffened, and one of the wounds in his left arm was very painful. He also had a bad headache and as he lay waiting for the planes to come he thought of a joke in Spanish. It was, “Hay que tomar la muerte como si fuera aspirina,” which means, “You will have to take death as an aspirin.” But he did not make the joke aloud. He grinned somewhere inside the pain in his head and inside the nausea that came whenever he moved his arm and looked around at what there was left of his band.

The five men were spread out like the points of a five-pointed star. They had dug with their knees and hands and made mounds in front of their heads and shoulders with the dirt and piles of stones. Using this cover, they were linking the individual mounds up with stones and dirt. Joaquín, who was eighteen years old, had a steel helmet that he dug with and he passed dirt in it.

He had gotten this helmet at the blowing up of the train. It had a bullet hole through it and every one had always joked at him for keeping it. But he had hammered the jagged edges of the bullet hole smooth and driven a wooden plug into it and then cut the plug off and smoothed it even with the metal inside the helmet.

When the shooting started he had clapped this helmet on his head so hard it banged his head as though he had been hit with a casserole and, in the last lung-aching, leg-dead, mouth-dry, bulletspatting, bullet-cracking, bullet-singing run up the final slope of the hill after his horse was killed, the helmet had seemed to weigh a great amount and to ring his bursting forehead with an iron band. But he had kept it. Now he dug with it in a steady, almost machinelike desperation. He had not yet been hit.

“It serves for something finally,” Sordo said to him in his deep, throaty voice.

“Resistir y fortificar es vencer,” Joaquín said, his mouth stiff with the dryness of fear which surpassed the normal thirst of battle. It was one of the slogans of the Communist party and it meant, “Hold out and fortify, and you will win.”

Sordo looked away and down the slope at where a cavalryman was sniping from behind a boulder. He was very fond of this boy and he was in no mood for slogans.

“What did you say?”

One of the men turned from the building that he was doing. This man was lying flat on his face, reaching carefully up with his hands to put a rock in place while keeping his chin flat against the ground.

Joaquín repeated the slogan in his dried-up boy’s voice without checking his digging for a moment.

“What was the last word?” the man with his chin on the ground asked.

“Vencer,” the boy said. “Win.”

“Mierda,” the man with his chin on the ground said.

“There is another that applies to here,” Joaquín said, bringing them out as though they were talismans, “Pasionaria says it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

“Mierda again,” the man said and another man said, over his shoulder, “We’re on our bellies, not our knees.”

“Thou. Communist. Do you know your Pasionaria has a son thy age in Russia since the start of the movement?”

“It’s a lie,” Joaquín said.

“Qué va, it’s a lie,” the other said. “The dynamiter with the rare name told me. He was of thy party, too. Why should he lie?”

“It’s a lie,” Joaquín said. “She would not do such a thing as keep a son hidden in Russia out of the war.”

“I wish I were in Russia,” another of Sordo’s men said. “Will not thy Pasionaria send me now from here to Russia, Communist?”

“If thou believest so much in thy Pasionaria, get her to get us off this hill,” one of the men who had a bandaged thigh said.

“The fascists will do that,” the man with his chin in the dirt said.

“Do not speak thus,” Joaquín said to him.

“Wipe the pap of your mother’s breasts off thy lips and give me a hatful of that dirt,” the man with his chin on the ground said. “No one of us will see the sun go down this night.”

El Sordo was thinking: It is shaped like a chancre. Or the breast of a young girl with no nipple. Or the top cone of a volcano. You have never seen a volcano, he thought. Nor will you ever see one. And this hill is like a chancre. Let the volcanos alone. It’s late now for the volcanos.

He looked very carefully around the withers of the dead horse and there was a quick hammering of firing from behind a boulder well down the slope and he heard the bullets from the submachine gun thud into the horse. He crawled along behind the horse and looked out of the angle between the horse’s hindquarters and the rock. There were three bodies on the slope just below him where they had fallen when the fascists had rushed the crest under cover of the automatic rifle and submachine gunfire and he and the others had broken down the attack by throwing and rolling down hand grenades. There were other bodies that he could not see on the other sides of the hill crest. There was no dead ground by which attackers could approach the summit and Sordo knew that as long as his ammunition and grenades held out and he had as many as four men they could not get him out of there unless they brought up a trench mortar. He did not know whether they had sent to La Granja for a trench mortar. Perhaps they had not, because surely, soon, the planes would come. It had been four hours since the observation plane had flown over them.

This hill is truly like a chancre, Sordo thought, and we are the very pus of it. But we killed many when they made that stupidness. How could they think that they would take us thus? They have such modern armament that they lose all their sense with overconfidence. He had killed the young officer who had led the assault with a grenade that had gone bouncing and rolling down the slope as they came up it, running, bent half over. In the yellow flash and gray roar of smoke he had seen the officer dive forward to where he lay now like a heavy, broken bundle of old clothing marking the farthest point that the assault had reached. Sordo looked at this body and then, down the hill, at the others.

They are brave but stupid people, he thought. But they have sense enough now not to attack us again until the planes come. Unless, of course, they have a mortar coming. It would be easy with a mortar. The mortar was the normal thing and he knew that they would die as soon as a mortar came up, but when he thought of the planes coming up he felt as naked on that hilltop as though all of his clothing and even his skin had been removed. There is no nakeder thing than I feel, he thought. A flayed rabbit is as well covered as a bear in comparison. But why should they bring planes? They could get us out of here with a trench mortar easily. They are proud of their planes, though, and they will probably bring them. Just as they were so proud of their automatic weapons that they made that stupidness. But undoubtedly they must have sent for a mortar too.

One of the men fired. Then jerked the bolt and fired again, quickly.

“Save thy cartridges,” Sordo said.

“One of the sons of the great whore tried to reach that boulder,” the man pointed.

“Did you hit him?” Sordo asked, turning his head with difficulty.

“Nay,” the man said. “The fornicator ducked back.”

“Who is a whore of whores is Pilar,” the man with his chin in the dirt said. “That whore knows we are dying here.”

“She could do no good,” Sordo said. The man had spoken on the side of his good ear and he had heard him without turning his head. “What could she do?”

“Take these sluts from the rear.”

“Qué va,” Sordo said. “They are spread around a hillside. How would she come on them? There are a hundred and fifty of them. Maybe more now.”

“But if we hold out until dark,” Joaquín said.

“And if Christmas comes on Easter,” the man with his chin on the ground said.

“And if thy aunt had cojones she would be thy uncle,” another said to him. “Send for thy Pasionaria. She alone can help us.”

“I do not believe that about the son,” Joaquín said. “Or if he is there he is training to be an aviator or something of that sort.”

“He is hidden there for safety,” the man told him.

“He is studying dialectics. Thy Pasionaria has been there. So have Lister and Modesto and others. The one with the rare name told me.”

“That they should go to study and return to aid us,” Joaquín said.

“That they should aid us now,” another man said. “That all the cruts of Russian sucking swindlers should aid us now.” He fired and said, “Me cago en tal; I missed him again.”

“Save thy cartridges and do not talk so much or thou wilt be very thirsty,” Sordo said. “There is no water on this hill.”

“Take this,” the man said and rolling on his side he pulled a wineskin that he wore slung from his shoulder over his head and handed it to Sordo. “Wash thy mouth out, old one. Thou must have much thirst with thy wounds.”

“Let all take it,” Sordo said.

“Then I will have some first,” the owner said and squirted a long stream into his mouth before he handed the leather bottle around.

“Sordo, when thinkest thou the planes will come?” the man with his chin in the dirt asked.

“Any time,” said Sordo. “They should have come before.”

“Do you think these sons of the great whore will attack again?”

“Only if the planes do not come.”

He did not think there was any need to speak about the mortar. They would know it soon enough when the mortar came.

“God knows they’ve enough planes with what we saw yesterday.”

“Too many,” Sordo said.

His head hurt very much and his arm was stiffening so that the pain of moving it was almost unbearable. He looked up at the bright, high, blue early summer sky as he raised the leather wine bottle with his good arm. He was fifty-two years old and he was sure this was the last time he would see that sky.

He was not at all afraid of dying but he was angry at being trapped on this hill which was only utilizable as a place to die. If we could have gotten clear, he thought. If we could have made them come up the long valley or if we could have broken loose across the road it would have been all right. But this chancre of a hill. We must use it as well as we can and we have used it very well so far.

If he had known how many men in history have had to use a hill to die on it would not have cheered him any for, in the moment he was passing through, men are not impressed by what has happened to other men in similar circumstances any more than a widow of one day is helped by the knowledge that other loved husbands have died. Whether one has fear of it or not, one’s death is difficult to accept. Sordo had accepted it but there was no sweetness in its acceptance even at fifty-two, with three wounds and him surrounded on a hill.

He joked about it to himself but he looked at the sky and at the far mountains and he swallowed the wine and he did not want it. If one must die, he thought, and clearly one must, I can die. But I hate it.

Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.

Sordo passed the wine bottle back and nodded his head in thanks. He leaned forward and patted the dead horse on the shoulder where the muzzle of the automatic rifle had burned the hide. He could still smell the burnt hair. He thought how he had held the horse there, trembling, with the fire around them, whispering and cracking, over and around them like a curtain, and had carefully shot him just at the intersection of the cross-lines between the two eyes and the ears. Then as the horse pitched down he had dropped down behind his warm, wet back to get the gun to going as they came up the hill.

“Eras mucho caballo,” he said, meaning, “Thou wert plenty of horse.”

El Sordo lay now on his good side and looked up at the sky. He was lying on a heap of empty cartridge hulls but his head was protected by the rock and his body lay in the lee of the horse. His wounds had stiffened badly and he had much pain and he felt too tired to move.

“What passes with thee, old one?” the man next to him asked.

“Nothing. I am taking a little rest.”

“Sleep,” the other said. “They will wake us when they come.”

Just then some one shouted from down the slope.

“Listen, bandits!” the voice came from behind the rocks where the closest automatic rifle was placed. “Surrender now before the planes blow you to pieces.”

“What is it he says?” Sordo asked.

Joaquín told him. Sordo rolled to one side and pulled himself up so that he was crouched behind the gun again.

“Maybe the planes aren’t coming,” he said. “Don’t answer them and do not fire. Maybe we can get them to attack again.”

“If we should insult them a little?” the man who had spoken to Joaquín about La Pasionaria’s son in Russia asked.

“No,” Sordo said. “Give me thy big pistol. Who has a big pistol?”


“Give it to me.” Crouched on his knees he took the big 9 mm. Star and fired one shot into the ground beside the dead horse, waited, then fired again four times at irregular intervals. Then he waited while he counted sixty and then fired a final shot directly into the body of the dead horse. He grinned and handed back the pistol.

“Reload it,” he whispered, “and that every one should keep his mouth shut and no one shoot.”

“Bandidos!” the voice shouted from behind the rocks.

No one spoke on the hill.

“Bandidos! Surrender now before we blow thee to little pieces.”

“They’re biting,” Sordo whispered happily.

As he watched, a man showed his head over the top of the rocks. There was no shot from the hilltop and the head went down again. El Sordo waited, watching, but nothing more happened. He turned his head and looked at the others who were all watching down their sectors of the slope. As he looked at them the others shook their heads.

“Let no one move,” he whispered.

“Sons of the great whore,” the voice came now from behind the rocks again.

“Red swine. Mother rapers. Eaters of the milk of thy fathers.”

Sordo grinned. He could just hear the bellowed insults by turning his good ear. This is better than the aspirin, he thought. How many will we get? Can they be that foolish?

The voice had stopped again and for three minutes they heard nothing and saw no movement. Then the sniper behind the boulder a hundred yards down the slope exposed himself and fired. The bullet hit a rock and ricocheted with a sharp whine. Then Sordo saw a man, bent double, run from the shelter of the rocks where the automatic rifle was across the open ground to the big boulder behind which the sniper was hidden. He almost dove behind the boulder.

Sordo looked around. They signalled to him that there was no movement on the other slopes. El Sordo grinned happily and shook his head. This is ten times better than the aspirin, he thought, and he waited, as happy as only a hunter can be happy.

Below on the slope the man who had run from the pile of stones to the shelter of the boulder was speaking to the sniper.

“Do you believe it?”

“I don’t know,” the sniper said.

“It would be logical,” the man, who was the officer in command, said. “They are surrounded. They have nothing to expect but to die.”

The sniper said nothing.

“What do you think?” the officer asked.

“Nothing,” the sniper said.

“Have you seen any movement since the shots?”

“None at all.”

The officer looked at his wrist watch. It was ten minutes to three o’clock.

“The planes should have come an hour ago,” he said. Just then another officer flopped in behind the boulder. The sniper moved over to make room for him.

“Thou, Paco,” the first officer said. “How does it seem to thee?”

The second officer was breathing heavily from his sprint up and across the hillside from the automatic rifle position.

“For me it is a trick,” he said.

“But if it is not? What a ridicule we make waiting here and laying siege to dead men.”

“We have done something worse than ridiculous already,” the second officer said. “Look at that slope.”

He looked up the slope to where the dead were scattered close to the top. From where he looked the line of the hilltop showed the scattered rocks, the belly, projecting legs, shod hooves jutting out, of Sordo’s horse, and the fresh dirt thrown up by the digging.

“What about the mortars?” asked the second officer.

“They should be here in an hour. If not before.”

“Then wait for them. There has been enough stupidity already.”

“Bandidos!” the first officer shouted suddenly, getting to his feet and putting his head well up above the boulder so that the crest of the hill looked much closer as he stood upright. “Red swine! Cowards!”

The second officer looked at the sniper and shook his head. The sniper looked away but his lips tightened.

The first officer stood there, his head all clear of the rock and with his hand on his pistol butt. He cursed and vilified the hilltop. Nothing happened. Then he stepped clear of the boulder and stood there looking up the hill.

“Fire, cowards, if you are alive,” he shouted. “Fire on one who has no fear of any Red that ever came out of the belly of the great whore.”

This last was quite a long sentence to shout and the officer’s face was red and congested as he finished.

The second officer, who was a thin sunburned man with quiet eyes, a thin, long-lipped mouth and a stubble of beard over his hollow cheeks, shook his head again. It was this officer who was shouting who had ordered the first assault. The young lieutenant who was dead up the slope had been the best friend of this other lieutenant who was named Paco Berrendo and who was listening to the shouting of the captain, who was obviously in a state of exaltation.

“Those are the swine who shot my sister and my mother,” the captain said. He had a red face and a blond, British-looking moustache and there was something wrong about his eyes. They were a light blue and the lashes were light, too. As you looked at them they seemed to focus slowly. Then “Reds,” he shouted. “Cowards!” and commenced cursing again.

He stood absolutely clear now and, sighting carefully, fired his pistol at the only target that the hilltop presented: the dead horse that had belonged to Sordo. The bullet threw up a puff of dirt fifteen yards below the horse. The captain fired again. The bullet hit a rock and sung off.

The captain stood there looking at the hilltop. The Lieutenant Berrendo was looking at the body of the other lieutenant just below the summit. The sniper was looking at the ground under his eyes. Then he looked up at the captain.

“There is no one alive up there,” the captain said. “Thou,” he said to the sniper, “go up there and see.”

The sniper looked down. He said nothing.

“Don’t you hear me?” the captain shouted at him.

“Yes, my captain,” the sniper said, not looking at him.

“Then get up and go.” The captain still had his pistol out. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes, my captain.”

“Why don’t you go, then?”

“I don’t want to, my captain.”

“You don’t want to?” The captain pushed the pistol against the small of the man’s back. “You don’t want to?”

“I am afraid, my captain,” the soldier said with dignity.

Lieutenant Berrendo, watching the captain’s face and his odd eyes, thought he was going to shoot the man then.

“Captain Mora,” he said.

“Lieutenant Berrendo?”

“It is possible the soldier is right.”

“That he is right to say he is afraid? That he is right to say he does not want to obey an order?”

“No. That he is right that it is a trick.”

“They are all dead,” the captain said. “Don’t you hear me say they are all dead?’

“You mean our comrades on the slope?” Berrendo asked him. “I agree with you.”

“Paco,” the captain said, “don’t be a fool. Do you think you are the only one who cared for Julián? I tell you the Reds are dead. Look!”

He stood up, then put both hands on top of the boulder and pulled himself up, kneeing-up awkwardly, then getting on his feet.

“Shoot,” he shouted, standing on the gray granite boulder and waved both his arms. “Shoot me! Kill me!”

On the hilltop El Sordo lay behind the dead horse and grinned.

What a people, he thought. He laughed, trying to hold it in because the shaking hurt his arm.

“Reds,” came the shout from below. “Red canaille. Shoot me! Kill me!”

Sordo, his chest shaking, barely peeped past the horse’s crupper and saw the captain on top of the boulder waving his arms. Another officer stood by the boulder. The sniper was standing at the other side. Sordo kept his eye where it was and shook his head happily.

“Shoot me,” he said softly to himself. “Kill me!” Then his shoulders shook again. The laughing hurt his arm and each time he laughed his head felt as though it would burst. But the laughter shook him again like a spasm.

Captain Mora got down from the boulder.

“Now do you believe me, Paco?” he questioned Lieutenant Berrendo.

“No,” said Lieutenant Berrendo.

“Cojones!” the captain said. “Here there is nothing but idiots and cowards.”

The sniper had gotten carefully behind the boulder again and Lieutenant Berrendo was squatting beside him.

The captain, standing in the open beside the boulder, commenced to shout filth at the hilltop. There is no language so filthy as Spanish. There are words for all the vile words in English and there are other words and expressions that are used only in countries where blasphemy keeps pace with the austerity of religion. Lieutenant Berrendo was a very devout Catholic. So was the sniper. They were Carlists from Navarra and while both of them cursed and blasphemed when they were angry they regarded it as a sin which they regularly confessed.

As they crouched now behind the boulder watching the captain and listening to what he was shouting, they both disassociated themselves from him and what he was saying. They did not want to have that sort of talk on their consciences on a day in which they might die. Talking thus will not bring luck, the sniper thought. Speaking thus of the Virgen is bad luck. This one speaks worse than the Reds.

Julián is dead, Lieutenant Berrendo was thinking. Dead there on the slope on such a day as this is. And this foul mouth stands there bringing more ill fortune with his blasphemies.

Now the captain stopped shouting and turned to Lieutenant Berrendo. His eyes looked stranger than ever.

“Paco,” he said, happily, “you and I will go up there.”

“Not me.”

“What?” The captain had his pistol out again.

I hate these pistol brandishers, Berrendo was thinking. They cannot give an order without jerking a gun out. They probably pull out their pistols when they go to the toilet and order the move they will make.

“I will go if you order me to. But under protest,” Lieutenant Berrendo told the captain.

“Then I will go alone,” the captain said. “The smell of cowardice is too strong here.”

Holding his pistol in his right hand, he strode steadily up the slope. Berrendo and the sniper watched him. He was making no attempt to take any cover and he was looking straight ahead of him at the rocks, the dead horse, and the fresh-dug dirt of the hilltop.

El Sordo lay behind the horse at the corner of the rock, watching the captain come striding up the hill.

Only one, he thought. We get only one. But from his manner of speaking he is caza mayor. Look at him walking. Look what an animal. Look at him stride forward. This one is for me. This one I take with me on the trip. This one coming now makes the same voyage I do. Come on, Comrade Voyager. Come striding. Come right along. Come along to meet it. Come on. Keep on walking. Don’t slow up. Come right along. Come as thou art coming. Don’t stop and look at those. That’s right. Don’t even look down. Keep on coming with your eyes forward. Look, he has a moustache. What do you think of that? He runs to a moustache, the Comrade Voyager. He is a captain. Look at his sleeves. I said he was caza mayor. He has the face of an Inglés. Look. With a red face and blond hair and blue eyes. With no cap on and his moustache is yellow. With blue eyes. With pale blue eyes. With pale blue eyes with something wrong with them. With pale blue eyes that don’t focus. Close enough. Too close. Yes, Comrade Voyager. Take it, Comrade Voyager.

He squeezed the trigger of the automatic rifle gently and it pounded back three times against his shoulder with the slippery jolt the recoil of a tripoded automatic weapon gives.

The captain lay on his face on the hillside. His left arm was under him. His right arm that had held the pistol was stretched forward of his head. From all down the slope they were firing on the hill crest again.

Crouched behind the boulder, thinking that now he would have to sprint across that open space under fire, Lieutenant Berrendo heard the deep hoarse voice of Sordo from the hilltop.

“Bandidos!” the voice came. “Bandidos! Shoot me! Kill me!”

On the top of the hill El Sordo lay behind the automatic rifle laughing so that his chest ached, so that he thought the top of his head would burst.

“Bandidos,” he shouted again happily. “Kill me, bandidos!” Then he shook his head happily. We have lots of company for the Voyage, he thought.

He was going to try for the other officer with the automatic rifle when he would leave the shelter of the boulder. Sooner or later he would have to leave it. Sordo knew that he could never command from there and he thought he had a very good chance to get him.

Just then the others on the hill heard the first sound of the coming of the planes.

El Sordo did not hear them. He was covering the down-slope edge of the boulder with his automatic rifle and he was thinking: when I see him he will be running already and I will miss him if I am not careful. I could shoot behind him all across that stretch. I should swing the gun with him and ahead of him. Or let him start and then get on him and ahead of him. I will try to pick him up there at the edge of the rock and swing just ahead of him. Then he felt a touch on his shoulder and he turned and saw the gray, fear-drained face of Joaquín and he looked where the boy was pointing and saw the three planes coming.

At this moment Lieutenant Berrendo broke from behind the boulder and, with his head bent and his legs plunging, ran down and across the slope to the shelter of the rocks where the automatic rifle was placed.

Watching the planes, Sordo never saw him go.

“Help me to pull this out,” he said to Joaquín and the boy dragged the automatic rifle clear from between the horse and the rock.

The planes were coming on steadily. They were in echelon and each second they grew larger and their noise was greater.

“Lie on your backs to fire at them,” Sordo said. “Fire ahead of them as they come.”

He was watching them all the time. “Cabrones! Hijos de puta!” he said rapidly.

“Ignacio!” he said. “Put the gun on the shoulder of the boy. Thou!” to Joaquín, “Sit there and do not move. Crouch over. More. No. More.”

He lay back and sighted with the automatic rifle as the planes came on steadily.

“Thou, Ignacio, hold me the three legs of that tripod.” They were dangling down the boy’s back and the muzzle of the gun was shaking from the jerking of his body that Joaquín could not control as he crouched with bent head hearing the droning roar of their coming.

Lying flat on his belly and looking up into the sky watching them come, Ignacio gathered the legs of the tripod into his two hands and steadied the gun.

“Keep thy head down,” he said to Joaquín. “Keep thy head forward.”

“Pasionaria says ‘Better to die on thy—’ “ Joaquín was saying to himself as the drone came nearer them. Then he shifted suddenly into “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Holy Mary, Mother of God,” he started, then he remembered quickly as the roar came now unbearably and started an act of contrition racing in it, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee who art worthy of all my love—”

Then there were the hammering explosions past his ears and the gun barrel hot against his shoulder. It was hammering now again and his ears were deafened by the muzzle blast. Ignacio was pulling down hard on the tripod and the barrel was burning his back. It was hammering now in the roar and he could not remember the act of contrition.

All he could remember was at the hour of our death. Amen. At the hour of our death. Amen. At the hour. At the hour. Amen. The others all were firing. Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Then, through the hammering of the gun, there was the whistle of the air splitting apart and then in the red black roar the earth rolled under his knees and then waved up to hit him in the face and then dirt and bits of rock were falling all over and Ignacio was lying on him and the gun was lying on him. But he was not dead because the whistle came again and the earth rolled under him with the roar. Then it came again and the earth lurched under his belly and one side of the hilltop rose into the air and then fell slowly over them where they lay.

The planes came back three times and bombed the hilltop but no one on the hilltop knew it. Then the planes machine-gunned the hilltop and went away. As they dove on the hill for the last time with their machine guns hammering, the first plane pulled up and winged over and then each plane did the same and they moved from echelon to V-formation and went away into the sky in the direction of Segovia.

Keeping a heavy fire on the hilltop, Lieutenant Berrendo pushed a patrol up to one of the bomb craters from where they could throw grenades onto the crest. He was taking no chances of any one being alive and waiting for them in the mess that was up there and he threw four grenades into the confusion of dead horses, broken and split rocks, and torn yellow-stained explosive-stinking earth before he climbed out of the bomb crater and walked over to have a look.

No one was alive on the hilltop except the boy Joaquín, who was unconscious under the dead body of Ignacio. Joaquín was bleeding from the nose and from the ears. He had known nothing and had no feeling since he had suddenly been in the very heart of the thunder and the breath had been wrenched from his body when the one bomb struck so close and Lieutenant Berrendo made the sign of the cross and then shot him in the back of the head, as quickly and as gently, if such an abrupt movement can be gentle, as Sordo had shot the wounded horse.

Lieutenant Berrendo stood on the hilltop and looked down the slope at his own dead and then across the country seeing where they had galloped before Sordo had turned at bay here. He noticed all the dispositions that had been made of the troops and then he ordered the dead men’s horses to be brought up and the bodies tied across the saddles so that they might be packed in to La Granja.

“Take that one, too,” he said. “The one with his hands on the automatic rifle. That should be Sordo. He is the oldest and it was he with the gun. No. Cut the head off and wrap it in a poncho.” He considered a minute. “You might as well take all the heads. And of the others below on the slope and where we first found them. Collect the rifles and pistols and pack that gun on a horse.”

Then he walked down to where the lieutenant lay who had been killed in the first assault. He looked down at him but did not touch him.

“Qué cosa más mala es la guerra,” he said to himself, which meant, “What a bad thing war is.”

Then he made the sign of the cross again and as he walked down the hill he said five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys for the repose of the soul of his dead comrade. He did not wish to stay to see his orders being carried out.