Still lying down, Recabarren half-opened his eyes and saw the clear, oblique sky of rushes. From the other room came the strumming of a guitar, the sort of impoverished labyrinth that became entangled then undone in infinite alternation ... Little by little he recovered reality, the daily things that he could never exchange for others. He gazed unmercifully at his large, useless body and the plain wool poncho wrapped around his legs; outside, beyond the cross-pieces of the window, the evening and prairie were dissolving into one another. He had slept but the sky was still stained in light. He groped around with his left arm until it came across a bronze cowbell at the foot of the bed. He rang it once or twice; the humble chords echoed back from the other side of the door. The perpetrator was a black man who had shown up one night with the pretension of being a singer and challenged another foreigner to a long musical duel. Bested, he continued to frequent the local store as if waiting for someone. He whiled away the hours on his guitar but had never sung again – perhaps his failure had left him embittered; in any case, people had already gotten quite accustomed to this inoffensive fellow. As owner of the local store Recabarren would never forget this duel in vocal counterpoint, and the next day while putting away a few bottles of the local beer his right side had died on him and he had lost the faculty of speech. Since we always pity the misfortune of the heroes of novels, we end up pitying our own misfortunes excessively. Yet such was not the long-suffering Recabarren, who accepted paralysis the way he had accepted the rigor and solitude of America. He had grown used to living in the present, like animals do, and now gazed upon the heavens and thought that the red circle of the moon presaged rain.
A boy of Indian-looking features (his son, perhaps) pushed the door ajar. Recabarren's eyes asked him whether there were any customers. Taciturn, the boy gestured that there weren't; the black man did not count. He remained in his bed prostrate and alone, his left hand playing a bit with the cowbell as if he were exercising some kind of power.
Beneath the sun's last flashes the prairie was almost an abstraction seen in a dream. One point danced upon the horizon and grew into a horseman who was coming, or appeared to be coming, to the house. He saw the broad-brimmed hat, the long, dark poncho, the Moorish steed, but not the face of the man who, at last, held his gallop and approached in a trot. About two hundred paces away, he turned around. Recabarren did not see any more of him, but did hear him chatting, alighting, tethering his horse to the post and entering the store with a firm step.
Without taking his eyes off his instrument, where he seemed to be looking for something, the black man said gently:
"I knew I could count on you, my dear sir."
The other replied in a gravelly voice:
"As I knew I could count on you, my dark friend. For some days I made you wait, but now I have come."
Silence ensued. After a time, the black man said:
"I am used to waiting. I have waited seven years."
The other explained without a trace of urgency:
"I spent more than seven years without seeing my children. The day I found them I did not want to show myself to be a man inured to knife fights."
"I took care of that," said the black man. "I hope that you left them in good health."
Having sat down at the counter, the foreigner had a hearty laugh. He ordered a beer and savored it without drinking it all.
"I gave them some good advice," he stated, "advice that was neither platitudinous nor at any cost to them. Among other things, I told them that one man should not shed another's blood."
A slow chord preceded the black man's response:
"You did well. In that way they won't be like we are."
"At least not like I am," said the foreigner and added as if he were thinking aloud: "My destiny has obliged me to kill and now, once again, has placed a knife in my hand."
As if he hadn't heard him the black man quipped:
"Once autumn comes, the days will be shorter."
"The light that remains is good enough for me," said the other, getting to his feet. He stood at attention before the black man, then said to him almost fatigued:
"Leave that guitar alone, because today another type of counterpoint awaits you."
The two men walked over to the door. As he was leaving, the black man muttered:
"Maybe in this contest I will do just as badly as I did in the first one."
The other answered with all seriousness:
"You didn't do so badly the first time. What happened was that you went about the first contest desirous of the next contest."
Walking in unison they distanced themselves from the houses. One spot on the prairie was the same as any other and the moon stretched out in resplendence. Suddenly they exchanged glances and stopped, then the foreigner removed his spurs. They were standing there, ponchos in hand, when the black man said:
"Before we get to work I want to ask you for one thing. I ask that you invest all your courage and skill in this endeavor; just as you did seven years ago when you murdered my brother."
For perhaps the first time in their dialogue, Martin Fierro detected hate; his blood goaded him on. They mixed it up and his sharp steel blade struck the black man's face.
There is an hour in the evening when the prairie seems ready to speak, to reveal something. It never says it, or perhaps it says it infinitely and we do not hear it, or perhaps we hear it yet it remains untranslatable like music ... From his bed Recabarren saw the end. A lunge and the black man recoiled, lost his footing, feigned a chop to the face, then fell far upon the blade that penetrated his stomach. Then came another lunge which the storekeeper could not make out and Fierro did not get up; still and unmoving, the black man appeared to be watching his laborious agony. With some grass he wiped off his big knife soaked in blood and, without looking back, slowly returned to the houses. Having fulfilled his task of vengeance, he was no longer anyone; rather, he was the other: he had no destiny on this earth and had killed a man.