After Heraclio Inés’s mother dies while giving birth to him and his father dies while attempting to tame a wild stallion five years later, he is sent to be a lowly shepherd on the Hacienda de la Flor, even though his family enjoys the protection of the patrón, Don Aurelio Becerra, who is also his godfather. Heraclio leaves behind his fellow pastor, the young but already embittered David Contreras, Don Aurelio’s illegitimate son by María Contreras, who is thought to be a witch. Heraclio’s brothers treat him cruelly in his new home, forcing him to break horses as they once did and to be brave beyond his years. Under the threat of a lashing should he return home on foot, the brothers leave Heraclio, the proud and diffident fifth horseman, to tame a wild stallion thirty kilometers away from the hacienda.
When Heraclio is rude to the patrón’s children, Crispín and Carmen Becerra, Don Aurelio does not rebuke him because Don Aurelio is inordinately fond of his godson and asks only that he provide the two with riding lessons. For the haughty Carmen, these occasions soon turn into opportunities for sexual encounters that all would frown upon for their scandalous violation of the church’s moral teachings as well as for their violation of society’s strict class boundaries. Heraclio’s discovery of their irreconcilable worldviews concerning the future of Mexico leads him to tell Carmen about her father’s sexual exploitation of the native women living on the Hacienda de la Flor; he discloses this before she and her brother leave to attend the university in Seattle. In their absence, Carmen’s dissolute cousin from Spain, Domingo Arguiú, arrives to fulfill a contract to unite in marriage the Becerra fortune with the noble name of his family. Heraclio takes an immediate dislike to his dandified elitism but perversely thinks that Domingo might make a suitable husband for Carmen.
Some time later, the patrón organizes a fiesta to welcome home his children from the United...
(The entire section is 820 words.)