Mariano Azuela, the first of the "novelists of the Revolution," was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico, in 1873. He studied medicine in Guadalajara and returned to Lagos in 1909, where he began the practice of his profession. He began his writing career early; in 1896 he published Impressions of a Student in a weekly of Mexico City. This was followed by numerous sketches and short stories, and in 1911 by his first novel, Andres Perez, maderista.
Like most of the young Liberals, he supported Francisco I. Madero's uprising, which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, and in 1911 was made Director of Education of the State of Jalisco. After Madero's assassination, he joined the army of Pancho Villa as doctor, and his knowledge of the Revolution was acquired at firsthand. When the counterrevolutionary forces of Victoriano Huerta were temporarily triumphant, he emigrated to El Paso, Texas, where in 1915 he wrote The Underdogs (Los de abajo), which did not receive general recognition until 1924, when it was hailed as the novel of the Revolution.
But Azuela was fundamentally a moralist, and his disappointment with the Revolution soon began to manifest itself. He had fought for a better Mexico; but he saw that while the Revolution had corrected certain injustices, it had given rise to others equally deplorable. When he saw the self-servers and the unprincipled turning his hopes for the redemption of the under-privileged of his country into a ladder to serve their own ends, his disillusionment was deep and often bitter. His later novels are marred at times by a savage sarcasm.
During his later years, and until his death in 1952, he lived in Mexico City writing and practicing his profession among the poor.
A Novel of the Mexican Revolution
Translated by E. Munguia, Jr.
Original Title: LOS DE ABAJO
"How beautiful the revolution! Even in its most barbarous aspect it is beautiful," Solis said with deep feeling.
"That's no animal, I tell you! Listen to the dog barking! It must be a human being."
The woman stared into the darkness of the sierra.
"What if they're soldiers?" said a man, who sat Indian-fashion, eating, a coarse earthenware plate in his right hand, three folded tortillas in the other.
The woman made no answer, all her senses directed outside the hut. The beat of horses' hoofs rang in the quarry nearby. The dog barked again, louder and more angrily.
"Well, Demetrio, I think you had better hide, all the same."
Stolidly, the man finished eating; next he reached for a cantaro and gulped down the water in it; then he stood up.
"Your rifle is under the mat," she whispered.
A tallow candle illumined the small room. In one corner stood a plow, a yoke, a goad, and other agricultural implements. Ropes hung from the roof, securing an old adobe mold, used as a bed; on it a child slept, covered with gray rags.
Demetrio buckled his cartridge belt about his waist and picked up his rifle. He was tall and well built, with a sanguine face and beardless chin; he wore shirt and trousers of white cloth, a broad Mexican hat and leather sandals.
With slow, measured step, he left the room, vanishing into the impenetrable darkness of the night.
The dog, excited to the point of madness, had jumped over the corral fence.
Suddenly a shot rang out. The dog moaned, then barked no more. Some men on horseback rode up, shouting and sweating; two of them dismounted, while the other hung back to watch the horses.
"Hey, there, woman: we want food! Give us eggs, milk, beans, anything you've got! We're starving!"
"Curse the sierra! It would take the Devil himself not to lose his way!"
"Guess again, Sergeant! Even the Devil would go astray if he were as drunk as you are."
The first speaker wore chevrons on his arm, the other red stripes on his shoulders.
"Whose place is this, old woman? Or is it an empty house? God's truth, which is it?"
"Of course it's not empty. How about the light and that child there? Look here, confound it, we want to eat, and damn quick tool Are you coming out or are we going to make you?"
"You swine! Both of you! You've gone and killed my dog, that's what you've done! What harm did he ever do you? What did you have against him?"
The woman reentered the house, dragging the dog behind her, very white and fat, with lifeless eyes and flabby body.
"Look at those cheeks, Sergeant! Don't get riled, light of my life: I swear I'll turn your home into a dovecot, see?"
"By God!" he said, breaking off into song:
"Don't look so haughty, dear, Banish all fears, Kiss me and melt to me, I'll drink up your tears!"
His alcoholic tenor trailed off into the night.
"Tell me what they call this ranch, woman?" the sergeant asked.
"Limon," the woman replied curtly, carrying wood to the fire and fanning the coals.
"So we're in Limon, eh, the famous Demetrio Macias' country, eh? Do you hear that, Lieutenant? We're in Limon."
"Limon? What the hell do I care? If I'm bound for hell, Sergeant, I might as well go there now. I don't mind, now that I've found as good a remount as this! Look at the cheeks on the darling, look at them! There's a pair of ripe red apples for a fellow to bite into!"
"I'll wager you know Macias the bandit, lady? I was in the pen with him at Escobedo, once."
"Bring me a bottle of tequila, Sergeant: I've decided to spend the night with this charming lady.... What's that? The colonel? ... Why in God's name talk about the colonel now? He can go straight to hell, for all I care. And if he doesn't like it, it's all right with me. Come on, Sergeant, tell the corporal outside to unsaddle the horses and feed them. I'll stay here all night. Here, my girl, you let the sergeant fry the eggs and warm up the tortillas; you come here to me. See this wallet full of nice new bills? They're all for you, darling. Sure, I want you to have them. Figure it out for yourself. I'm drunk, see: I've a bit of a load on and that's why I'm kind of hoarse, you might call it. I left half my gullet down Guadalajara way, and I've been spitting the other half out all the way up here. Oh well, who cares? But I want you to have that money, see, dearie? Hey, Sergeant, where's my bottle? Now, little girl, come here and pour yourself a drink. You won't, eh? Aw, come on! Afraid of your—er—husband ... or whatever he is, huh? Well, if he's skulking in some hole, you tell him to come out. What the hell do I care? I'm not scared of rats, see!" Suddenly a white shadow loomed on the threshold.
"Demetrio Macias!" the sergeant cried as he stepped back in terror.
The lieutenant stood up, silent, cold and motionless as a statue.
"Shoot them!" the woman croaked.
"Oh, come, you'll surely spare us! I didn't know you were there. I'll always stand up for a brave man."
Demetrio stood his ground, looking them up and down, an insolent and disdainful smile wrinkling his face.
"Yes, I not only respect brave men, but I like them. I'm proud and happy to call them friends. Here's my hand on it: friend to friend." Then, after a pause: "All right, Demetrio Macias, if you don't want to shake hands, all right! But it's because you don't know me, that's why, just because the first time you saw me I was doing this dog's job. But look here, I ask you, what in God's name can a man do when he's poor and has a wife to support and kids? ... Right you are, Sergeant, let's go: I've nothing but respect for the home of what I call a brave man, a real, honest, genuine man!"
When they had gone, the woman drew close to Demetrio.
"Holy Virgin, what agony! I suffered as though it was you they'd shot."
"You go to father's house, quick!" Demetrio ordered. She wanted to hold him in her arms; she entreated, she wept. But he pushed away from her gently and, in a sullen voice, said, "I've an idea the whole lot of them are coming."
"Why didn't you kill 'em?"
"Their hour hasn't struck yet."
They went out together; she bore the child in her arms. At the door, they separated, moving off in different directions.
The moon peopled the mountain with vague shadows. As he advanced at every turn of his way Demetrio could see the poignant, sharp silhouette of a woman pushing forward painfully, bearing a child in her arms.
When, after many hours of climbing, he gazed back, huge flames shot up from the depths of the canyon by the river. It was his house, blazing....
Everything was still swathed in shadows as Demetrio Macias began his descent to the bottom of the ravine. Between rocks striped with huge eroded cracks, and a squarely cut wall, with the river flowing below, a narrow ledge along the steep incline served as a mountain trail.
"They'll surely find me now and track us down like dogs," he mused. "It's a good thing they know nothing about the trails and paths up here.... But if they got someone from Moyahua to guide them ..." He left the sinister thought unfinished. "All the men from Limon or Santa Rosa or the other nearby ranches are on our side: they wouldn't try to trail us. That cacique who's chased and run me ragged over these hills, is at Mohayua now; he'd give his eyeteeth to see me dangling from a telegraph pole with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, purple and swollen...."
At dawn, he approached the pit of the canyon. Here, he lay on the rocks and fell asleep.
The river crept along, murmuring as the waters rose and fell in small cascades. Birds sang lyrically from their hiding among the pitaya trees. The monotonous, eternal drone of insects filled the rocky solitude with mystery.
Demetrio awoke with a start. He waded the river, following its course which ran counter to the canyon; he climbed the crags laboriously as an ant, gripping root and rock with his hands, clutching every stone in the trail with his bare feet.
When he reached the summit, he glanced down to see the sun steeping the valley in a lake of gold. Near the canyon, enormous rocks loomed protrudent, like fantastic Negro skulls. The pitaya trees rose tenuous, tall, like the tapering, gnarled fingers of a giant; other trees of all sorts bowed their crests toward the pit of the abyss. Amid the stark rocks and dry branches, roses bloomed like a white offering to the sun as smoothly, suavely, it unraveled its golden threads, one by one, from rock to rock.
Demetrio stopped at the summit. Reaching backward, with his right arm he drew his horn which hung at his back, held it up to his thick lips, and, swelling his cheeks out, blew three loud blasts. From across the hill close by, three sharp whistles answered his signal.
In the distance, from a conical heap of reeds and dry straws, man after man emerged, one after the other, their legs and chests naked, lambent and dark as old bronze. They rushed forward to greet Demetrio, and stopped before him, askance.
"They've burnt my house," he said.
A murmur of oaths, imprecations, and threats rose among them.
Demetrio let their anger run its course. Then he drew a bottle from under his shirt and took a deep swig; then he wiped the neck of the bottle with the back of his hand and passed it around. It passed from mouth to mouth; not a drop was left. The men passed their tongues greedily over their lips to recapture the tang of the liquor.
"Glory be to God and by His Will," said Demetrio, "tonight or tomorrow at the latest we'll meet the Federals. What do you say, boys, shall we let them find their way about these trails?"
The ragged crew jumped to their feet, uttering shrill cries of joy; then their jubilation turned sinister and they gave vent to threats, oaths and imprecations.
"Of course, we can't tell how strong they are," said Demetrio as his glance traveled over their faces in scrutiny.
"Do you remember Medina? Out there at Hostotipaquillo, he only had a half a dozen men with knives that they sharpened on a grindstone. Well, he held back the soldiers and the police, didn't he? And he beat them, too."
"We're every bit as good as Medina's crowd!" said a tall, broad-shouldered man with a black beard and bushy eyebrows.
"By God, if I don't own a Mauser and a lot of cartridges, if I can't get a pair of trousers and shoes, then my name's not Anastasio Montanez! Look here, Quail, you don't believe it, do you? You ask my partner Demetrio if I haven't half a dozen bullets in me already. Christ! Bullets are marbles to me! And I dare you to contradict me!"
"Viva Anastasio Montanez," shouted Manteca.
"All right, all right!" said Montanez. "Viva Demetrio Macias, our chief, and long life to God in His heaven and to the Virgin Mary."
"Viva Demetrio Macias," they all shouted.
They gathered dry brush and wood, built a fire and placed chunks of fresh meat upon the burning coals. As the blaze rose, they collected about the fire, sat down Indian-fashion and inhaled the odor of the meat as it twisted on the crackling fire. The rays of the sun, falling about them, cast a golden radiance over the bloody hide of a calf, lying on the ground nearby. The meat dangled from a rope fastened to a huizache tree, to dry in the sun and wind.
"Well, men," Demetrio said, "you know we've only twenty rifles, besides my thirty-thirty. If there are just a few of them, we'll shoot until there's not a live man left. If there's a lot of 'em, we can give 'em a good scare, anyhow."
He undid a rag belt about his waist, loosened a knot in it and offered the contents to his companions. Salt. A murmur of approbation rose among them as each took a few grains between the tips of his fingers.
They ate voraciously; then, glutted, lay down on the ground, facing the sky. They sang monotonous, sad songs, uttering a strident shout after each stanza.
In the brush and foliage of the sierra, Demetrio Macias and his threescore men slept until the halloo of the horn, blown by Pancracio from the crest of a peak, awakened them.
"Time, boys! Look around and see what's what!" Anastasio Montanez said, examining his rifle springs. Yet he was previous; an hour or more elapsed with no sound or stir save the song of the locust in the brush or the frog stirring in his mudhole. At last, when the ultimate faint rays of the moon were spent in the rosy dimness of the dawn, the silhouette of a soldier loomed at the end of the trail. As they strained their eyes, they could distinguish others behind him, ten, twenty, a hundred. ... Then, suddenly, darkness swallowed them up. Only when the sun rose, Demetrio's band realized that the canyon was alive with men, midgets seated on miniature horses.
"Look at 'em, will you?" said Pancracio. "Pretty, ain't they? Come on, boys, let's go and roll marbles with 'em."
Now the moving dwarf figures were lost in the dense chaparral, now they reappeared, stark and black against the ocher. The voices of officers, as they gave orders, and soldiers, marching at ease, were clearly audible. Demetrio raised his hand; the locks of rifles clicked. "Fire!" he cried tensely.
Twenty-one men shot as one; twenty-one soldiers fell off their horses. Caught by surprise, the column halted, etched like bas-reliefs in stone against the rocks.
Another volley and a score of soldiers hurtled down from rock to rock.
"Come out, bandits. Come out, you starved dogs!"
"To hell with you, you corn rustlers!"
"Kill the cattle thieves! Kill 'em!"
The soldiers shouted defiance to their enemies; the latter, giving proof of a marksmanship which had already made them famous, were content to keep under cover, quiet, mute.
"Look, Pancracio," said Meco, completely black save for his eyes and teeth. "This is for that man who passes that tree. I'll get the son of a ..."
"Take that! Right in the head. You saw it, didn't you, mate? Now, this is for the fellow on the roan horse. Down you come, you shave-headed bastard!"
"I'll give that lad on the trail's edge a shower of lead. If you don't hit the river, I'm a liar! Now: look at him!"
"Oh, come on, Anastasio don't be cruel; lend me your rifle. Come along, one shot, just one!"
Manteca and Quail, unarmed, begged for a gun as a boon, imploring permission to fire at least a shot apiece. "Come out of your holes if you've got any guts!"
"Show your faces, you lousy cowards!"
From peak to peak, the shouts rang as distinctly as though uttered across a street. Suddenly, Quail stood up, naked, holding his trousers to windward as though he were a bullfighter flaunting a red cape, and the soldiers below the bull. A shower of shots peppered upon Demetrio's men.
"God! That was like a hornet's nest buzzing overhead," said Anastasio Montanez, lying flat on the ground without daring to wink an eye.
"Here, Quail, you son of a bitch, you stay where I told you," roared Demetrio.
They crawled to take new positions. The soldiers, congratulating themselves on their successes, ceased firing when another volley roused them.
"More coming!" they shouted.
Some, panic-stricken, turned their horses back; others, abandoning their mounts, began to climb up the mountain and seek shelter behind the rocks. The officers had to shoot at them to enforce discipline.
"Down there, down there!" said Demetrio as he leveled his rifle at the translucent thread of the river.
A soldier fell into the water; at each shot, invariably a soldier bit the dust. Only Demetrio was shooting in that direction; for every soldier killed, ten or twenty of them, intact, climbed afresh on the other side.
"Get those coming up from under! Los de Abajo! Get the underdogs!" he screamed.
Now his fellows were exchanging rifles, laughing and making wagers on their marksmanship.
"My leather belt if I miss that head there, on the black horse!"
"Lend me your rifle, Meco."
"Twenty Mauser cartridges and a half yard of sausage if you let me spill that lad riding the bay mare. All right! Watch me.... There! See him jump! Like a bloody deer."
"Don't run, you half-breeds. Come along with you! Come and meet Father Demetrio!"
Now it was Demetrio's men who screamed insults. Manteca, his smooth face swollen in exertion, yelled his lungs out. Pancracio roared, the veins and muscles in his neck dilated, his murderous eyes narrowed to two evil slits.
Demetrio fired shot after shot, constantly warning his men of impending danger, but they took no heed until they felt the bullets spattering them from one side.
"Goddamn their souls, they've branded me!" Demetrio cried, his teeth flashing.
Then, very swiftly, he slid down a gully and was lost....
Two men were missing, Serapio the candymaker, and Antonio, who played the cymbals in the Juchipila band. "Maybe they'll join us further on," said Demetrio.
The return journey proved moody. Anastasio Montanez alone preserved his equanimity, a kindly expression playing in his sleepy eyes and on his bearded face. Pancracio's harsh, gorillalike profile retained its repulsive immutability.
The soldiers had retreated; Demetrio began the search for the soldiers' horses which had been hidden in the sierra.
Suddenly Quail, who had been walking ahead, shrieked. He had caught sight of his companions swinging from the branches of a mesquite. There could be no doubt of their identity; Serapio and Antonio they certainly were. Anastasio Montanez prayed brokenly.
"Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come..."
"Amen," his men answered in low tones, their heads bowed, their hats upon their breasts....
Then, hurriedly, they took the Juchipila canyon northward, without halting to rest until nightfall.
Quail kept walking close to Anastasio unable to banish from his mind the two who were hanged, their dislocated limp necks, their dangling legs, their arms pendulous, and their bodies moving slowly in the wind.
On the morrow, Demetrio complained bitterly of his wound; he could no longer ride on horseback. They were forced to carry him the rest of the way on a makeshift stretcher of leaves and branches.
"He's bleeding frightfully," said Anastasio Montanez, tearing off one of his shirt-sleeves and tying it tightly about Demetrio's thigh, a little above the wound.
"That's good," said Venancio. "It'll keep him from bleeding and stop the pain."
Venancio was a barber. In his native town, he pulled teeth and fulfilled the office of medicine man. He was accorded an unimpeachable authority because he had read The Wandering Jew and one or two other books. They called him "Doctor"; and since he was conceited about his knowledge, he employed very few words.
They took turns, carrying the stretcher in relays of four over the bare stony mesa and up the steep passes.
At high noon, when the reflection of the sun on the calcareous soil burned their shoulders and made the landscape dimly waver before their eyes, the monotonous, rhythmical moan of the wounded rose in unison with the ceaseless cry of the locusts. They stopped to rest at every small hut they found hidden between the steep, jagged rocks.
"Thank God, a kind soul and tortillas full of beans and chili are never lacking," Anastasio Montanez said with a triumphant belch.
The mountaineers would shake calloused hands with the travelers, saying:
"God's blessing on you! He will find a way to help you all, never fear. We're going ourselves, starting tomorrow morning. We're dodging the draft, with those damned Government people who've declared war to the death on us, on all the poor. They come and steal our pigs, our chickens and corn, they burn our homes and carry our women off, and if they ever get hold of us they'll kill us like mad dogs, and we die right there on the spot and that's the end of the story!"
At sunset, amid the flames dyeing the sky with vivid, variegated colors, they descried a group of houses up in the heart of the blue mountains. Demetrio ordered them to carry him there.
These proved to be a few wretched straw huts, dispersed all over the river slopes, between rows of young sprouting corn and beans. They lowered the stretcher and Demetrio, in a weak voice, asked for a glass of water.
Groups of squalid Indians sat in the dark pits of the huts, men with bony chests, disheveled, matted hair, and ruddy cheeks; behind them, eyes shone up from floors of fresh reeds.
A child with a large belly and glossy dark skin came close to the stretcher to inspect the wounded man. An old woman followed, and soon all of them drew about Demetrio in a circle.
A girl sympathizing with him in his plight brought a jicara of bluish water. With hands shaking, Demetrio took it up and drank greedily.
"Will you have some more?"
He raised his eyes and glanced at the girl, whose features were common but whose voice had a note of kindness in it. Wiping his sweating brow with the back of his palm and turning on one side, he gasped: "May God reward you."
Then his whole body shook, making the leaves of the stretcher rustle. Fever possessed him; he fainted.
"It's a damp night and that's terrible for the fever," said Remigia, an old wrinkled barefooted woman, wearing a cloth rag for a blouse.
She invited them to move Demetrio into her hut.
Pancracio, Anastasio Montanez, and Quail lay down beside the stretcher like faithful dogs, watchful of their master's wishes. The rest scattered about in search of food.
Remigia offered them all she had, chili and tortillas.
"Imagine! I had eggs, chickens, even a goat and her kid, but those damn soldiers wiped me out clean."
Then, making a trumpet of her hands, she drew near Anastasio and murmured in his ear:
"Imagine, they even carried away Senora Nieves' little girl!"
Suddenly awakening, Quail opened his eyes and stood up.
"Montanez, did you hear? A shot, Montanez! Hey, Montanez, get up!"
He shook him vigorously until Montanez ceased snoring and in turn woke up.
"What in the name of ... Now you're at it again, damn it. I tell you there aren't ghosts any more," Anastasio muttered out of a half-sleep.
"I heard a shot, Montanez!"
"Go back to sleep, Quail, or I'll bust your nose."
"Hell, Anastasio I tell you it's no nightmare. I've forgotten those fellows they hung, honest. It's a shot, I tell you. I heard it all right."
"A shot, you say? All right, then, hand me my gun."
Anastasio Montanez rubbed his eyes, stretched out his arms and legs, and stood up lazily.
They left the hut. The sky was solid with stars; the moon rose like a sharp scythe. The confused rumor of women crying in fright resounded from the various huts; the men who had been sleeping in the open, also woke up and the rattle of arms echoed over the mountain.
"You cursed fool, you've maimed me for life."
A voice rang clearly through the darkness.
"Who goes there?"
The shout echoed from rock to rock, through mound and over hollow, until it spent itself at the far, silent reaches of the night.
"Who goes there?" Anastasio repeated his challenge louder, pulling back the lock of his Mauser.
"One of Demetrio's men," came the answer.
"It's Pancracio," Quail cried joyfully. Relieved, he rested the butt of his rifle on the ground.
Pancracio appeared, holding a young man by the arms; the newcomer was covered with dust from his felt hat to his coarse shoes. A fresh bloodstain lay on his trousers close to the heel.
"Who's this tenderfoot?" Anastasio demanded.
"You know I'm on guard around here. Well, I hears a noise in the brush, see, and I shouts, 'Who goes there?' and then this lad answers, 'Carranza! Carranza!' I don't know anyone by that name, and so I says, 'Carranza, hell!' and I just pumps a bit of lead into his hoof."
Smiling, Pancracio turned his beardless head around as if soliciting applause.
Then the stranger spoke:
"Who's your commander?"
Proudly, Anastasio raised his head, went up to him and looked him in the face. The stranger lowered his tone considerably.
"Well, I'm a revolutionist, too, you know. The Government drafted me and I served as a private, but I managed to desert during the battle the day before yesterday, and I've been walking about in search of you all."
"So he's a Government soldier, eh?" A murmur of incredulity rose from the men, interrupting the stranger.
"So that's what you are, eh? One of those damn half-breeds," said Anastasio Montanez. "Why the hell didn't you pump your lead in his brain, Pancracio?"
"What's he talking about, anyhow? I can't make head nor tail of it. He says he wants to see Demetrio and that he's got plenty to say to him. But that's all right: we've got plenty of time to do anything we damn well please so long as you're in no hurry, that's all," said Pancracio, loading his gun.
"What kind of beasts are you?" the prisoner cried. He could say no more: Anastasio's fist, crashing down upon his face, sent his head turning on his neck, covered with blood.
"Shoot the half-breed!"
"Burn him alive; he's a lousy Federal."
In great excitement, they yelled and shrieked and were about to fire at the prisoner.
"Sssh! Shut up! I think Demetrio's talking now," Anastasio said, striving to quiet them. Indeed, Demetrio, having ascertained the cause of the turmoil, ordered them to bring the prisoner before him.
"It's positively infamous, senor; look," Luis Cervantes said, pointing to the bloodstains on his trousers and to his bleeding face.
"All right, all right. But who in hell are you? That's what I want to know," Demetrio said.
"My name is Luis Cervantes, sir. I'm a medical student and a journalist. I wrote a piece in favor of the revolution, you see; as a result, they persecuted me, caught me, and finally landed me in the barracks."
His ensuing narrative was couched in terms of such detail and expressed in terms so melodramatic that it drew guffaws of mirth from Pancracio and Manteca.
"All I've tried to do is to make myself clear on this point. I want you to be convinced that I am truly one of your coreligionists...."
"What's that? What did you say? Car ... what?" Demetrio asked, bringing his ear close to Cervantes.
"Coreligionist, sir, that is to say, a person who possesses the same religion, who is inspired by the same ideals, who defends and fights for the same cause you are now fighting for."
"What are we fighting for? That's what I'd like to know."
In his disconcertment, Luis Cervantes could find no reply.
"Look at that mug, look at 'im! Why waste any time, Demetrio? Let's shoot him," Pancracio urged impatiently.
Demetrio laid a hand on his hair which covered his ears, and stretching himself out for a long time, seemed to be lost in thought. Having found no solution, he said:
"Get out, all of you; it's aching again. Anastasio put out the candle. Lock him up in the corral and let Pancracio and Manteca watch him. Tomorrow, we'll see."
Through the shadows of the starry night, Luis Cervantes had not yet managed to detect the exact shape of the objects about him. Seeking the most suitable resting-place, he laid his weary bones down on a fresh pile of manure under the blurred mass of a huizache tree. He lay down, more exhausted than resigned, and closed his eyes, resolutely determined to sleep until his fierce keepers or the morning sun, burning his ears, awakened him. Something vaguely like warmth at his side, then a tired hoarse breath, made him shudder. He opened his eyes and feeling about him with his hands, he sensed the coarse hairs of a large pig which, resenting the presence of a neighbor, began to grunt.
All Luis' efforts to sleep proved quite useless, not only because the pain of his wound or the bruises on his flesh smarted, but because he suddenly realized the exact nature of his failure.
Yes, failure! For he had never learned to appreciate exactly the difference between fulminating sentences of death upon bandits in the columns of a small country newspaper and actually setting out in search of them, and tracking them to their lairs, gun in hand. During his first day's march as volunteer lieutenant, he had begun to suspect the error of his ways—a brutal sixty miles' journey it was, that left his hips and legs one mass of raw soreness and soldered all his bones together. A week later, after his first skirmish against the rebels, he understood every rule of the game. Luis Cervantes would have taken up a crucifix and solemnly sworn that as soon as the soldiers, gun in hand, stood ready to shoot, some profoundly eloquent voice had spoken behind them, saying, "Run for your lives." It was all crystal clear. Even his noble-spirited horse, accustomed to battle, sought to sweep back on its hind legs and gallop furiously away, to stop only at a safe distance from the sound of firing. The sun was setting, the mountain became peopled with vague and restless shadows, darkness scaled the ramparts of the mountain hastily. What could be more logical then, than to seek refuge behind the rocks and attempt to sleep, granting mind and body a sorely needed rest?
But the soldier's logic is the logic of absurdity. On the morrow, for example, his colonel awakened him rudely out of his sleep, cuffing and belaboring him unmercifully, and, after having bashed in his face, deprived him of his place of vantage. The rest of the officers, moreover, burst into hilarious mirth and holding their sides with laughter begged the colonel to pardon the deserter. The colonel, therefore, instead of sentencing him to be shot, kicked his buttocks roundly for him and assigned him to kitchen police.
This signal insult was destined to bear poisonous fruit. Luis Cervantes determined to play turncoat; indeed, mentally, he had already changed sides. Did not the sufferings of the underdogs, of the disinherited masses, move him to the core? Henceforth he espoused the cause of Demos, of the subjugated, the beaten and baffled, who implore justice, and justice alone. He became intimate with the humblest private. More, even, he shed tears of compassion over a dead mule which fell, load and all, after a terribly long journey.
From then on, Luis Cervantes' prestige with the soldiers increased. Some actually dared to make confessions. One among them, conspicuous for his sobriety and silence, told him: "I'm a carpenter by trade, you know. I had a mother, an old woman nailed to her chair for ten years by rheumatism. In the middle of the night, they pulled me out of my house; three damn policemen; I woke up a soldier twenty-five miles away from my hometown. A month ago our company passed by there again. My mother was already under the sod! ... So there's nothing left for me in this wide world; no one misses me now, you see. But, by God, I'm damned if I'll use these cartridges they make us carry, against the enemy. If a miracle happens (I pray for it every night, you know, and I guess our Lady of Guadalupe can do it all right), then I'll join Villa's men; and I swear by the holy soul of my old mother, that I'll make every one of these Government people pay, by God I will."
Another soldier, a bright young fellow, but a charlatan, at heart, who drank habitually and smoked the narcotic marihuana weed, eyeing him with vague, glassy stare, whispered in his ear, "You know, partner ... the men on the other side ... you know, the other side ... you understand ... they ride the best horses up north there, and all over, see? And they harness their mounts with pure hammered silver. But us? Oh hell, we've got to ride plugs, that's all, and not one of them good enough to stagger round a water well. You see, don't you, partner? You see what I mean? You know, the men on the other side-they get shiny new silver coins while we get only lousy paper money printed in that murderer's factory, that's what we get, yes, that's ours, I tell you!"
The majority of the soldiers spoke in much the same tenor. Even a top sergeant candidly confessed, "Yes, I enlisted all right. I wanted to. But, by God, I missed the right side by a long shot. What you can't make in a lifetime, sweating like a mule and breaking your back in peacetime, damn it all, you can make in a few months just running around the sierra with a gun on your back, but not with this crowd, dearie, not with this lousy outfit ...."
Luis Cervantes, who already shared this hidden, implacably mortal hatred of the upper classes, of his officers, and of his superiors, felt that a veil had been removed from his eyes; clearly, now, he saw the final outcome of the struggle. And yet what had happened? The first moment he was able to join his coreligionists, instead of welcoming him with open arms, they threw him into a pigsty with swine for company.
Day broke. The roosters crowed in the huts. The chickens perched in the huizache began to stretch their wings, shake their feathers, and fly down to the ground.
Luis Cervantes saw his guards lying on top of a dung heap, snoring. In his imagination, he reviewed the features of last night's men. One, Pancracio, was pockmarked, blotchy, unshaven; his chin protruded, his forehead receded obliquely; his ears formed one solid piece with head and neck—a horrible man. The other, Manteca, was so much human refuse; his eyes were almost hidden, his look sullen; his wiry straight hair fen over his ears, forehead and neck; his scrofulous lips hung eternally agape. Once more, Luis Cervantes felt his flesh quiver.
Still drowsy, Demetrio ran his hand through his ruffled hair, which hung over his moist forehead, pushed it back over his ears, and opened his eyes.
Distinctly he heard the woman's melodious voice which he had already sensed in his dream. He walked toward the door.
It was broad daylight; the rays of sunlight filtered through the thatch of the hut.
The girl who had offered him water the day before, the girl of whom he had dreamed all night long, now came forward, kindly and eager as ever. This time she carried a pitcher of milk brimming over with foam.
"It's goat's milk, but fine just the same. Come on now: taste it."
Demetrio smiled gratefully, straightened up, grasped the clay pitcher, and proceeded to drink the milk in little gulps, without removing his eyes from the girl. She grew self-conscious, lowered her eyes.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Ah, there's a lovely name! And the girl that bears it, lovelier still!"
Camilla blushed. As he sought to seize her wrist, she grew frightened, and Picking up the empty pitcher, flew out the door.
"No, Demetrio," Anastasio Montanez commented gravely, "you've got to break them in first. Hmm! It's a hell of a lot of scars the women have left on my body. Yes, my friend, I've a heap of experience along that line."
"I feel all right now, Compadre." Demetrio pretended he had not heard him. "I had fever, and I sweated like a horse all night, but I feel quite fresh today. The thing that's irking me hellishly is that Goddamn wound. Can Venancio to look after me."
"What are we going to do with the tenderfoot we caught last night?" Pancracio asked.
"That's right: I was forgetting all about him."
As usual, Demetrio hesitated a while before he reached a decision.
"Here, Quail, come here. Listen: you go and find out where's the nearest church around here. I know there's one about six miles away. Go and steal a priest's robe and bring it back."
"What's the idea?" asked Pancracio in surprise.
"Well, I'll soon find out if this tenderfoot came here to murder me. I'll tell him he's to be shot, see, and Quail will put on the priest's robes, say that he's a priest and hear his confession. If he's got anything up his sleeve, he'll come out with it, and then I'll shoot him. Otherwise I'll let him go."
"God, there's a roundabout way to tackle the question. If I were you, I'd just shoot him and let it go at that," said Pancracio contemptuously.
That night Quail returned with the priest's robes; Demetrio ordered the prisoner to be led in. Luis Cervantes had not eaten or slept for two days, there were deep black circles under his eyes; his face was deathly pale, his lips dry and colorless. He spoke awkwardly, slowly: "You can do as you please with me.... I am convinced I was wrong to come looking for you."
There was a prolonged silence. Then:
"I thought that you would welcome a man who comes to offer his help, with open arms, even though his help was quite worthless. After all, you might perhaps have found some use for it. What, in heaven's name, do I stand to gain, whether the revolution wins or loses?"
Little by little he grew more animated; at times the languor in his eyes disappeared.
"The revolution benefits the poor, the ignorant, all those who have been slaves all their lives, all the unhappy people who do not even suspect they are poor because the rich who stand above them, the rich who rule them, change their sweat and blood and tears into gold..."
"Well, what the hell is the gist of all this palaver? I'll be damned if I can stomach a sermon," Pancracio broke in.
"I wanted to fight for the sacred cause of the oppressed, but you don't understand ... you cast me aside.... Very well, then, you can do as you please with me!"
"All I'm going to do now is to put this rope around your neck. Look what a pretty white neck you've got."
"Yes, I know what brought you here," Demetrio interrupted dryly, scratching his head. "I'm going to have you shot!"
Then, looking at Anastasio he said:
"Take him away. And ... if he wants to confess, bring the priest to him."
Impassive as ever, Anastasio took the prisoner gently by the arm.
"Come along this way, Tenderfoot."
They all laughed uproariously, when a few minutes later, Quail appeared in priestly robes.
"By God, this tenderfoot certainly talks his head off," Quail said. "You know, I've a notion he was having a bit of a laugh on me when I started asking him questions."
"But didn't he have anything to say?"
"Nothing, save what he said last night."
"I've a hunch he didn't come here to shoot you at all, Compadre," said Anastasio.
"Give him something to eat and guard him."
On the morrow, Luis Cervantes was barely able to get up. His injured leg trailing behind him, he shuffled from hut to hut in search of a little alcohol, a kettle of boiled water and some rags. With unfailing kindness, Camilla provided him with all that he wanted.
As he began washing his foot, she sat beside him, and, with typical mountaineer's curiosity, inquired:
"Tell me, who learned you how to cure people? Why did you boil that water? Why did you boil the rags? Look, look, how careful you are about everything! And what did you put on your hands? Really.... And why did you pour on alcohol? I just knew alcohol was good to rub on when you had a bellyache, but ... Oh, I see! So you was going to be a doctor, huh? Ha, ha, that's a good one! Why don't you mix it with cold water? Well, there's a funny sort of a trick. Oh, stop fooling me ... the idea: little animals alive in the water unless you boil it! Ugh! Well, I can't see nothing in it myself."
Camilla continued to cross-question him with such familiarity that she suddenly found herself addressing him intimately, in the singular tu. Absorbed in his own thoughts, Luis Cervantes had ceased listening to her. He thought:
Where are those men on Pancho Villa's payroll, so admirably equipped and mounted, who only get paid in those pure silver pieces Villa coins at the Chihuahua mint? Bah! Barely two dozen half-naked mangy men, some of them riding decrepit mares with the coat nibbled off from neck to withers. Can the accounts given by the Government newspapers and by myself be really true and are these so-called revolutionists simply bandits grouped together, using the revolution as a wonderful pretext to glut their thirst for gold and blood? Is it all a lie, then? Were their sympathizers talking a lot of exalted nonsense?
If on one hand the Government newspapers vied with each other in noisy proclamation of Federal victory after victory, why then had a paymaster on his way from Guadalajara started the rumor that President Huerta's friends and relatives were abandoning the capital and scuttling away to the nearest port? Was Huerta's, "I shall have peace, at no matter what cost," a meaningless growl? Well, it looked as though the revolutionists or bandits, call them what you will, were going to depose the Government. Tomorrow would therefore belong wholly to them. A man must consequently be on their side, only on their side.
"No," he said to himself almost aloud, "I don't think I've made a mistake this time."
"What did you say?" Camilla asked. "I thought you'd lost your tongue.... I thought the mice had eaten it up!"
Luis Cervantes frowned and cast a hostile glance at this little plump monkey with her bronzed complexion, her ivory teeth, and her thick square toes.
"Look here, Tenderfoot, you know how to tell fairy stories, don't you?"
For all answer, Luis made an impatient gesture and moved off, the girl's ecstatic glance following his retreating figure until it was lost on the river path. So profound was her absorption that she shuddered in nervous surprise as she heard the voice of her neighbor, one-eyed Maria Antonia, who had been spying from her hut, shouting:
"Hey, you there: give him some love powder. Then he might fall for you."
"That's what you'd do, all right!"
"Oh, you think so, do you? Well, you're quite wrong! Faugh! I despise a tenderfoot, and don't forget it! Ho there, Remigia, lend me some eggs, will you? My chicken has been hatching since morning. There's some gentlemen here, come to eat."
Her neighbor's eyes blinked as the bright sunlight poured into the shadowy hut, darker than usual, even, as dense clouds of smoke rose from the stove. After a few minutes, she began to make out the contour of the various objects inside, and recognized the wounded man's stretcher, which lay in one corner, close to the ashy-gray galvanized iron roof.
She sat down beside Remigia Indian-fashion, and, glancing furtively toward where Demetrio rested, asked in a low voice:
"How's the patient, better? That's fine. Oh, how young he is! But he's still pale, don't you think? So the wound's not closed up yet. Well, Remigia, don't you think we'd better try and do something about it?"
Remigia, naked from the waist up, stretched her thin muscular arms over the corn grinder, pounding the corn with a stone bar she held in her hands.
"Oh, I don't know; they might not like it," she answered, breathing heavily as she continued her rude task. "They've got their own doctor, you know, so—"
"Hallo, there, Remigia," another neighbor said as she came in, bowing her bony back to pass through the opening, "haven't you any laurel leaves? We want to make a potion for Maria Antonia who's not so well today, what with her bellyache."
In reality, her errand was but a pretext for asking questions and passing the time of day in gossip, so she turned her eyes to the corner where the patient lay and, winking, sought information as to his health.
Remigia lowered her eyes to indicate that Demetrio was sleeping.
"Oh, I didn't see you when I came in. And you're here too, Panchita? Well, how are you?"
"Good morning to you, Fortunata. How are you?"
"All right. But Maria Antonia's got the curse today and her belly's aching something fierce."
She sat Indian-fashion, with bent knees, huddling hip to hip against Panchita.
"I've got no laurel leaves, honey," Remigia answered, pausing a moment in her work to push a mop of hair back from over her sweaty forehead. Then, plunging her two hands into a mass of corn, she removed a handful of it dripping with muddy yellowish water. "I've none at all; you'd better go to Dolores, she's always got herbs, you know."
"But Dolores went to Cofradia last night. I don't know, but they say they came to fetch her to help Uncle Matias' girl who's big with child."
"You don't say, Panchita?"
The three old women came together forming an animated group, and speaking in low tones, began to gossip with great gusto.
"Certainly, I swear it, by God up there in heaven."
"Well, well, I was the first one to say that Marcelina was big with child, wasn't I? But of course no one would believe me."
"Poor girl. It's going to be terrible if the kid is her uncle's, you know!"
"Of course it's not her uncle: Nazario had nothing to do with it, I know. It was them damned soldiers, that's who done it."
"God, what a bloody mess! Another unhappy woman!"
The cackle of the old hens finally awakened Demetrio. They kept silent for a moment; then Panchita, taking out of the bosom of her blouse a young pigeon which opened its beak in suffocation, said:
"To tell you the truth, I brought this medicine for the gentleman here, but they say he's got a doctor, so I suppose—"
"That makes no difference, Panchita, that's no medicine anyhow, it's simply something to rub on his body."
"Forgive this poor gift from a poor woman, senor," said the wrinkled old woman, drawing close to Demetrio, "but there's nothing like it in the world for hemorrhages and suchlike."
Demetrio nodded hasty approval. They had already placed a loaf of bread soaked in alcohol on his stomach; although when this was removed he began to be cooler, he felt that he was still feverish inside.
"Come on, Remigia, you do it, you certainly know how," the women said.
Out of a reed sheath, Remigia pulled a long and curved knife which served to cut cactus fruit. She took the pigeon in one hand, turned it over, its breast upward, and with the skill of a surgeon, ripped it in two with a single thrust.
"In the name of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Remigia said, blessing the room and making the sign of the cross; next, with infinite dexterity, she placed the warm bleeding portions of the pigeon upon Demetrio's abdomen.
"You'll see: you'll feel much better now."
Obeying Remigia's instructions, Demetrio lay motionless, crumpled up on one side.
Then Fortunata gave vent to her sorrows. She liked these gentlemen of the revolution, all right, that she did—for, three months ago, you know, the Government soldiers had run away with her only daughter. This had broken her heart, Yes, and driven her all but crazy.
As she began, Anastasio Montanez and Quail lay on the floor near the stretcher, their mouths gaping, all ears to the story. But Fortunata's wealth of detail by the time she had told half of it bored Quail and he left the hut to scratch himself out in the sun. By the time Fortunata had at last concluded with a solemn "I pray God and the Blessed Virgin Mary that you are not sparing the life of a single one of those Federals from hell," Demetrio, face to wall, felt greatly relieved by the stomach cure, and was busy thinking of the best route by which to proceed to Durango. Anastasio Montanez was snoring like a trombone.
"Why don't you call in the tenderfoot to treat you, Compadre Demetrio," Anastasio Montanez asked his chief, who had been complaining daily of chills and fever. "You ought to see him; no one has laid a hand to him but himself, and now he's so fit that he doesn't limp a step."
But Venancio, standing by with his tins of lard and his dirty string rags ready, protested:
"All right, if anybody lays a hand on Demetrio, I won't be responsible."
"Nonsense! Rot! What kind of doctor do you think you are? You're no doctor at all. I'll wager you've already forgotten why you ever joined us," said Quail.
"Well, I remember why you joined us, Quail," Venancio replied angrily. "Perhaps you'll deny it was because you had stolen a watch and some diamond rings."
"Ha, ha, ha! That's rich! But you're worse, my lad; you ran away from your hometown because you poisoned your sweetheart."
"You're a Goddamned liar!"
"Yes you did! And don't try and deny it! You fed her Spanish fly and..."
Venancio's shout of protest was drowned out in the loud laughter of the others. Demetrio, looking pale and sallow, motioned for silence. Then, plaintively:
"That'll do. Bring in the student."
Luis Cervantes entered. He uncovered Demetrio's wound, examined it carefully, and shook his head. The ligaments had made a furrow in the skin. The leg, badly swollen, seemed about to burst. At every move he made, Demetrio stifled a moan. Luis Cervantes cut the ligaments, soaked the wound in water, covered the leg with large clean rags and bound it up. Demetrio was able to sleep all afternoon and all night. On the morrow he woke up happy.
"That tenderfoot has the softest hand in the world!" he said.
Quickly Venancio cut in:
"All right; just as you say. But don't forget that tenderfoots are like moisture, they seep in everywhere. It's the tenderfoots who stopped us reaping the harvest of the revolution."
Since Demetrio believed in the barber's knowledge implicitly, when Luis Cervantes came to treat him on the next day he said:
"Look here, do your best, see. I want to recover soon and then you can go home or anywhere else you damn well please."
Discreetly, Luis Cervantes made no reply.
A week, ten days, a fortnight elapsed. The Federal troops seemed to have vanished. There was an abundance of corn and beans, too, in the neighboring ranches. The people hated the Government so bitterly that they were overjoyed to furnish assistance to the rebels. Demetrio's men, therefore, were peacefully waiting for the complete recovery of their chief.
Day after day, Luis Cervantes remained humble and silent.
"By God, I actually believe you're in love," Demetrio said jokingly one morning after the daily treatment. He had begun to like this tenderfoot. From then on, Demetrio began gradually to show an increasing interest in Cervantes' comfort. One day he asked him if the soldiers gave him his daily ration of meat and milk; Luis Cervantes was forced to answer that his sole nourishment was whatever the old ranch women happened to give him and that everyone still considered him an intruder.
"Look here, Tenderfoot, they're all good boys, really," Demetrio answered. "You've got to know how to handle them, that's all. You mark my words; from tomorrow on, there won't be a thing you'll lack."
In effect, things began to change that very afternoon. Some of Demetrio's men lay in the quarry, glancing at the sunset that turned the clouds into huge clots of congealed blood and listening to Venancio's amusing stories culled from The Wandering Jew. Some of them, lulled by the narrator's mellifluous voice, began to snore. But Luis Cervantes listened avidly and as soon as Venancio topped off his talk with a storm of anticlerical denunciations he said emphatically: "Wonderful, wonderful! What intelligence! You're a most gifted man!"
"Well, I reckon it's not so bad," Venancio answered, warming to the flattery, "but my parents died and I didn't have a chance to study for a profession."
"That's easy to remedy, I'm sure. Once our cause is victorious, you can easily get a degree. A matter of two or three weeks' assistant's work at some hospital and a letter of recommendation from our chief and you'll be a full-fledged doctor, all right. The thing is child's play."
From that night onward Venancio, unlike the others, ceased calling him Tenderfoot. He addressed him as Louie.
It was Louie, this, and Louie, that, right and left, all the time.
"Look here, Tenderfoot, I want to tell you something," Camilla called to Luis Cervantes, as he made his way to the hut to fetch some boiling water for his foot.
For days the girl had been restless. Her coy ways and her reticence had finally annoyed the man; stopping suddenly, he stood up and eyeing her squarely:
"All right. What do you want to tell me?"
Camilla's tongue clove to her mouth, heavy and damp as a rag; she could not utter a word. A blush suffused her cheeks, turning them red as apples; she shrugged her shoulders and bowed her head, pressing her chin against her naked breast. Then without moving, with the fixity of an idiot, she glanced at the wound, and said in a whisper:
"Look, how nicely it's healing now: it's like a red Castille rose."
Luis Cervantes frowned and with obvious disgust continued to care for his foot, completely ignoring her as he worked. When he had finished, Camilla had vanished.
For three days she was nowhere to be found. It was always her mother, Agapita, who answered Cervantes' call, and boiled the water for him and gave him rags. He was careful to avoid questioning her. Three days later, Camilla reappeared, more coy and eager than ever.
The more distrait and indifferent Luis Cervantes grew, the bolder Camilla. At last, she said: "Listen to me, you nice young fellow, I want to tell you something pleasant. Please go over the words of the revolutionary song 'Adelita' with me, will you? You can guess why, eh? I want to sing it and sing it, over again often and often, see? Then when you're off and away and when you've forgotten all about Camilla, it'll remind me of you."
To Luis Cervantes her words were like the noise of a sharp steel knife drawn over the side of a glass bottle. Blissfully unaware of the effect they had produced, she proceeded, candid as ever:
"Well, I want to tell you something. You don't know that your chief is a wicked man, do you? Shall I tell you what he did to me? You know Demetrio won't let a soul but Mamma cook for him and me take him his food. Well, the other day I take some food over to him and what do you think he did to me, the old fool. He grabs hold of my wrist and he presses it tight, tight as can be, and then he starts pinching my legs.
"'Come on, let me go,' I said. 'Keep still, lay off, you shameless creature. You've got no manners, that's the trouble with you.' So I wrestled with him, and shook myself free, like this, and ran off as fast as I could. What do you think of that?"
Camilla had never seen Luis Cervantes laugh so heartily.
"But it is really true, all this you've told me?"
Utterly at a loss, Camilla could not answer. Then he burst into laughter again and repeated the question. A sense of confusion came upon her. Disturbed, troubled, she said brokenly:
"Yes, it's the truth. And I wanted to tell you about it. But you don't seem to feel at all angry."
Once more Camilla glanced adoringly at Luis Cervantes' radiant, clean face; at his glaucous, soft eyes, his cheeks pink and polished as a porcelain doll's; at his tender white skin that showed below the line of his collar and on his shoulders, protruding from under a rough woolen poncho; at his hair, ever so slightly curled.
"What the devil are you waiting for, fool? If the chief likes you, what more do you want?"
Camilla felt something rise within her breast, an empty ache that became a knot when it reached her throat; she closed her eyes fast to hold back the tears that welled up in them. Then, with the back of her hand, she wiped her wet cheeks, and just as she had done three days ago, fled with all the swiftness of a young deer.
Demetrio's wound had already healed. They began to discuss various projects to go northward where, according to rumor, the rebels had beaten the Federal troops all along the line.
A certain incident came to precipitate their action. Seated on a crag of the sierra in the cool of the afternoon breeze, Luis Cervantes gazed away in the distance, dreaming and killing time. Below the narrow rock Pancracio and Manteca, lying like lizards between the jarales along one of the river margins, were playing cards. Anastasio Montanez, looking on indifferently, turned his black hairy face toward Luis Cervantes and, leveling his kindly gaze upon him, asked:
"Why so sad, you from the city? What are you daydreaming about? Come on over here and let's have a chat!"
Luis Cervantes did not move; Anastasio went over to him and sat down beside him like a friend.
"What you need is the excitement of the city. I wager you shine your shoes every day and wear a necktie. Now, I may look dirty and my clothes may be torn to shreds, but I'm not really what I seem to be. I'm not here because I've got to be and don't you think so. Why, I own twenty oxen. Certainly I do; ask my friend Demetrio. I cleared ten bushels last harvest time. You see, if there's one thing I love, that's riling these Government fellows and making them furious. The last scrape I had—it'll be eight months gone now, ever since I've joined these men—I stuck my knife into some captain. He was just a nobody, a little Government squirt. I pinked him here, see, right under the navel. And that's why I'm here: that and because I wanted to give my mate Demetrio a hand." "Christ! The bloody little darling of my life!" Manteca shouted, waxing enthusiastic over a winning hand. He placed a twenty-cent silver coin on the jack of spades.
"If you want my opinion, I'm not much on gambling. Do you want to bet? Well, come on then, I'm game. How do you like the sound of this leather snake jingling, eh?"
Anastasio shook his belt; the silver coins rang as he shook them together.
Meanwhile, Pancracio dealt the cards, the jack of spades turned up out of the deck and a quarrel ensued. Altercation, noise, then shouts, and, at last, insults. Pancracio brought his stony face close to Manteca, who looked at him with snake's eyes, convulsive, foaming at the mouth. Another moment and they would have been exchanging blows. Having completely exhausted their stock of direct insults, they now resorted to the most flowery and ornate insulting of each other's ancestors, male and female, paternal or maternal. Yet nothing untoward occurred.
After their supply of words was exhausted, they gave over gambling and, their arms about each other's shoulders, marched off in search of a drink of alcohol.
"I don't like to fight with my tongue either, it's not decent. I'm right, too, eh? I tell you no man living has ever breathed a word to me against my mother. I want to be respected, see? That's why you've never seen me fooling with anyone." There was a pause. Then, suddenly, "Look there, Tenderfoot," Anastasio said, changing his tone and standing up with one hand spread over his eyes. "What's that dust over there behind the hillock. By God, what if it's those damned Federals and we sitting here doing nothing. Come on, let's go and warn the rest of the boys."
The news met with cries of joy.
"Ah, we're going to meet them!" cried Pancracio jubilantly, first among them to rejoice.
"Of course, we're going to meet them! We'll strip them clean of everything they brought with them."
A few moments later, amid cries of joy and a bustle of arms, they began saddling their horses. But the enemy turned out to be a few burros and two Indians, driving them forward.
"Stop them, anyhow. They must have come from somewhere and they've probably news for us," Demetrio said.
Indeed, their news proved sensational. The Federal troops had fortified the hills in Zacatecas; this was said to be Huerta's last stronghold, but everybody predicted the fall of the city. Many families had hastily fled southward. Trains were overloaded with people; there was a scarcity of trucks and coaches; hundreds of people, panic-stricken, walked along the highroad with their belongings in a pack slung over their shoulders. General Panfilo Natera was assembling his men at Fresnillo; the Federals already felt it was all up with them.
"The fall of Zacatecas will be Huerta's requiescat in pace," Luis Cervantes cried with unusual excitement. "We've got to be there before the fight starts so that we can join Natera's army."
Then, suddenly, he noted the surprise with which Demetrio and his men greeted his suggestion. Crestfallen, he realized they still considered him of no account.
On the morrow, as the men set off in search of good mounts before taking to the road again, Demetrio called Luis Cervantes:
"Do you really want to come with us? Of course you're cut from another timber, we all know that; God knows why you should like this sort of life. Do you imagine we're in this game because we like it? Now, I like the excitement all right, but that's not all. Sit down here; that's right. Do you want to know why I'm a rebel? Well, I'll tell you.
"Before the revolution, I had my land all plowed, see, and just right for sowing and if it hadn't been for a little quarrel with Don Monico, the boss of my town, Moyahua, I'd be there in a jiffy getting the oxen ready for the sowing, see?
"Here, there, Pancracio, pull down two bottles of beer for me and this tenderfoot.... By the Holy Cross ... drinking won't hurt me, now, will it?"
I was born in Limon, close by Moyahua, right in the heart of the Juchipila canyon. I had my house and my cows and a patch of land, see: I had everything I wanted. Well, I suppose you know how we farmers make a habit of going over to town every week to hear Mass and the sermon and then to market to buy our onions and tomatoes and in general everything they want us to buy at the ranch. Then you pick up some friends and go to Primitivo Lopez' saloon for a bit of a drink before dinner; well, you sit there drinking and you've got to be sociable, so you drink more than you should and the liquor goes to your head and you laugh and you're damned happy and if you feel like it, you sing and shout and kick up a bit of a row. That's quite all right, anyhow, for we're not doing anyone any harm. But soon they start bothering you and the policeman walks up and down and stops occasionally, with his ear to the door. To put it in a nutshell, the chief of police and his gang are a lot of joykillers who decide they want to put a stop to your fun, see? But by God! You've got guts, you've got red blood in your veins and you've got a soul, too, see? So you lose your temper, you stand up to them and tell them to go to the Devil.
"Now if they understand you, everything's all right; they leave you alone and that's all there is to it; but sometimes they try to talk you down and hit you and—well, you know how it is, a fellow's quick-tempered and he'll be damned if he'll stand for someone ordering him around and telling him what's what. So before you know it, you've got your knife out or your gun leveled, and then off you go for a wild run in the sierra, until they've forgotten the corpse, see?
"All right: that's just about what happened to Monico. The fellow was a greater bluffer than the rest. He couldn't tell a rooster from a hen, not he. Well, I spit on his beard because he wouldn't mind his own business. That's all, there's nothing else to tell.
"Then, just because I did that, he had the whole God-damned Federal Government against me. You must have heard something about that story in Mexico City—about the killing of Madero and some other fellow, Felix or Felipe Diaz, or something—I don't know. Well, this man Monico goes in person to Zacatecas to get an army to capture me. They said that I was a Maderista and that I was going to rebel. But a man like me always has friends. Somebody came and warned me of what was coming to me, so when the soldiers reached Limon I was miles and miles away. Trust me! Then my compadre Anastasio who killed somebody came and joined me, and Pancracio and Quail and a lot of friends and acquaintances came after him. Since then we've been sort of collecting, see? You know for yourself, we get along as best we can...."
For a while, both men sat meditating in silence. Then:
"Look here, Chief," said Luis Cervantes. "You know that some of Natera's men are at Juchipila, quite near here. I think we should join them before they capture Zacatecas. All we need do is speak to the General."
"I'm no good at that sort of thing. And I don't like the idea of accepting orders from anybody very much."
"But you've only a handful of men down here; you'll only be an unimportant chieftain. There's no argument about it, the revolution is bound to win. After it's all over they'll talk to you just as Madero talked to all those who had helped him: 'Thank you very much, my friends, you can go home now....'"
"Well that's all I want, to be let alone so I can go home."
"Wait a moment, I haven't finished. Madero said: 'You men have made me President of the Republic. You have run the risk of losing your lives and leaving your wives and children destitute; now I have what I wanted, you can go back to your picks and shovels, you can resume your hand-to-mouth existence, you can go half-naked and hungry just as you did before, while we, your superiors, will go about trying to pile up a few million pesos....'"
Demetrio nodded and, smiling, scratched his head.
"You said a mouthful, Louie," Venancio the barber put in enthusiastically. "A mouthful as big as a church!"
"As I was saying," Luis Cervantes resumed, "when the revolution is over, everything is over. Too bad that so many men have been killed, too bad there are so many widows and orphans, too bad there was so much bloodshed.
"Of course, you are not selfish; you say to yourself: 'All I want to do is go back home.' But I ask you, is it fair to deprive your wife and kids of a fortune which God himself places within reach of your hand? Is it fair to abandon your motherland in this solemn moment when she most needs the self-sacrifice of her sons, when she most needs her humble sons to save her from falling again in the clutches of her eternal oppressors, executioners, and caciques? You must not forget that the thing a man holds most sacred on earth is his motherland."
Macias smiled, his eyes shining.
"Will it be all right if we go with Natera?"
"Not only all right," Venancio said insinuatingly, "but I think it absolutely necessary."
"Now Chief," Cervantes pursued, "I took a fancy to you the first time I laid eyes on you and I like you more and more every day because I realize what you are worth. Please let me be utterly frank. You do not yet realize your lofty noble function. You are a modest man without ambitions, you do not wish to realize the exceedingly important role you are destined to play in the revolution. It is not true that you took up arms simply because of Senor Monico. You are under arms to protest against the evils of all the caciques who are overrunning the whole nation. We are the elements of a social movement which will not rest until it has enlarged the destinies of our motherland. We are the tools Destiny makes use of to reclaim the sacred rights of the people. We are not fighting to dethrone a miserable murderer, we are fighting against tyranny itself. What moves us is what men call ideals; our action is what men call fighting for a principle. A principle! That's why Villa and Natera and Carranza are fighting; that's why we, every man of us, are fighting."
"Yes ... yes ... exactly what I've been thinking myself," said Venancio in a climax of enthusiasm.
"Hey, there, Pancracio," Macias called, "pull down two more beers."
"You ought to see how clear that fellow can make things, Compadre," Demetrio said. All morning long he had been pondering as much of Luis Cervantes' speech as he had understood.
"I heard him too," Anastasio answered. "People who can read and write get things clear, all right; nothing was ever truer. But what I can't make out is how you're going to go and meet Natera with as few men as we have."
"That's nothing. We're going to do things different now. They tell me that as soon as Crispin Robles enters a town he gets hold of all the horses and guns in the place; then he goes to the jail and lets all the jailbirds out, and, before you know it, he's got plenty of men, all right. You'll see. You know I'm beginning to feel that we haven't done things right so far. It don't seem right somehow that this city guy should be able to tell us what to do."
"Ain't it wonderful to be able to read and write!"
They both sighed, sadly. Luis Cervantes came in with several others to find out the day of their departure.
"We're leaving no later than tomorrow," said Demetrio without hesitation.
Quail suggested that musicians be summoned from the neighboring hamlet and that a farewell dance be given. His idea met with enthusiasm on all sides.
"We'll go, then," Pancracio shouted, "but I'm certainly going in good company this time. My sweetheart's coming along with me!"
Demetrio replied that he too would willingly take along a girl he had set his eye on, but that he hoped none of his men would leave bitter memories behind them as the Federals did.
"You won't have long to wait. Everything will be arranged when you return," Luis Cervantes whispered to him.
"What do you mean?" Demetrio asked. "I thought that you and Camilla..."
"There's not a word of truth in it, Chief. She likes you but she's afraid of you, that's all."
"Really? Is that really true?"
"Yes. But I think you're quite right in not wanting to leave any bitter feelings behind you as you go. When you come back as a conqueror, everything will be different. They'll all thank you for it even."
"By God, you're certainly a shrewd one," Demetrio replied, patting him on the back.
At sundown, Camilla went to the river to fetch water as usual. Luis Cervantes, walking down the same trail, met her. Camilla felt her heart leap to her mouth. But, without taking the slightest notice of her, Luis Cervantes hastily took one of the turns and disappeared among the rocks.
At this hour, as usual, the calcinated rocks, the sun-burnt branches, and the dry weeds faded into the semi-obscurity of the shadows. The wind blew softly, the green lances of the young corn leaves rustling in the twilight. Nothing was changed; all nature was as she had found it before, evening upon evening; but in the stones and the dry weeds, amid the fragrance of the air and the light whir of falling leaves, Camilla sensed a new strangeness, a vast desolation in everything about her.
Rounding a huge eroded rock, suddenly Camilla found herself face to face with Luis, who was seated on a stone, hatless, his legs dangling.
"Listen, you might come down here to say good-bye."
Luis Cervantes was obliging enough; he jumped down and joined her.
"You're proud, ain't you? Have I been so mean that you don't even want to talk to me?"
"Why do you say that, Camilla? You've been extremely kind to me; why, you've been more than a friend, you've taken care of me as if you were my sister. Now I'm about to leave, I'm very grateful to you; I'll always remember you."
"Liar!" Camilla said, her face transfigured with joy. "Suppose I hadn't come after you?"
"I intended to say good-bye to you at the dance this evening."
"What dance? If there's a dance, I'll not go to it."
"Because I can't stand that horrible man ... Demetrio!"
"Don't be silly, child," said Luis. "He's really very fond of you. Don't go and throw away this opportunity. You'll never have one like it again in your life. Don't you know that Demetrio is on the point of becoming a general, you silly girl? He'll be a very wealthy man, with horses galore; and you'll have jewels and clothes and a fine house and a lot of money to spend. Just imagine what a life you would lead with him!"
Camilla stared up at the blue sky so he should not read the expression in her eyes. A dead leaf shook slowly loose from the crest of a tree swinging slowly on the wind, fell like a small dead butterfly at her feet. She bent down and took it in her fingers. Then, without looking at him, she murmured:
"It's horrible to hear you talk like that.... I like you ... no one else.... Ah, well, go then, go: I feel ashamed now. Please leave me!"
She threw away the leaf she had crumpled in her hand and covered her face with a corner of her apron. When she opened her eyes, Luis Cervantes had disappeared.
She followed the river trail. The river seemed to have been sprinkled with a fine red dust. On its surface drifted now a sky of variegated colors, now the dark crags, half light, half shadow. Myriads of luminous insects twinkled in a hollow. Camilla, standing on the beach of washed, round stones, caught a reflection of herself in the waters; she saw herself in her yellow blouse with the green ribbons, her white skirt, her carefully combed hair, her wide eyebrows and broad forehead, exactly as she had dressed to please Luis. She burst into tears.
Among the reeds, the frogs chanted the implacable melancholy of the hour. Perched on a dry root, a dove wept also.
That evening, there was much merrymaking at the dance, and a great quantity of mezcal was drunk. "I miss Camilla," said Demetrio in a loud voice. Everybody looked about for Camilla.
"She's sick, she's got a headache," said Agapita harshly, uneasy as she caught sight of the malicious glances leveled at her.
When the dance was over, Demetrio, somewhat unsteady on his feet, thanked all the kind neighbors who had welcomed them and promised that when the revolution had triumphed he would remember them one and all, because "hospital or jail is a true test of friendship."
"May God's hand lead you all," said an old woman.
"God bless you all and keep you well," others added.
Utterly drunk, Maria Antonia said: "Come back soon, damn soon!"
On the morrow, Maria Antonia, who, though she was pockmarked and walleyed, nevertheless enjoyed a notorious reputation—indeed it was confidently proclaimed that no man had failed to go with her behind the river weeds at some time or other—shouted to Camilla:
"Hey there, you! What's the matter? What are you doing there skulking in the corner with a shawl tied round your head! You're crying, I wager. Look at her eyes; they look like a witch's. There's no sorrow lasts more than three days!"
Agapita knitted her eyebrows and muttered indistinctly to herself.
The old crones felt uneasy and lonesome since Demetrio's men had left. The men, too, in spite of their gossip and insults, lamented their departure since now they would have no one to bring them fresh meat every day. It is pleasant indeed to spend your time eating and drinking, and sleeping all day long in the cool shade of the rocks, while clouds ravel and unravel their fleecy threads on the blue shuttle of the sky.
"Look at them again. There they go!" Maria Antonia yelled. "Why, they look like toys."
Demetrio's men, riding their thin nags, could still be descried in the distance against the sapphire translucence of the sky, where the broken rocks and the chaparral melted into a single bluish smooth surface. Across the air a gust of hot wind bore the broken, faltering strains of "La Adelita," the revolutionary song, to the settlement. Camilla, who had come out when Maria Antonia shouted, could no longer control herself; she dived back into her hut, unable to restrain her tears and moaning. Maria Antonia burst into laughter and moved off.
"They've cast the evil eye on my daughter," Agapita said in perplexity. She pondered a while, then duly reached a decision. From a pole in the hut she took down a piece of strong leather which her husband used to hitch up the yoke. This pole stood between a picture of Christ and one of the Virgin. Agapita promptly twisted the leather and proceeded to administer a sound thrashing to Camilla in order to dispel the evil spirits.
Riding proudly on his horse, Demetrio felt like a new man. His eyes recovered their peculiar metallic brilliance, and the blood flowed, red and warm, through his coppery, pure-blooded Aztec cheeks.
The men threw out their chests as if to breathe the widening horizon, the immensity of the sky, the blue from the mountains and the fresh air, redolent with the various odors of the sierra. They spurred their horses to a gallop as if in that mad race they laid claims of possession to the earth. What man among them now remembered the stern chief of police, the growling policeman, or the conceited cacique? What man remembered his pitiful hut where he slaved away, always under the eyes of the owner or the ruthless and sullen foreman, always forced to rise before dawn, and to take up his shovel, basket, or goad, wearing himself out to earn a mere pitcher of atole and a handful of beans?
They laughed, they sang, they whistled, drunk with the sunlight, the air of the open spaces, the wine of life.
Meco, prancing forward on his horse, bared his white glistening teeth, joking and kicking up like a clown.
"Hey, Pancracio," he asked with utmost seriousness, "my wife writes me I've got another kid. How in hell is that? I ain't seen her since Madero was President."
"That's nothing," the other replied. "You just left her a lot of eggs to hatch for you!"
They all laughed uproariously. Only Meco, grave and aloof, sang in a voice horribly shrill:
"I gave her a penny That wasn't enough. I gave her a nickel The wench wanted more. We bargained. I asked If a dime was enough But she wanted a quarter. By God! That was tough! All wenches are fickle And trumpery stuff!"
The sun, beating down upon them, dulled their minds and bodies and presently they were silent. All day long they rode through the canyon, up and down the steep, round hills, dirty and bald as a man's head, hill after hill in endless succession. At last, late in the afternoon, they descried several stone church towers in the heart of a bluish ridge, and, beyond, the white road with its curling spirals of dust and its gray telegraph poles.
They advanced toward the main road; in the distance they spied a figure of an Indian sitting on the embankment. They drew up to him. He proved to be an unfriendly looking old man, clad in rags; he was laboriously attempting to mend his leather sandals with the help of a dull knife. A burro loaded with fresh green grass stood by. Demetrio accosted him.
"What are you doing, Grandpa?"
"Gathering alfalfa for my cow."
"How many Federals are there around here?"
"Just a few: not more than a dozen, I reckon."
The old man grew communicative. He told them of many important rumors: Obregon was besieging Guadalajara, Torres was in complete control of the Potosi region, Natera ruled over Fresnillo.
"All right," said Demetrio, "you can go where you're headed for, see, but you be damn careful not to tell anyone you saw us, because if you do, I'll pump you full of lead. And I could track you down, even if you tried to hide in the pit of hell, see?"
"What do you say, boys?" Demetrio asked them as soon as the old man had disappeared.
"To hell with the mochos! We'll kill every blasted one of them!" they cried in unison.
Then they set to counting their cartridges and the hand grenades the Owl had made out of fragments of iron tubing and metal bed handles.
"Not much to brag about, but we'll soon trade them for rifles," Anastasio observed.
Anxiously they pressed forward, spurring the thin flanks of their nags to a gallop. Demetrio's brisk, imperious tones of order brought them abruptly to a halt.
They dismounted by the side of a hill, protected by thick huizache trees. Without unsaddling their horses, each began to search for stones to serve as pillows.
At midnight Demetrio Macias ordered the march to be resumed. The town was five or six miles away; the best plan was to take the soldiers by surprise, before reveille.
The sky was cloudy, with here and there a star shining. From time to time a flash of lightning crossed the sky with a red dart, illumining the far horizon.
Luis Cervantes asked Demetrio whether the success of the attack might not be better served by procuring a guide or leastways by ascertaining the topographic conditions of the town and the precise location of the soldiers' quarters.
"No," Demetrio answered, accompanying his smile with a disdainful gesture, "we'll simply fall on them when they least expect it; that's all there is to it, see? We've done it before all right, lots of times! Haven't you ever seen the squirrels stick their heads out of their holes when you poured in water? Well, that's how these lousy soldiers are going to feel. Do you see? They'll be frightened out of their wits the moment they hear our first shot. Then they'll slink out and stand as targets for us."
"Suppose the old man we met yesterday lied to us. Suppose there are fifty soldiers instead of twenty. Who knows but he's a spy sent out by the Federals!"
"Ha, Tenderfoot, frightened already, eh?" Anastasio Montanez mocked.
"Sure! Handling a rifle and messing about with bandages are two different things," Pancracio observed.
"Well, that's enough talk, I guess," said Meco. "All we have to do is fight a dozen frightened rats."
"This fight won't convince our mothers that they gave birth to men or whatever the hell you like...." Manteca added.
When they reached the outskirts of the town, Venancio walked ahead and knocked at the door of a hut.
"Where's the soldiers' barracks?" he inquired of a man who came out barefoot, a ragged serape covering his body.
"Right there, just beyond the Plaza," he answered.
Since nobody knew where the city square was, Venancio made him walk ahead to show the way. Trembling with fear, the poor devil told them they were doing him a terrible wrong.
"I'm just a poor day laborer, sir; I've got a wife and a lot of kids."
"What the hell do you think I have, dogs?" Demetrio scowled. "I've got kids too, see?"
Then he commanded:
"You men keep quiet. Not a sound out of you! And walk down the middle of the street, single file."
The rectangular church cupola rose above the small houses.
"Here, gentlemen; there's the Plaza beyond the church. Just walk a bit further and there's the barracks."
He knelt down, then, imploring them to let him go, but Pancracio, without pausing to reply, struck him across the chest with his rifle and ordered him to proceed.
"How many soldiers are there?" Luis Cervantes asked.
"I don't want to lie to you, boss, but to tell you the truth, yes, sir, to tell you God's truth, there's a lot of them, a whole lot of 'em."
Luis Cervantes turned around to stare at Demetrio, who feigned momentary deafness.
They were soon in the city square.
A loud volley of rifle shots rang out, deafening them. Demetrio's horse reared, staggered on its hind legs, bent its forelegs, and fell to the ground, kicking. The Owl uttered a piercing cry and fell from his horse which rushed madly to the center of the square.
Another volley: the guide threw up his arms and fell on his back without a sound.
With all haste, Anastasio Montanez helped Demetrio up behind him on his horse; the others retreated, seeking shelter along the walls of the houses.
"Hey, men," said a workman sticking his head out of a large door, "go for 'em through the back of the chapel. They're all in there. Cut back through this street, then turn to the left; you'll reach an alley. Keep on going ahead until you hit the chapel."
As he spoke a fresh volley of pistol shots, directed from the neighboring roofs, fell like a rain about them.
"By God," the man said, "those ain't poisonous spiders; they're only townsmen scared of their own shadow. Come in here until they stop."
"How many of them are there?" asked Demetrio.
"There were only twelve of them. But last night they were scared out of their wits so they wired to the town beyond for help. I don't know how many of them there are now. Even if there are a hell of a lot of them, it doesn't cut any ice! Most of them aren't soldiers, you know, but drafted men; if just one of them starts mutinying, the rest will follow like sheep. My brother was drafted; they've got him there. I'll go along with you and signal to him; all of them will desert and follow you. Then we'll only have the officers to deal with! If you want to give me a gun or something...."