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II


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, fol-
lowing 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 unrav-
eled 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 be-
fore 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 liq-
uor.

"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 tamed sinister and they
gave vent to threats, oaths and imprecations.

"Of course, we can't ten how strong they are," said
Demetrio as his glance traveled over their faces in
scrutiny.

"Do you remember Medina? Out there at Hos-
totipaquillo, 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 car-
tridges, 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 In-
dian-fashion and inhaled the odor of the meat as it twist-
ed 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, any-
how."

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.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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