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XI


Demetrio's wound had already healed. They be-
gan 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 after-
noon breeze, Luis Cervantes gazed away in the distance,
dreaming and killing time. Below the narrow rock Pan-
cracio 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 day-
dreaming 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 no-
body, 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 gam-
bling. 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. Pan-
cracio 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 unto-
ward occurred.

After their supply of words was exhausted, they gave
over gambling and, their arms about each other's shoul-
ders, marched off in search of a drink of alcohol.

"I don't like to fight with my tongue either, it's not de-
cent. 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 jubi-
lantly, 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 some-
where 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 south-
ward. Trains were overloaded with people; there was a
scarcity of trucks and coaches; hundreds of people,
panic-stricken, walked along the highroad with their be-
longings 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 De-
metrio 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 ex-
citement 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, Moya-
hua, 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?"





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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