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XIV


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 harsh-
ly, uneasy as she caught sight of the malicious glances
leveled at her.

When the dance was over, Demetrio, somewhat un-
steady on his feet, thanked all the kind neighbors who
had welcomed them and promised that when the revo-
lution 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 no-
torious 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 indistinct-
ly to herself.

The old crones felt uneasy and lonesome since Deme-
trio'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 drink-
ing, 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 Camil-
la 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 cop-
pery, 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 con-
ceited 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 embank-
ment. They drew up to him. He proved to be an un-
friendly 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 Guada-
lajara, Torres was in complete control of the Potosi re-
gion, 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 any-
one 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.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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