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XVII


On the day General Natera began his advance against
the town of Zacatecas, Demetrio with a hundred men went
to meet him at Fresnillo.

The leader received him cordially.

"I know who you are and the sort of men you bring.
I heard about the beatings you gave the Federals from
Tepic to Durango."

Natera shook hands with Demetrio effusively while Luis
Cervantes said:

"With men like General Natera and Colonel Demetrio
Macias, we'll cover our country with glory."

Demetrio understood the purpose of those words, after
Natera had repeatedly addressed him as "Colonel."

Wine and beer were served; Demetrio and Natera
drank many a toast. Luis Cervantes proposed: "The tri-
umph of our cause, which is the sublime triumph of Jus-
tice, because our ideal--to free the noble, long-suffering
people of Mexico--is about to be realized and because
those men who have watered the earth with their blood
and tears will reap the harvest which is rightfully theirs."

Natera fixed his cruel gaze on the orator, then turned his
back on him to talk to Demetrio. Presently, one of Na-
tera's officers, a young man with a frank open face, drew
up to the table and stared insistently at Cervantes.

"Are you Luis Cervantes?"

"Yes. You're Solis, eh?"

"The moment you entered I thought I recognized you.
Well, well, even now I can hardly believe my eyes!"

"It's true enough!"

"Well, but . . . look here, let's have a drink, come
along." Then:

"Hm," Solis went on, offering Cervantes a chair,
"since when have you turned rebel?"

"I've been a rebel the last two months!"

"Oh, I see! That's why you speak with such faith and
enthusiasm about things we all felt when we joined the
revolution."

"Have you lost your faith or enthusiasm?"

"Look here, man, don't be surprised if I confide in you
right off. I am so anxious to find someone intelligent
among this crowd, that as soon as I get hold of a man
like you I clutch at him as eagerly as I would at a glass
of water, after walking mile after mile through a parched
desert. But frankly, I think you should do the explaining
first. I can't understand how a man who was correspond-
ent of a Government newspaper during the Madero re-
gime, and later editorial writer on a Conservative jour-
nal, who denounced us as bandits in the most fiery ar-
ticles, is now fighting on our side."

"I tell you honestly: I have been converted," Cervantes
answered.

"Are you absolutely convinced?"

Solis sighed, filled the glasses; they drank.

"What about you? Are you tired of the revolution?"
asked Cervantes sharply.

"Tired? My dear fellow, I'm twenty-five years old and
I'm fit as a fiddle! But am I disappointed? Perhaps!"

"You must have sound reasons for feeling that way."

"I hoped to find a meadow at the end of the road. I
found a swamp. Facts are bitter; so are men. That bitter-
ness eats your heart out; it is poison, dry rot. Enthu-
siasm, hope, ideals, happiness-vain dreams, vain dreams.
. . . When that's over, you have a choice. Either you
turn bandit, like the rest, or the timeservers will swamp
you. . . ."

Cervantes writhed at his friend's words; his argument
was quite out of place . . . painful. . . . To avoid being
forced to take issue, he invited Solis to cite the cir-
cumstances that had destroyed his illusions.

"Circumstances? No--it's far less important than that.
It's a host of silly, insignificant things that no one notices
except yourself . . . a change of expression, eyes shin-
ing-lips curled in a sneer-the deep import of a phrase
that is lost! Yet take these things together and they com-
pose the mask of our race . . . terrible . . . grotesque . . .
a race that awaits redemption!"

He drained another glass. After a long pause, he con-
tinued:

"You ask me why I am still a rebel? Well, the revolu-
tion is like a hurricane: if you're in it, you're not a man
. . . you're a leaf, a dead leaf, blown by the wind."

Demetrio reappeared. Seeing him, Solis relapsed into
silence.

"Come along," Demetrio said to Cervantes. "Come
with me."

Unctuously, Solis congratulated Demetrio on the
feats that had won him fame and the notice of Pancho
Villa's northern division.

Demetrio warmed to his praise. Gratefully, he heard his
prowess vaunted, though at times he found it difficult to
believe he was the hero of the exploits the other nar-
rated. But Solis' story proved so charming, so con-
vincing, that before long he found himself repeating it
as gospel truth.

"Natera is a genius!" Luis Cervantes said when they had
returned to the hotel. "But Captain Solis is a nobody
. . . a timeserver."
Demetrio Macias was too elated to listen to him.
"I'm a colonel, my lad! And you're my secretary!"

Demetrio's men made many acquaintances that eve-
ning; much liquor flowed to celebrate new friendships.
Of course men are not necessarily even tempered, nor is
alcohol a good counselor; quarrels naturally ensued.
Yet many differences that occurred were smoothed out in
a friendly spirit, outside the saloons, restaurants, or broth-
els.

On the morrow, casualties were reported. Always a few
dead. An old prostitute was found with a bullet through
her stomach; two of Colonel Macias' new men lay in the
gutter, slit from ear to ear.

Anastasio Montanez carried an account of the events
to his chief. Demetrio shrugged his shoulders.
"Bury them!" he said.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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