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XIX


Villa is coming!"

The news spread like lightning. Villa--the magic word!
The Great Man, the salient profile, the unconquerable
warrior who, even at a distance, exerts the fascination of
a reptile, a boa constrictor.

"Our Mexican Napoleon!" exclaimed Luis Cervantes.

"Yes! The Aztec Eagle! He buried his beak of steel
in the head of Huerta the serpent!" Solis, Natera's chief
of staff, remarked somewhat ironically, adding: "At least,
that's how I expressed it in a speech I made at Ciudad
Juarez!"

The two sat at the bar of the saloon, drinking beer.
The "high hats," wearing mufflers around their necks and
thick rough leather shoes on their feet, ate and drank
endlessly. Their gnarled hands loomed across table,
across bar. All their talk was of Villa and his men. The
tales Natera's followers related won gasps of astonish-
ment from Demetrio's men. Villa! Villa's battles! Ciu-
dad Juarez . . . Tierra Blanca . . . Chihuahua . . . Tor-
reon. . . .

The bare facts, the mere citing of observation and ex-
perience meant nothing. But the real story, with its ex-
traordinary contrasts of high exploits and abysmal cruel-
ties was quite different. Villa, indomitable lord of the
sierra, the eternal victim of all governments . . . Villa
tracked, hunted down like a wild beast . . . Villa the rein-
carnation of the old legend; Villa as Providence, the ban-
dit, that passes through the world armed with the blazing
torch of an ideal: to rob the rich and give to the poor. It
was the poor who built up and imposed a legend about
him which Time itself was to increase and embellish as a
shining example from generation to generation.

"Look here, friend," one of Natera's men told Anas-
tasio, "if General Villa takes a fancy to you, he'll give you
a ranch on the spot. But if he doesn't, he'll shoot
you down like a dog! God! You ought to see Villa's
troops! They're all northerners and dressed like lords!
You ought to see their wide-brimmed Texas hats and their
brand-new outfits and their four-dollar shoes, imported
from the U. S. A."

As they retailed the wonders of Villa and his men,
Natera's men gazed at one another ruefully, aware that
their own hats were rotten from sunlight and moisture,
that their own shirts and trousers were tattered and
barely fit to cover their grimy, lousy bodies.

"There's no such a thing as hunger up there. They
carry boxcars full of oxen, sheep, cows! They've got cars
full of clothing, trains full of guns, ammunition, food
enough to make a man burst!"

Then they spoke of Villa's airplanes.

"Christ, those planes! You know when they're close
to you, be damned if you know what the hell they are!
They look like small boats, you know, or tiny rafts . . .
and then pretty soon they begin to rise, making a hell of
a row. Something like an automobile going sixty miles an
hour. Then they're like great big birds that don't even
seem to move sometimes. But there's a joker! The God-
damn things have got some American fellow inside with
hand grenades by the thousand. Now you try and figure
what that means! The fight is on, see? You know how
a farmer feeds corn to his chickens, huh? Well, the Amer-
ican throws his lead bombs at the enemy just like that.
Pretty soon the whole damn field is nothing but a grave-
yard . . . dead men all over the dump . . . dead men here
. . . dead men there . . . dead men everywhere!"

Anastasio Montanez questioned the speaker more par-
ticularly. It was not long before he realized that all this
high praise was hearsay and that not a single man in
Natera's army had ever laid eyes on Villa.

"Well, when you get down to it, I guess it doesn't mean
so much! No man's got much more guts than any other
man, if you ask me. All you need to be a good fighter is
pride, that's all. I'm not a professional soldier even though
I'm dressed like hell, but let me tell you. I'm not forced
to do this kind of bloody job, because I own . . ."

"Because I own over twenty oxen, whether you believe
it or not!" Quail said, mocking Anastasio.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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