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XX


The firing lessened, then slowly died out. Luis Cer-
vantes, who had been hiding amid a heap of ruins at the
fortification on the crest of the hill, made bold to show
his face. How he had managed to hang on, he did not
know. Nor did he know when Demetrio and his men had
disappeared. Suddenly he had found himself alone; then,
hurled back by an avalanche of infantry, he fell from his
saddle; a host of men trampled over him until he rose
from the ground and a man on horseback hoisted him
up behind him. After a few moments, horse and riders
fell. Left without rifle, revolver, or arms of any kind, Cer-
vantes found himself lost in the midst of white smoke and
whistling bullets. A hole amid a debris of crumbling
stone offered a refuge of safety.
"Hello, partner!"
"Luis, how are you!"

"The horse threw me. They fell upon me. Then they
took my gun away. You see, they thought I was dead.
There was nothing I could do!" Luis Cervantes explained
apologetically. Then:

"Nobody threw me down," Solis said. "I'm here be-
cause I like to play safe."

The irony in Solis' voice brought a blush to Cer-
vantes' cheek.

"By God, that chief of yours is a man!" Solis said.
"What daring, what assurance! He left me gasping--and a
hell of a lot of other men with more experience than me,
too!"

Luis Cervantes vouchsafed no answer.

"What! Weren't you there? Oh, I see! You found a
nice place for yourself at the right time. Come here, Luis,
I'll explain; let's go behind that rock. From this meadow
to the foot of the hill, there's no road save this path be-
low. To the right, the incline is too sharp; you can't do
anything there. And it's worse to the left; the ascent is so
dangerous that a second's hesitation means a fall down
those rocks and a broken neck at the end of it. All right!
A number of men from Moya's brigade who went down to
the meadow decided to attack the enemy's trenches the
first chance they got. The bullets whizzed about us, the
battle raged on all sides. For a time they stopped firing,
so we thought they were being attacked from behind. We
stormed their trenches--look, partner, look at that
meadow! It's thick with corpses! Their machine guns did
that for us. They mowed us down like wheat; only a hand-
ful escaped. Those Goddamned officers went white as a
sheet; even though we had reinforcements they were
afraid to order a new charge. That was when Demetrio
Macias plunged in. Did he wait for orders? Not he! He
just shouted:
" 'Come on, boys! Let's go for them!'

"'Damn fool!' I thought. 'What the hell does he think
he's doing!'

"The officers, surprised, said nothing. Demetrio's
horse seemed to wear eagle's claws instead of hoofs, it
soared so swiftly over the rocks. 'Come on! Come on!' his
men shouted, following him like wild deer, horses and
men welded into a mad stampede. Only one young fellow
stepped wild and fell headlong into the pit. In a few sec-
onds the others appeared at the top of the hill, storming
the trenches and killing the Federals by the thousand.
With his rope, Demetrio lassoed the machine guns and
carried them off, like a bull herd throwing a steer. Yet his
success could not last much longer, for the Federals
were far stronger in numbers and could easily have de-
stroyed Demetrio and his men. But we took advantage of
their confusion, we rushed upon them and they soon
cleared out of their position. That chief of yours is a
wonderful soldier!"

Standing on the crest of the hill, they could easily
sight one side of the Bufa peak. Its highest crag spread out
like the feathered head of a proud Aztec king. The three-
hundred-foot slope was literally covered with dead, their
hair matted, their clothes clotted with grime and blood.
A host of ragged women, vultures of prey, ranged over
the tepid bodies of the dead, stripping one man bare, de-
spoiling another, robbing from a third his dearest pos-
sessions.

Amid clouds of white rifle smoke and the dense black
vapors of flaming buildings, houses with wide doors and
windows bolted shone in the sunlight. The streets seemed
to be piled upon one another, or wound picturesquely
about fantastic corners, or set to scale the hills nearby.
Above the graceful cluster of houses, rose the lithe
columns of a warehouse and the towers and cupola of the
church.

"How beautiful the revolution! Even in its most bar-
barous aspect it is beautiful," Solis said with deep feel-
ing. Then a vague melancholy seized him, and speaking
low:

"A pity what remains to do won't be as beautiful! We
must wait a while, until there are no men left to fight
on either side, until no sound of shot rings through the
air save from the mob as carrion-like it falls upon the
booty; we must wait until the psychology of our race, con-
densed into two words, shines clear and luminous as a
drop of water: Robbery! Murder! What a colossal failure
we would make of it, friend, if we, who offer our enthu-
siasm and lives to crush a wretched tyrant, became the
builders of a monstrous edifice holding one hundred or
two hundred thousand monsters of exactly the same sort.
People without ideals! A tyrant folk! Vain bloodshed!"

Large groups of Federals pushed up the hill, fleeing
from the "high hats." A bullet whistled past them, singing
as it sped. After his speech, Alberto Solis stood lost in
thought, his arms crossed. Suddenly, he took fright.

"I'll be damned if I like these plaguey mosquitoes!" he
said. "Let's get away from here!"

So scornfully Luis Cervantes smiled that Solis sat
down on a rock quite calm, bewildered. He smiled. His
gaze roved as he watched the spirals of smoke from the
rifles, the dust of roofs crumbling from houses as they
fell before the artillery. He believed he discerned the sym-
bol of the revolution in these clouds of dust and smoke
that climbed upward together, met at the crest of the hill
and, a moment after, were lost. . . .

"By heaven, now I see what it all means!"
He sketched a vast gesture, pointing to the station.
Locomotives belched huge clouds of black dense smoke
rising in columns; the trains were overloaded with fugi-
tives who had barely managed to escape from the cap-
tured town.

Suddenly he felt a sharp blow in the stomach. As though
his legs were putty, he rolled off the rock. His ears buzzed. . . Then darkness . . . silence . . .
eternity. . . .





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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