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II


What damned fools," said War Paint convulsed with
laughter! "Where the hell do you come from?..... Soldiers
don't sleep in hotels and inns any more....... Where do
you come from? You just go anywhere you like and
pick a house that pleases you, see. When you go there,
make yourself at home and don't ask anyone for any-
thing. What the hell is the use of the revolution? Who's
it for? For the folks who live in towns? We're the city
folk now, see? Come on, Pancracio, hand me your bayo-
net. Damn these rich people, they lock up everything
they've got!"

She dug the steel point through the crack of a drawer
and, pressing on the hilt, broke the lock, opened the
splinted cover of a writing desk. Anastasio, Pancracio
and War Paint plunged their hands into a mass of post
cards, photographs, pictures and papers, scattering them
all over the rug. Finding nothing he wanted, Pancracio
gave vent to his anger by kicking a framed photograph
into the air with the toe of his shoe. It smashed on the
candelabra in the center of the room.

They pulled their empty hands out of the heap of paper,
cursing. But War Paint was of sterner stuff; tirelessly she
continued to unlock drawer after drawer without failing
to investigate a single spot. In their absorption, they did
not notice a small gray velvet-covered box which rolled
silently across the floor, coming to a stop at Luis Cer-
vantes' feet.

Demetrio, lying on the rug, seemed to be asleep; Cer-
vantes, who had watched everything with profound in-
difference, pulled the box closer to him with his foot, and
stooping to scratch his ankle, swiftly picked it up. Some-
thing gleamed up at him, dazzling. It was two pure-water
diamonds mounted in filigreed platinum. Hastily he thrust
them inside his coat pocket.
When Demetrio awoke, Cervantes said:

"General, look at the mess these boys have made
here. Don't you think it would be advisable to forbid this
sort of thing?"

"No. It's about their only pleasure after putting their
bellies up as targets for the enemy's bullets."

"Yes, of course, General, but they could do it some-
where else. You see, this sort of thing hurts our prestige,
and worse, our cause!"

Demetrio leveled his eagle eyes at Cervantes. He
drummed with his fingernails against his teeth, absent-
mindedly. Then:

"Come along, now, don't blush," he said. "You can
talk like that to someone else. We know what's mine is
mine, what's yours is yours. You picked the box, all
right; I picked my gold watch; all right too!"

His words dispelled any pretense. Both of them, in
perfect harmony, displayed their booty.

War Paint and her companions were ransacking the
rest of the house. Quail entered the room with a twelve-
year-old girl upon whose forehead and arms were al-
ready marked copper-colored spots. They stopped short,
speechless with surprise as they saw the books lying in
piles on the floor, chairs and tables, the large mirrors
thrown to the ground, smashed, the huge albums and
the photographs torn into shreds, the furniture, objets
d'art and bric-a-brac broken. Quail held his breath, his
avid eyes scouring the room for booty.

Outside, in one corner of the patio, lost in dense clouds
of suffocating smoke, Manteca was boiling corn on the
cob, feeding his fire with books and paper that made
the flames leap wildly through the air.

"Hey!" Quail shouted. "Look what I found. A fine
sweat-cover for my mare."

With a swift pull he wrenched down a hanging, which
fell over a handsomely carved upright chair.

"Look, look at all these naked women!" Quail's little
companion cried, enchanted at a de luxe edition of
Dante's Divine Comedy. "I like this; I think I'll take it
along."

She began to tear out the illustrations which pleased
her most.

Demetrio crossed the room and sat down beside Luis
Cervantes. He ordered some beer, handed one bottle up
to his secretary, downed his own bottle at one gulp.
Then, drowsily, he half closed his eyes, and soon fell
sound asleep.

"Hey!" a man called to Pancracio from the threshold.
"When can I see your general?"

"You can't see him. He's got a hangover this morn-
ing. What the hell do you want?"
"I want to buy some of those books you're burning."
"I'll sell them to you myself."
"How much do you want for them?"
Pancracio frowned in bewilderment.

"Give me a nickel for those with pictures, see. I'll
give you the rest for nothing if you buy all those with pictures."

The man returned with a large basket to carry away
the books. . . .

"Come on, Demetrio, come on, you pig, get up! Look
who's here! It's Blondie. You don't know what a fine
man he is!"

"I like you very much, General Macias, and I like
the way you do things. So if it's all right, I'd like very
much to serve under you!"

"What's your rank?" Demetrio asked him.

"I'm a captain, General."

"All right, you can serve with me now. I'll make you
major. How's that?"

Blondie was a round little fellow, with waxed mus-
tache. When he laughed, his blue eyes disappeared mis-
chievously between his forehead and his fat cheeks. He
had been a waiter at "El Monico," in Chihuahua; now
he proudly wore three small brass bars, the insignia of
his rank in the Northern Division.

Blondie showered eulogy after eulogy on Demetrio and
his men; this proved sufficient reason for bringing out a
fresh case of beer, which was finished in short order.

Suddenly War Paint reappeared in the middle of the
room, wearing a beautiful silk dress covered with ex-
quisite lace.

"You forgot the stockings," Blondie shouted, shaking
with laughter. Quail's girl also burst out laughing. But
War Paint did not care. She shrugged her shoulders in-
differently, sat down on the floor, kicked off her white
satin slippers, and wiggled her toes happily, giving their
muscles a freedom welcome after their tight confinement
in the slippers. She said:

"Hey, you, Pancracio, go and get me my blue stock-
ings . . . they're with the rest of my plunder."

Soldiers and their friends, companions and veterans of
other campaigns, began to enter in groups of twos and
threes. Demetrio, growing excited, began to narrate in
detail his most notable feats of arms.

"What the hell is that noise?" he asked in surprise as
he heard string and brass instruments tuning up in the
patio.

"General Demetrio Macias," Luis Cervantes said
solemnly, "it's a banquet all of your old friends and fol-
lowers are giving in your honor to celebrate your vic-
tory at Zacatecas and your well-merited promotion to the
rank of general!"





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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