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III


General Macias, I want you to meet my future wife,"
Luis Cervantes said with great emphasis as he
led a beautiful girl into the dining room.

They all turned to look at her. Her large blue eyes
grew wide in wonder. She was barely fourteen. Her skin
was like a rose, soft, pink, fresh; her hair was very fair;
the expression in her eyes was partly impish curiosity,
partly a vague childish fear. Perceiving that Demetrio
eyed her like a beast of prey, Luis Cervantes congratu-
lated himself.

They made room for her between Luis Cervantes and
Blondie, opposite Demetrio.

Bottles of tequila, dishes of cut glass, bowls, porcelains
and vases lay scattered over the table indiscriminately.
Meco, carrying a box of beer upon his shoulders, came in
cursing and sweating.

"You don't know this fellow Blondie yet," said War
Paint, noticing the persistent glances he was casting at
Luis Cervantes' bride. "He's a smart fellow, I can tell
you, and he never misses a trick."
She gazed at him lecherously, adding:

"That's why I don't like to see him close, even on a
photograph!"

The orchestra struck up a raucous march as though
they were playing at a bullfight. The soldiers roared with
joy.

"What fine tripe, General; I swear I haven't tasted the
like of it in all my life," Blondie said, as he began to
reminisce about "El Monico" at Chihuahua.

"You really like it, Blondie?" responded Demetrio.
"Go ahead, call for more, eat your bellyful."

"It's just the way I like it," Anastasio chimed in. "Yes,
I like good food! But nothing really tastes good to you
unless you belch!"

The noise of mouths being filled, of ravenous feeding
followed. All drank copiously. At the end of the dinner,
Luis Cervantes rose, holding a champagne glass in one
hand, and said:

"General. . ."

"Ho!" War Paint interrupted. "This speech-making busi-
ness isn't for me; I'm all against it. I'll go out to the
corral since there's no more eating here."

Presenting Demetrio with a black velvet-covered box
containing a small brass eagle, Luis Cervantes made a
toast which no one understood but everyone applauded
enthusiastically. Demetrio took the insignia in his hands;
and with flushed face, and eyes shining, declared with
great candor:
"What in hell am I going to do with this buzzard!"

"Compadre," Anastasio Montanez said in a tremu-
lous voice. "I ain't got much to tell you. . . ."

Whole minutes elapsed between his words; the cursed
words would not come to Anastasio. His face, coated
with filth, unwashed for days, turned crimson, shining
with perspiration. Finally he decided to finish his toast
at all costs. "Well, I ain't got much to tell you, except
that we are pals. . . ."

Then, since everyone had applauded at the end of Luis
Cervantes' speech, Anastasio having finished, made a
sign, and the company clapped their hands in great gravi-
ty.

But everything turned out for the best, since his awk-
wardness inspired others. Manteca and Quail stood up
and made their toasts, too. When Meco's turn came, War
Paint rushed in shouting jubilantly, attempting to drag a
splendid black horse into the dining room.

"My booty! My booty!" she cried, patting the superb
animal on the neck. It resisted every effort she made until
a strong jerk of the rope and a sudden lash brought it in
prancing smartly. The soldiers, half drunk, stared at the
beast with ill-disguised envy.

"I don't know what the hell this she-devil's got, but
she always beats everybody to it," cried Blondie. "She's
been the same ever since she joined us at Tierra Blanca!"

"Hey, Pancracio, bring me some alfalfa for my horse,"
War Paint commanded crisply, throwing the horse's rope
to one of the soldiers.

Once more they filled their glasses. Many a head hung
low with fatigue or drunkenness. Most of the company,
however, shouted with glee, including Luis Cervantes'
girl. She had spilled all her wine on a handkerchief and
looked all about her with blue wondering eyes.

"Boys," Blondie suddenly screamed, his shrill, guttural
voice dominating the mall, "I'm tired of living; I feel like
killing myself right now. I'm sick and tired of War Paint
and this other little angel from heaven won't even look at
me !"

Luis Cervantes saw that the last remark was addressed
to his bride; with great surprise he realized that it was
not Demetrio's foot he had noticed close to the girl's,
but Blondie's. He was boiling with indignation.

"Keep your eye on me, boys," Blondie went on, gun
in hand. "I'm going to shoot myself right in the fore-
head!"

He aimed at the large mirror on the opposite wall
which gave back his whole body in reflection. He took
careful aim. . . .

"Don't move, War Paint."

The bullet whizzed by, grazing War Paint's hair. The
mirror broke into large jagged fragments. She did not
even so much as blink.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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