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Like neighing colts, playful when the rainy season
begins, Demetrio's men galloped through the sierra.

"To Moyahua, boys. Let's go to Demetrio Macias'
country!"

"To the country of Monico the cacique!"

The landscape grew clearer; the sun margined the
diaphanous sky with a fringe of crimson. Like the bony
shoulders of immense sleeping monsters, the chains of
mountains rose in the distance. Crags there were like
heads of colossal native idols; others like giants' faces,
their grimaces awe-inspiring or grotesque, calling forth
a smile or a shudder at a presentment of mystery.

Demetrio Macias rode at the head of his men; be-
hind him the members of his staff: Colonel Anastasio
Montanez, Lieutenant-Colonel Pancracio, Majors Luis
Cervantes and Blondie. Still further behind came War
Paint with Venancio, who paid her many compliments
and recited the despairing verses of Antonio Plaza. As
the sun's rays began to slip from the housetops, they
made their entrance into Moyahua, four abreast, to the
sound of the bugle. The roosters' chorus was deafening,
dogs barked their alarm, but not a living soul stirred
on the streets.

War Paint spurred her black horse and with one jump
was abreast with Demetrio. They rode forward, elbow
to elbow. She wore a silk dress and heavy gold earrings.
Proudly her pale blue gown deepened her olive skin and
the coppery spots on her face and arms. Riding astride,
she had pulled her skirts up to her knees; her stockings
showed, filthy and full of runs. She wore a gun at her
side, a cartridge belt hung over the pommel of her saddle.

Demetrio was also dressed in his best clothes. His
broad-brimmed hat was richly embroidered; his leather
trousers were tight-fitting and adorned with silver but-
tons; his coat was embroidered with gold thread.

There was a sound of doors being beaten down and
forced open. The soldiers had already scattered through
the town, to gather together ammunition and saddles
from everywhere.

"We're going to bid Monico good morning," Deme-
trio said gravely, dismounting and tossing his bridle to
one of his men. "We're going to have breakfast with
Don Monico, who's a particular friend of mine . . . ."

The general's staff smiled . . . a sinister, malign
smile. . . .

Making their spurs ring against the pavement, they
walked toward a large pretentious house, obviously that
of a cacique.

"It's closed airtight," Anastasio Montanez said, push-
ing the door with all his might.

"That's all right. I'll open it," Pancracio answered,
lowering his rifle and pointing it at the lock.

"No, no," Demetrio said, "knock first."


Three blows with the butt of the rifle. Three more.
No answer. Pancracio disobeys orders. He fires, smash-
ing the lock. The door opens. Behind, a confusion of
skirts and children's bare legs rushing to and fro, pell-
mell.

"I want wine. Hey, there: wine!" Demetrio cries in an
imperious voice, pounding heavily on a table.

"Sit down, boys."

A lady peeps out, another, a third; from among black
skirts, the heads of frightened children. One of the
women, trembling, walks toward a cupboard and, taking
out some glasses and a bottle, serves wine.

"What arms have you?" Demetrio demands harshly.

"Arms, arms . . . ?" the lady answers, a taste of
ashes on her tongue. "What arms do you expect us to
have! We are respectable, lonely old ladies!"

"Lonely, eh! Where's Senor Monico?"

"Oh, he's not here, gentlemen, I assure you! We mere-
ly rent the house from him, you see. We only know
him by name!"

Demetrio orders his men to search the house.

"No, please don't. We'll bring you whatever we have
ourselves, but please for God's sake, don't do anything
cruel. We're spinsters, lone women . . . perfectly re-
spectable. . . ."

"Spinsters, hell! What about these kids here?" Pan-
cracio interrupts brutally. "Did they spring from the
earth?"

The women disappear hurriedly, to return with an old
shotgun, covered with dust and cobwebs, and a pistol
with rusty broken springs.

Demetrio smiles.

"All right, then, let's see the money.

"Money? Money? But what money do you think a
couple of spinsters have? Spinsters alone in the
world. . . . ?"

They glance up in supplication at the nearest soldier;
but they are seized with horror. For they have just seen
the Roman soldier who crucified Our Lord in the Via
Crucis of the parish! They have seen Pancracio!

Demetrio repeats his order to search.

Once again the women disappear to return this time
with a moth-eaten wallet containing a few Huerta bills.

Demetrio smiles and without further delay calls to his
men to come in. Like hungry dogs who have sniffed their
meat, the mob bursts in, trampling down the women who
sought to bar the entrance with their bodies. Several
faint, fall to the ground; others flee in panic. The chil-
dren scream.

Pancracio is about to break the lock of a huge ward-
robe when suddenly the doors open and out comes a
man with a rifle in his hands.

"Senor Don Monico!" they all exclaim in surprise.

"Demetrio, please, don't harm me! Please don't harm
me! Please don't hurt me! You know, Senor Don Deme-
trio, I'm your friend!"

Demetrio Macias smiles slyly. "Are friends," he
asked, "usually welcomed gun in hand?"
Don Monico, in consternation, throws himself at
Demetrio's feet, clasps his knees, kisses his shoes:
"My wife! . . . My children! . . . Please, Senor Don
Demetrio, my friend!"

Demetrio with taut hand puts his gun back in the
holster.

A painful silhouette crosses his mind. He sees a
woman with a child in her arms walking over the rocks
of the sierra in the moonlight. A house in flames. . . .

"Clear out. Everybody outside!" he orders darkly.

His staff obeys. Monico and the ladies kiss his hands,
weeping with gratitude. The mob in the street, talking
and laughing, stands waiting for the general's permission
to ransack the cacique's house.

"I know where they've buried their money but I won't
tell," says a youngster with a basket in his hands.

"Hm! I know the right place, mind you," says an old
woman carrying a burlap sack to hold whatever the good
Lord will provide. "It's on top of something . . . there's
a lot of trinkets nearby and then there's a small bag
with mother-of-pearl around it. That's the thing to look
for!"

"You ain't talking sense, woman," puts in a man.
"They ain't such fools as to leave silver lying loose like
that. I'm thinking they've got it buried in the well, in a
leather bag."

The mob moves slowly; some carry ropes to tie about
their bundles, others wooden trays. The women open
out their aprons or shawls calculating their capacity. All
give thanks to Divine Providence as they wait for their
share of the booty.

When Demetrio announces that he will not allow loot-
ing and orders them to disband, the mob, disconsolate,
obeys him, and soon scatters; but there is a dull rumor
among the soldiers and no one moves from his place.

Annoyed, Demetrio repeats this order.

A young man, a recent recruit, his head turned by
drink, laughs and walks boldly toward the door. But be-
fore he has reached the threshold, a shot lays him low.
He falls like a bull pierced in the neck by the matador's
sword. Motionless, his smoking gun in his hand, Deme-
trio waits for the soldiers to withdraw.

"Set fire to the house!" he orders Luis Cervantes
when they reach their quarters.

With a curious eagerness Luis Cervantes does not trans-
mit the order but undertakes the task in person.

Two hours later when the city square was black with
smoke and enormous tongues of fire rose from Monico's
house, no one could account for the strange behavior of
the general.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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