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VI


They established themselves in a large gloomy house,
which likewise belonged to the cacique of Moyahua. The
previous occupants had already left strong evidences in
the patio, which had been converted into a manure pile.
The walls, once whitewashed, were now faded and
cracked, revealing the bare unbaked adobe; the floor had
been torn up by the hoofs of animals; the orchard was
littered with rotted branches and dead leaves. From
the entrance one stumbled over broken bits of chairs
and other furniture covered with dirt.

By ten o'clock, Luis Cervantes yawned with boredom,
said good night to Blondie and War Paint, who were
downing endless drinks on a bench in the square, and
made for the barracks. The drawing room was alone fur-
nished. As he entered, Demetrio, lying on the floor with
his eyes wide open, trying to count the beams, gazed
at him.

"It' s you, eh? What's new? Come on, sit down."

Luis Cervantes first went over to trim the candle, then
drew up a chair without a back, a coarse rag doing
the duty of a wicker bottom. The legs of the chair
squeaked. War Paint's black horse snorted and whirled
its crupper in wide circles. Luis Cervantes sank into his
seat.

"General, I wish to make my report. Here you
have . . ."

"Look here, man, I didn't really want this done, you
know. Moyahua is almost like my native town. They'll
say this is why we've been fighting!" Demetrio said, look-
ing at the bulging sack of silver Cervantes was passing
to him. Cervantes left his seat to squat down by Deme-
trio's side.

He stretched a blanket over the floor and into it
poured the ten-peso pieces, shining, burning gold.

"First of all, General, only you and I know about
this. . . . Secondly, you know well enough that if the
sun shines, you should open the window. It's shining in
our faces now but what about tomorrow? You should
always look ahead. A bullet, a bolting horse, even a
wretched cold in the head, and then there are a widow
and orphans left in absolute want! . . . The Govern-
ment? Ha! Ha! . . . Just go see Carranza or Villa or
any of the big chiefs and try and tell them about your
family. . . . If they answer with a kick you know where,
they'll say they're giving you a handful of jewels. And
they're right; we did not rise up in arms to make some
Carranza or Villa President of our Republic. No--we
fought to defend the sacred rights of the people against
the tyranny of some vile cacique. And so, just as Villa
or Carranza aren't going to ask our consent to the pay-
ment they're getting for the services they're rendering
the country, we for our part don't have to ask anybody's
permission about anything either."

Demetrio half stood up, grasped a bottle that stood
nearby, drained it, then spat out the liquor, swelling out
his cheeks.

"By God, my boy, you've certainly got the gift of
gab!"

Luis felt dizzy, faint. The spattered beer seemed to
intensify the stench of the refuse on which they sat; a
carpet of orange and banana peels, fleshlike slices of
watermelon, moldy masses of mangoes and sugarcane, all
mixed up with cornhusks from tamales and human offal.

Demetrio's calloused hands shuffled through the bril-
liant coins, counting and counting. Recovering from his
nausea, Luis Cervantes pulled out a small box of Fallieres
phosphate and poured forth rings, brooches, pendants,
and countless valuable jewels.

"Look here, General, if this mess doesn't blow over
(and it doesn't look as though it would), if the revolu-
tion keeps on, there's enough here already for us to live
on abroad quite comfortably."

Demetrio shook his bead.

"You wouldn't do that!"

"Why not? What are we staying on for? . . . What
cause are we defending now?"

"That's something I can't explain, Tenderfoot. But I'm
thinking it wouldn't show much guts."

"Take your choice, General," said Luis Cervantes,
pointing to the jewels which he had set in a row.

"Oh, you keep it all. . . . Certainly! . . . You know, I
don't really care for money at all. I'll tell you the truth!
I'm the happiest man in the world, so long as there's
always something to drink and a nice little wench that
catches my eye. . . ."

"Ha! Ha! You make the funniest jokes, General. Why
do you stand for that snake of a War Paint, then?"

"I'll tell you, Tenderfoot, I'm fed up with her. But
I'm like that: I just can't tell her so. I'm not brave
enough to tell her to go plumb to hell. That's the way
I am, see? When I like a woman, I get plain silly; and
if she doesn't start something, I've not got the courage
to do anything myself." He sighed. "There's Camilla at
the ranch for instance. . . . Now, she's not much on
looks, I know, but there's a woman I'd like to
have.......

"Well, General, we'll go and get her any day you
like."

Demetrio winked maliciously.

"I promise you I'll do it."

"Are you sure? Do you really mean it? Look here, if
you pull that off for me, I'll give you the watch and
chain you're hankering after."

Luis Cervantes' eyes shone. He took the phosphate box,
heavy with its contents, and stood up smiling.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said. "Good night, Gen-
eral! Sleep well."





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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