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IX


A whirlwind of dust, scorching down the road, sud-
denly broke into violent diffuse masses; and Demetrio's
army emerged, a chaos of horses, broad chests, tangled
manes, dilated nostrils, oval, wide eyes, hoofs flying in the
air, legs stiffened from endless galloping; and of men
with bronze faces, ivory teeth, and flashing eyes, their
rifles in their hands or slung across the saddles.

Demetrio and Camilla brought up the rear. She was
still nervous, white-lipped and parched; he was angry
at their futile maneuver. For there had been battles, no
followers of Orozco's to be seen. A handful of Federals,
routed. A poor devil of a priest left dangling from a
mesquite; a few dead, scattered over the field, who had
once been united under the archaic slogan, RIGHTS AND
RELIGION, with, on their breasts, the red cloth insignia:
Halt! The Sacred Heart of Jesus is with me!

"One good thing about it is that I've collected all
my back pay," Quail said, exhibiting some gold watches
and rings stolen from the priest's house.

"It's fun fighting this way," Manteca cried, spicing
every other word with an oath. "You know why the hell
you're risking your hide."

In the same hand with which he held the reins, he
clutched a shining ornament that he had torn from one
of the holy statues.

After Quail, an expert in such matters, had examined
Manteca's treasure covetously, he uttered a solemn
guffaw.

"Hell, Your ornament is nothing but tin!"

"Why in hell are you hanging on to that poison?"
Pancracio asked Blondie who appeared dragging a pris-
oner.

"Do you want to know why? Because it's a long time
since I've had a good look at a man's face when a rope
tightens around his neck!"

The fat prisoner breathed with difficulty as he fol-
lowed Blondie on foot; his face was sunburnt, his eyes
red; his forehead beaded with sweat, his wrists tightly
bound together.

"Here, Anastasio, lend me your lasso. Mine's not
strong enough; this bird will bust it. No, by God, I've
changed my mind, friend Federal: think I'll kill you on
the spot, because you are pulling too hard. Look, all the
mesquites are still a long way off and there are no tele-
graph poles to hang you to!"

Blondie pulled his gun out, pressed the muzzle against
the prisoner's chest and brought his finger against the
trigger slowly . . . slowly. . . . The prisoner turned pale
as a corpse; his face lengthened; his eyelids were fixed
in a glassy stare. He breathed in agony, his whole body
shook as with ague. Blondie kept his gun in the same
position for a moment long as all eternity. His eyes
shone queerly. An expression of supreme pleasure lit up
his fat puffy face.

"No, friend Federal," he drawled, putting back his
gun into the holster; "I'm not going to kill you just yet.
. . . I'll make you my orderly. You'll see that I'm not so
hardhearted!"

Slyly he winked at his companions. The prisoner had
turned into an animal; he gulped, panting, dry-mouthed.
Camilla, who had witnessed the scene, spurred her horse
and caught up with Demetrio.

"What a brute that Blondie is: you ought to see what
he did to a wretched prisoner," she said. Then she told
Demetrio what had occurred. The latter wrinkled his
brow but made no answer.

War Paint called Camilla aside.

"Hey you . . . what are you gobbling about? Blondie's
my man, understand? From now on, you know how
things are: whatever you've got against him you've got
against me too! I'm warning you."

Camilla, frightened, hurried back to Demetrio's side.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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