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The men camped in a meadow, near three small
lone houses standing in a row, their white walls cutting
the purple fringe of the horizon. Demetrio and Camilla
rode toward them. Inside the corral a man, clad in shirt
and trousers of cheap white cloth, sat greedily puffing at
a cornhusk cigarette. Another man sitting beside him
on a flat cut stone was shelling corn. Kicking the air
with one dry, withered leg, the extremity of which was
like a goat's hoof, he frightened the chickens away.

"Hurry up, 'Pifanio," said the man who was smoking,
"the sun has gone down already and you haven't taken
the animals to water."


A horse neighed outside the corral; both men glanced
up in amazement. Demetrio and Camilla were looking
over the corral wall at them.

"I just want a place to sleep for my woman and me,"
Demetrio said reassuringly.

As he explained that he was the chief of a small
army which was to camp nearby that night, the man
smoking, who owned the place, bid them enter with great
deference. He ran to fetch a broom and a pail of water
to dust and wash the best corner of the hut as decent
lodging for his distinguished guests.

"Here, 'Pifanio, go out there and unsaddle the horses."

The man who was shelling corn stood up with an
effort. He was clad in a tattered shirt and vest. His
torn trousers, split at the seam, looked like the wings of
a cold, stricken bird; two strings of cloth dangled from
his waist. As he walked, he described grotesque circles.

"Surely you're not fit to do any work!" Demetrio said,
refusing to allow him to touch the saddles.

"Poor man," the owner cried from within the hut,
"he's lost all his strength. . . . But he surely works for
his pay. . . . He starts working the minute God Almighty
himself gets up, and it's after sundown now but he's
working still!"

Demetrio went out with Camilla for a stroll about
the encampment. The meadow, golden, furrowed, stripped
even of the smallest bushes, extended limitless in its im-
mense desolation. The three tall ash trees which stood
in front of the small house, with dark green crests, round
and waving, with rich foliage and branches drooping to
the very ground, seemed a veritable miracle.

"I don't know why but I feel there's a lot of sadness
around here," said Demetrio.

"Yes," Camilla answered, "I feel that way too."

On the bank of a small stream, 'Pifanio was strenu-
ously tugging at a rope with a large can tied to the end
of it. He poured a stream of water over a heap of fresh,
cool grass; in the twilight, the water glimmered like crys-
tal. A thin cow, a scrawny nag, and a burro drank noisily
together.

Demetrio recognized the limping servant and asked
him: "How much do you get a day?"

"Eight cents a day, boss."

He was an insignificant, scrofulous wraith of a man
with green eyes and straight, fair hair. He whined com-
plaint of his boss, the ranch, his bad luck, his dog's life.

"You certainly earn your pay all right, my lad," De-
metrio interrupted kindly. "You complain and complain,
but you aren't no loafer, you work and work." Then,
aside to Camilla: "There's always more damned fools in
the valley than among us folk in the sierra, don't you
think?"

"Of course!" she replied.

They went on. The valley was lost in darkness; stars
came out. Demetrio put his arm around Camilla's waist
amorously and whispered in her ear.

"Yes," she answered in a faint voice.

She was indeed beginning to "fall for him" as she had
expressed it.

Demetrio slept badly. He flung out of the house very
early.

"Something is going to happen to me," he thought.

It was a silent dawn, with faint murmurs of joy. A
thrush sang timidly in one of the ash trees. The animals
in the corral trampled on the refuse. The pig grunted its
somnolence. The orange tints of the sun streaked the
sky; the last star flickered out.

Demetrio walked slowly to the encampment.

He was thinking of his plow, his two black oxen--
young beasts they were, who had worked in the fields
only two years--of his two acres of well-fertilized corn.
The face of his young wife came to his mind, clear and
true as life: he saw her strong, soft features, so gracious
when she smiled on her husband, so proudly fierce to-
ward strangers. But when he tried to conjure up the
image of his son, his efforts were vain; he had for-
gotten. . . .

He reached the camp. Lying among the farrows, the
soldiers slept with the horses, heads bowed, eyes closed.

"Our horses are pretty tired, Anastasio. I think we
ought to stay here at least another day."

"Well, Compadre Demetrio, I'm hankering for the
sierra. . . . If you only knew. . . . You may not believe
me but nothing strikes me right here. I don't know what
I miss but I know I miss something. I feel sad . . .
lost. . . ."

"How many hours' ride from here to Limon?"

"It's no matter of hours; it's three days' hard riding,
Demetrio."

"You know," Demetrio said softly, "I feel as though
I'd like to see my wife again!"

Shortly after, War Paint sought out Camilla.

"That's one on you, my dear. . . . Demetrio's going to
leave you flat! He told me so himself; 'I'm going to get
my real woman,' he says, and he says, 'Her skin is white
and tender . . . and her rosy cheeks. . . . How beautiful
she is!' But you don't have to leave him, you know; if
you're set on staying, well--they've got a child, you know,
and I suppose you could drag it around. . . ."

When Demetrio returned, Camilla, weeping, told him
everything.

"Don't pay no attention to that crazy baggage. It's all
lies, lies!"

Since Demetrio did not go to Limon or remember his
wife again, Camilla grew very happy. War Paint had
merely stung herself, like a scorpion.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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