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IV


Two men were missing, Serapio the candymaker, and
Antonio, who played the cymbals in the Juchipila band.
"Maybe they'll join us further on," said Demetrio.

The return journey proved moody. Anastasio Montanez
alone preserved his equanimity, a kindly expression play-
ing in his sleepy eyes and on his bearded face. Pancracio's
harsh, gorillalike profile retained its repulsive immuta-
bility.

The soldiers had retreated; Demetrio began the search
for the soldiers' horses which had been hidden in the
sierra.

Suddenly Quail, who had been walking ahead, shrieked.
He had caught sight of his companions swinging from
the branches of a mesquite. There could be no doubt of
their identity; Serapio and Antonio they certainly were.
Anastasio Montanez prayed brokenly.

"Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy
name. Thy kingdom come..."

"Amen," his men answered in low tones, their heads
bowed, their hats upon their breasts. . . .

Then, hurriedly, they took the Juchipila canyon north-
ward, without halting to rest until nightfall.

Quail kept walking close to Anastasio unable to
banish from his mind the two who were hanged, their
dislocated limp necks, their dangling legs, their arms
pendulous, and their bodies moving slowly in the wind.

On the morrow, Demetrio complained bitterly of his
wound; he could no longer ride on horseback. They were
forced to carry him the rest of the way on a makeshift
stretcher of leaves and branches.

"He's bleeding frightfully," said Anastasio Montanez,
tearing off one of his shirt-sleeves and tying it tightly
about Demetrio's thigh, a little above the wound.

"That's good," said Venancio. "It'll keep him from
bleeding and stop the pain."

Venancio was a barber. In his native town, he pulled
teeth and fulfilled the office of medicine man. He was
accorded an unimpeachable authority because he had
read The Wandering Jew and one or two other books.
They called him "Doctor"; and since he was conceited
about his knowledge, he employed very few words.

They took turns, carrying the stretcher in relays of
four over the bare stony mesa and up the steep passes.

At high noon, when the reflection of the sun on the
calcareous soil burned their shoulders and made the
landscape dimly waver before their eyes, the monoto-
nous, rhythmical moan of the wounded rose in unison
with the ceaseless cry of the locusts. They stopped to rest
at every small hut they found hidden between the steep,
jagged rocks.

"Thank God, a kind soul and tortillas full of beans and
chili are never lacking," Anastasio Montanez said with
a triumphant belch.

The mountaineers would shake calloused hands with
the travelers, saying:

"God's blessing on you! He will find a way to help you
all, never fear. We're going ourselves, starting tomorrow
morning. We're dodging the draft, with those damned
Government people who've declared war to the death on
us, on all the poor. They come and steal our pigs, our
chickens and com, they bum our homes and carry our
women off, and if they ever get hold of us they'll kill us
like mad dogs, and we die right there on the spot and
that's the end of the story!"

At sunset, amid the flames dyeing the sky with vivid,
variegated colors, they descried a group of houses up
in the heart of the blue mountains. Demetrio ordered
them to carry him there.

These proved to be a few wretched straw huts, dis-
persed all over the river slopes, between rows of young
sprouting corn and beans. They lowered the stretcher
and Demetrio, in a weak voice, asked for a glass of
water.

Groups of squalid Indians sat in the dark pits of the
huts, men with bony chests, disheveled, matted hair,
and ruddy cheeks; behind them, eyes shone up from
floors of fresh reeds.

A child with a large belly and glossy dark skin came
close to the stretcher to inspect the wounded man. An
old woman followed, and soon all of them drew about
Demetrio in a circle.

A girl sympathizing with him in his plight brought a
jicara of bluish water. With hands shaking, Demetrio took
it up and drank greedily.

"Will you have some more?"

He raised his eyes and glanced at the girl, whose
features were common but whose voice had a note of
kindness in it. Wiping his sweating brow with the back of
his palm and turning on one side, he gasped:
"May God reward you."

Then his whole body shook, making the leaves of the
stretcher rustle. Fever possessed him; he fainted.

"It's a damp night and that's terrible for the fever,"
said Remigia, an old wrinkled barefooted woman, wear-
ing a cloth rag for a blouse.

She invited them to move Demetrio into her hut.

Pancracio, Anastasio Montanez, and Quail lay down
beside the stretcher like faithful dogs, watchful of their
master's wishes. The rest scattered about in search of
food.

Remigia offered them all she had, chili and tortillas.

"Imagine! I had eggs, chickens, even a goat and her
kid, but those damn soldiers wiped me out clean."

Then, making a trumpet of her hands, she drew near
Anastasio and murmured in his ear:

"Imagine, they even carried away Senora Nieves'
little girl!"





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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