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XI


Before dawn, they left for Tepatitlan. Their sil-
houettes wavered indistinctly over the road and the fields
that bordered it, rising and falling with the monotonous,
rhythmical gait of their horses, then faded away in the
nacreous light of the swooning moon that bathed the
valley.
Dogs barked in the distance.

"By noon we'll reach Tepatitlan, Cuquio tomorrow,
and then . . . on to the sierra!" Demetrio said.

"Don't you think it advisable to go to Aguascalientes
first, General?" Luis Cervantes asked.

"What for?"

"Our funds are melting slowly."

"Nonsense . . . forty thousand pesos in eight days!"

"Well, you see, just this week we recruited over five
hundred new men; all the money's gone in advance loans
and gratuities," Luis Cervantes answered in a low voice.

"No! We'll go straight to the sierra. We'll see later
on."

"Yes, to the sierra!" many of the men shouted.

"To the sierra! To the sierra! Hurrah for the moun-
tains!"

The plains seemed to torture them; they spoke with
enthusiasm, almost with delirium, of the sierra. They
thought of the mountains as of a most desirable mistress
long since unvisited.

Dawn broke behind a cloud of fine reddish dust; the
sun rose an immense curtain of fiery purple. Luis Cer-
vantes pulled his reins and waited for Quail.
"What's the last word on our deal, Quail?"

"I told you, Tenderfoot: two hundred for the watch
alone."

"No! I'll buy the lot: watches, rings, everything else.
How much?"

Quail hesitated, turned slightly pale; then he cried
spiritedly:

"Two thousand in bills, for the whole business!"

Luis Cervantes gave himself away. His eyes shone
with such an obvious greed that Quail recanted and
said:

"Oh, I was just fooling you. I won't sell nothing! Just
the watch, see? And that's only because I owe Pancracio
two hundred. He beat me at cards last night!"

Luis Cervantes pulled out four crisp "double-face" bills
of Villa's issue and placed them in Quail's hands.

"I'd like to buy the lot. . . . Besides, nobody will offer
you more than that!"


As the sun began to beat down upon them, Manteca
suddenly shouted:

"Ho, Blondie, your orderly says he doesn't care to go
on living. He says he's too damned tired to walk."

The prisoner had fallen in the middle of the road, ut-
terly exhausted.

"Well, well!" Blondie shouted, retracing his steps. "So
little mama's boy is tired, eh? Poor little fellow. I'll buy
a glass case and keep you in a corner of my house just
as if you were the Virgin Mary's own little son. You've
got to reach home first, see? So I'll help you a little,
sonny!"

He drew his sword out and struck the prisoner several
times.

"Let's have a look at your rope, Pancracio," he said.
There was a strange gleam in his eyes. Quail observed
that the prisoner no longer moved arm or leg. Blondie
burst into a loud guffaw: "The Goddamned fool. Just as
I was learning him to do without food, too!"

"Well, mate, we're almost to Guadalajara," Venancio
said, glancing over the smiling row of houses in Tepatit-
lan nestling against the hillside.

They entered joyously. From every window rosy
cheeks, dark luminous eyes observed them. The schools
were quickly converted into barracks; Demetrio found
lodging in the chapel of an abandoned church.

The soldiers scattered about as usual pretending to
seek arms and horses, but in reality for the sole purpose
of looting.

In the afternoon some of Demetrio's men lay stretched
out on the church steps, scratching their bellies. Venan-
cio, his chest and shoulders bare, was gravely occupied
in killing the fleas in his shirt. A man drew near the wall
and sought permission to speak to the commander. The
soldiers raised their heads; but no one answered.

"I'm a widower, gentlemen. I've got nine children and
I barely make a living with the sweat of my brow. Don't
be hard on a poor widower!"

"Don't you worry about women, Uncle," said Meco,
who was rubbing his feet with tallow, "we've got War
Paint here with us; you can have her for nothing."

The man smiled bitterly.

"She's only got one fault," Pancracio observed,
stretched out on the ground, staring at the blue sky,
"she goes mad over any man she sees."

They laughed loudly; but Venancio with utmost gravity
pointed to the chapel door. The stranger entered timidly
and confided his troubles to Demetrio. The soldiers had
cleaned him out; they had not left a single grain of corn.

"Why did you let them?" Demetrio asked indolently.

The man persisted, lamenting and weeping. Luis Cer-
vantes was about to throw him out with an insult. But
Camilla intervened.

"Come on, Demetrio, don't be harsh, give him an order
to get his corn back."

Luis Cervantes was obliged to obey; he scrawled a few
lines to which Demetrio appended an illegible scratch.

"May God repay you, my child! God will lead you to
heaven that you may enjoy his glory. Ten bushels of corn
are barely enough for this year's food!" the man cried,
weeping for gratitude. Then he took the paper, kissed
everybody's hand, and withdrew.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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