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XII


They had almost reached Cuquio, when Anastasio
Montanez rode up to Demetrio: "Listen, Compadre, I
almost forgot to tell you. . . . You ought to have seen
the wonderful joke that man Blondie played. You know
what he did with the old man who came to complain
about the corn we'd taken away for horses? Well, the
old man took the paper and went to the barracks. 'Right
you are, brother, come in,' said Blondie, 'come in, come
in here; to give you back what's yours is only the right
thing to do. How many bushels did we steal? Ten? Sure
it wasn't more than ten? . . . That's right, about fifteen,
eh? Or was it twenty, perhaps? . . . Try and remember,
friend. . . . Of course you're a poor man, aren't you, and
you've a lot of kids to raise. . . . Yes, twenty it was. All
right, now! It's not ten or fifteen or twenty I'm going to
give you. You're going to count for yourself. . . . One,
two, three . . . and when you've had enough you just tell
me and I'll stop.' And Blondie pulled out his sword and
beat him till he cried for mercy."

War Paint rocked in her saddle, convulsed with mirth.
Camilla, unable to control herself, blurted out:

"The beast! His heart's rotten to the core! No wonder
I loathe him!"

At once War Paint's expression changed.

"What the hell is it to you!" she scowled. Camilla,
frightened, spurred her horse forward. War Paint did like-
wise and, as she trotted past Camilla, suddenly she
reached out, seized the other's hair and pulled with all
her might. Camilla's horse shied; Camilla, trying to brush
her hair back from over her eyes, abandoned the reins.
She hesitated, lost her balance and fell in the road, striking
her forehead against the stones.

War Paint, weeping with laughter, pressed on with ut-
most skill and caught Camilla's horse.

"Come on, Tenderfoot; here's a job for you," Pan-
cracio said as he saw Camilla on Demetrio's saddle, her
face covered with blood.

Luis Cervantes hurried toward her with some cotton;
but Camilla, choking down her sobs and wiping her eyes,
said hoarsely:

"Not from you! If I was dying, I wouldn't accept any-
thing from you . . . not even water."

In Cuquio Demetrio received a message.

"We've got to go back to Tepatitlan, General," said
Luis Cervantes, scanning the dispatch rapidly. "You've
got to leave the men there while you go to Lagos and take
the train over to Aguascalientes."

There was much heated protest, the men muttering to
themselves or even groaning out loud. Some of them,
mountaineers, swore that they would not continue with
the troop.

Camilla wept all night. On the morrow at dawn, she
begged Demetrio to let her return home.

"If you don't like me, all right," he answered sullenly.

"That's not the reason. I care for you a lot, really.
But you know how it is. That woman . . ."

"Never mind about her. It's all right! I'll send her off to
hell today. I had already decided that."

Camilla dried her tears. . . .

Every horse was saddled; the men were waiting only
for orders from the Chief. Demetrio went up to War
Paint and said under his breath:

"You're not coming with us."

"What!" she gasped.

"You're going to stay here or go wherever you damn
well please, but you're not coming along with us."

"What? What's that you're saying?" Still she could not
catch Demetrio's meaning. Then the truth dawned upon
her. "You want to send me away? By God, I suppose you
believe all the filth that bitch . . . "

And War Paint proceeded to insult Camilla, Luis Cer-
vantes, Demetrio, and anyone she happened to remem-
ber at the moment, with such power and originality that
the soldiers listened in wonder to vituperation that trans-
cended their wildest dream of profanity and filth.
Demetrio waited a long time patiently. Then, as she
showed no sign of stopping, he said to a soldier quite
calmly:

"Throw this drunken woman out."

"Blondie, Blondie, love of my life! Help! Come and
show them you're a real man! Show them they're nothing
but sons of bitches! . . ."

She gesticulated, kicked, and shouted.

Blondie appeared; he had just got up. His blue eyes
blinked under heavy lids; his voice rang hoarse. He asked
what had occurred; someone explained. Then he went
up to War Paint, and with great seriousness, said:

"Yes? Really? Well, if you want my opinion, I think
this is just what ought to happen. So far as I'm con-
cerned, you can go straight to hell. We're all fed up
with you, see?"

War Paint's face turned to granite; she tried to speak
but her muscles were rigid.

The soldiers laughed. Camilla, terrified, held her breath.

War Paint stared slowly at everyone about her. It all
took no more than a few seconds. In a trice she bent
down, drew a sharp, gleaming dagger from her stocking
and leapt at Camilla.

A shrill cry. A body fell, the blood spurting from it.

"Kill her, Goddamn it," cried Demetrio, beyond him-
self. "Kill her!"

Two soldiers fell upon War Paint, but she brandished
her dagger, defying them to touch her:

"Not the likes of you, Goddamn you! Kill me your-
self, Demetrio!"

War Paint stepped forward, surrendered her dagger
and, thrusting her breast forward, let her arms fall to
her side.

Demetrio picked up the dagger, red with blood, but
his eyes clouded; he hesitated, took a step backward.
Then, with a heavy hoarse voice he growled, enraged:

"Get out of here! Quick!"

No one dared stop her. She moved off slowly, mute,
somber.

Blondie's shrill, guttural voice broke the silent stupor:

"Thank God! At last I'm rid of that damned louse!"





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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