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PART THREE


"Villa? Obregon? Carranza? What's the difference? I love
the revolution like a volcano in eruption; I love the volcano,
because it's a volcano, the revolution, because it's the revolution!"



I


El Paso, Texas, May 16, 1915


My Dear Venancio:

Due to the pressure of professional duties I have
been unable to answer your letter of January 4 before
now. As you already know, I was graduated last De-
cember. I was sorry to hear of Pancracio's and Manteca's
fate, though I am not surprised that they stabbed each
other over the gambling table. It is a pity; they were
both brave men. I am deeply grieved not to be able to
tell Blondie how sincerely and heartily I congratulate
him for the only noble and beautiful thing he ever did
in his whole life: to have shot himself!

Dear Venancio, although you may have enough money
to purchase a degree, I am afraid you won't find it
very easy to become a doctor in this country. You know
I like you very much, Venancio; and I think you de-
serve a better fate. But I have an idea which may prove
profitable to both of us and which may improve your
social position, as you desire. We could do a fine busi-
ness here if we were to go in as partners and set up a
typical Mexican restaurant in this town. I have no re-
serve funds at the moment since I've spent all I had in
getting my college degree, but I have something much
more valuable than money; my perfect knowledge of this
town and its needs. You can appear as the owner; we
will make a monthly division of profits. Besides, con-
cerning a question that interests us both very much,
namely, your social improvement, it occurs to me that
you play the guitar quite well. In view of the recom-
mendations I could give you and in view of your train-
ing as well, you might easily be admitted as a member
of some fraternal order; there are several here which
would bring you no inconsiderable social prestige.

Don't hesitate, Venancio, come at once and bring
your funds. I promise you we'll get rich in no time. My
best wishes to the General, to Anastasio, and the rest
of the boys.

Your affectionate friend,
Luis Cervantes



Venancio finished reading the letter for the hundredth
time and, sighing, repeated:

"Tenderfoot certainly knows how to pull the strings
all right!"

"What I can't get into my head," observed Anastasio
Montanez, "is why we keep on fighting. Didn't we finish
off this man Huerta and his Federation?"

Neither the General nor Venancio answered; but the
same thought kept beating down on their dull brains like
a hammer on an anvil.

They ascended the steep hill, their heads bowed, pen-
sive, their horses walking at a slow gait. Stubbornly
restless, Anastasio made the same observation to other
groups; the soldiers laughed at his candor. If a man has
a rifle in his hands and a beltful of cartridges, surely he
should use them. That means fighting. Against whom?
For whom? That is scarcely a matter of importance.

The endless wavering column of dust moved up the
trail, a swirling ant heap of broad straw sombreros, dirty
khaki, faded blankets, and black horses. . . .

Not a man but was dying of thirst; no pool or stream
or well anywhere along the road. A wave of dust rose
from the white, wild sides of a small canyon, swayed
mistily on the hoary crest of huizache trees and the green-
ish stumps of cactus. Like a jest, the flowers in the cac-
tus opened out, fresh, solid, aflame, some thorny, others
diaphanous.

At noon they reached a hut, clinging to the precipi-
tous sierra, then three more huts strewn over the margin
of a river of burnt sand. Everything was silent, desolate.
As soon as they saw men on horseback, the people in
the huts scurried into the hills to hide. Demetrio grew
indignant.

"Bring me anyone you find hiding or running away,"
he commanded in a loud voice.

"What? What did you say?" Valderrama cried in sur-
prise. "The men of the sierra? Those brave men who've
not yet done what those chickens down in Aguascalientes
and Zacatecas have done all the time? Our own brothers,
who weather storms, who cling to the rocks like moss
itself ? I protest, sir; I protest!"

He spurred his miserable horse forward and caught
up with the General.
"The mountaineers," he said solemnly and emphati-
cally, "are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. Os ex
osibus meis et caro de carne mea. Mountaineers are made
from the same timber we're made of! Of the same sound
timber from which heroes . . ."

With a confidence as sudden as it was courageous,
he hit the General across the chest. The General smiled
benevolently.

Valderrama, the tramp, the crazy maker of verses, did
he ever know what he said?

When the soldiers reached a small ranch, despairingly,
they searched the empty huts and small houses without
finding a single stale tortilla, a solitary rotten pepper, or
one pinch of salt with which to flavor the horrible taste
of dry meat. The owners of the huts, their peaceful
brethren, were impassive with the stonelike impassivity
of Aztec idols; others, more human, with a slow smile on
their colorless lips and beardless faces, watched these
fierce men who less than a month ago had made the
miserable huts of others tremble with fear, now in their
turn fleeing their own huts where the ovens were cold
and the water tanks dry, fleeing with their tails between
their legs, cringing, like curs kicked out of their own
houses.

But the General did not countermand his order. Some
soldiers brought back four fugitives, captive and bound.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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