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IV


Juchipila rose in the distance, white, bathed in sun-
light, shining in the midst of a thick forest at the foot of a
proud, lofty mountain, pleated like a turban.

Some of the soldiers, gazing at the spire of the church,
sighed sadly. They marched forward through the canyon,
uncertain, unsteady, as blind men walking without a hand
to guide them. The bitterness of the exodus pervaded
them.

"Is that town Juchipila?" Valderrama asked.

In the first stage of his drunkenness, Valderrama had
been counting the crosses scattered along the road, along
the trails, in the hollows near the rocks, in the tortuous
paths, and along the riverbanks. Crosses of black timber
newly varnished, makeshift crosses built out of two logs,
crosses of stones piled up and plastered together, crosses
whitewashed on crumbling walls, humble crosses drawn
with charcoal on the surface of whitish rocks. The
traces of the first blood shed by the revolutionists of
1910, murdered by the Government.

Before Juchipila was lost from sight, Valderrama got off
his horse, bent down, kneeled, and gravely kissed the
ground.

The soldiers passed by without stopping. Some laughed
at the crazy man, others jested. Valderrama, deaf to all
about him, breathed his unctuous prayer:

"O Juchipila, cradle of the Revolution of 1910, 0
blessed land, land steeped in the blood of martyrs, blood
of dreamers, the only true men . . ."

"Because they had no time to be bad!" an ex-Federal
officer interjected as he rode.

Interrupting his prayer, Valderrama frowned, burst into
stentorian laughter, reechoed by the rocks, and ran to-
ward the officer begging for a swallow of tequila.

Soldiers minus an arm or leg, cripples, rheumatics,
and consumptives spoke bitterly of Demetrio. Young
whippersnappers were given officers' commissions and
wore stripes on their hats without a day's service, even
before they knew how to handle a rifle, while the veter-
ans, exhausted in a hundred battles, now incapacitated
for work, the veterans who had set out as simple pri-
vates, were still simple privates. The few remaining offi-
cers among Demetrio's friends also grumbled, because
his staff was made up of wealthy, dapper young men who
oiled their hair and used perfume.

"The worst part of it," Venancio said, "is that we're
gettin' overcrowded with Federals!"

Anastasio himself, who invariably found only praise
for Demetrio's conduct, now seemed to share the general
discontent.

"See here, brothers," he said, "I spits out the truth
when I sees something. I always tell the boss that if
these people stick to us very long we'll be in a hell of a
fix. Certainly! How can anyone think otherwise? I've no
hair on my tongue; and by the mother that bore me, I'm
going to tell Demetrio so myself."

Demetrio listened benevolently, and, when Anastasio
had finished, he replied:

"You're right, there's no gettin' around it, we're in a
bad way. The soldiers grumble about the officers, the
officers grumble about us, see? And we're damn well
ready now to send both Villa and Carranza to hell to
have a good time all by themselves. . . . I guess we're in
the same fix as that peon from Tepatitlan who com-
plained about his boss all day long but worked on just
the same. That's us. We kick and kick, but we keep on
killing and killing. But there's no use in saying anything
to them!"

"Why, Demetrio?"

"Hm, I don't know. . . . Because . . . because . . . do
you see? . . . What we've got to do is to make the men
toe the mark. I've got orders to stop a band of men
coming through Cuquio, see? In a few days we'll have
to fight the Carranzistas. It will be great to beat the hell
out of them."

Valderrama, the tramp, who had enlisted in Deme-
trio's army one day without anyone remembering the
time or the place, overheard some of Demetrio's words.
Fools do not eat fire. That very day Valderrama disap-
peared mysteriously as he had come.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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