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Suddenly awakening, Quail opened his eyes and
stood up.

"Montanez, did you hear? A shot, Montanez! Hey,
Montanez, get up!"

He shook him vigorously until Montanez ceased
snoring and in turn woke up.

"What in the name of . . . Now you're at it again,
damn it. I tell you there aren't ghosts any more," An-
astasio muttered out of a half-sleep.
"I heard a shot, Montanez!"
"Go back to sleep, Quail, or I'll bust your nose."

"Hell, Anastasio I tell you it's no nightmare. I've for-
gotten those fellows they hung, honest. It's a shot, I tell
you. I heard it all right."
"A shot, you say? All right, then, hand me my gun."

Anastasio Montanez rubbed his eyes, stretched out his
arms and legs, and stood up lazily.

They left the hut. The sky was solid with stars; the
moon rose like a sharp scythe. The confused rumor of
women crying in fright resounded from the various huts;
the men who had been sleeping in the open, also woke up
and the rattle of arms echoed over the mountain.
"You cursed fool, you've maimed me for life."
A voice rang clearly through the darkness.
"Who goes there?"

The shout echoed from rock to rock, through mound
and over hollow, until it spent itself at the far, silent
reaches of the night.

"Who goes there?" Anastasio repeated his challenge
louder, pulling back the lock of his Mauser.
"One of Demetrio's men," came the answer.

"It's Pancracio," Quail cried joyfully. Relieved, he rested
the butt of his rifle on the ground.

Pancracio appeared, holding a young man by the arms;
the newcomer was covered with dust from his felt hat to
his coarse shoes. A fresh bloodstain lay on his trousers
close to the heel.

"Who's this tenderfoot?" Anastasio demanded.

"You know I'm on guard around here. Well, I hears a
noise in the brush, see, and I shouts, 'Who goes there?'
and then this lad answers, 'Carranza! Carranza!' I don't
know anyone by that name, and so I says, 'Carranza,
hell!' and I just pumps a bit of lead into his hoof."

Smiling, Pancracio turned his beardless head around as
if soliciting applause.
Then the stranger spoke:
"Who's your commander?"

Proudly, Anastasio raised his head, went up to him
and looked him in the face. The stranger lowered his tone
considerably.

"Well, I'm a revolutionist, too, you know. The Govern-
ment drafted me and I served as a private, but I man-
aged to desert during the battle the day before yesterday,
and I've been walking about in search of you all."

"So he's a Government soldier, eh?" A murmur of in-
credulity rose from the men, interrupting the stranger.

"So that's what you are, eh? One of those damn half-
breeds," said Anastasio Montanez. "Why the hell didn't
you pump your lead in his brain, Pancracio?"

"What's he talking about, anyhow? I can't make head
nor tail of it. He says he wants to see Demetrio and that
he's got plenty to say to him. But that's all right: we've
got plenty of time to do anything we damn well please so
long as you're in no hurry, that's all," said Pancracio,
loading his gun.

"What kind of beasts are you?" the prisoner cried.
He could say no more: Anastasio's fist, crashing down
upon his face, sent his head turning on his neck, covered
with blood.
"Shoot the half-breed!"
"Hang him!"
"Bum him alive; he's a lousy Federal."

In great excitement, they yelled and shrieked and were
about to fire at the prisoner.

"Sssh! Shut up! I think Demetrio's talking now," An-
astasio said, striving to quiet them. Indeed, Demetrio,
having ascertained the cause of the turmoil, ordered them
to bring the prisoner before him.

"It's positively infamous, senor; look," Luis Cervantes
said, pointing to the bloodstains on his trousers and to his
bleeding face.

"All right, all right. But who in hell are you? That's
what I want to know," Demetrio said.

"My name is Luis Cervantes, sir. I'm a medical stu-
dent and a journalist. I wrote a piece in favor of the
revolution, you see; as a result, they persecuted me,
caught me, and finally landed me in the barracks."

His ensuing narrative was couched in terms of such
detail and expressed in terms so melodramatic that it
drew guffaws of mirth from Pancracio and Manteca.

"All I've tried to do is to make myself clear on this
point. I want you to be convinced that I am truly
one of your coreligionists. . . ."

"What's that? What did you say? Car . . . what?"
Demetrio asked, bringing his ear close to Cervantes.

"Coreligionist, sir, that is to say, a person who posses-
ses the same religion, who is inspired by the same ideals,
who defends and fights for the same cause you are now
fighting for."

Demetrio smiled:

"What are we fighting for? That's what I'd like to
know."

In his disconcertment, Luis Cervantes could find no
reply.

"Look at that mug, look at 'im! Why waste any time,
Demetrio? Let's shoot him," Pancracio urged impatiently.

Demetrio laid a hand on his hair which covered his
ears, and stretching himself out for a long time, seemed to
be lost in thought. Having found no solution, he said:

"Get out, all of you; it's aching again. Anastasio put
out the candle. Lock him up in the corral and let Pan-
cracio and Manteca watch him. Tomorrow, we'll see.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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