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VII


Still drowsy, Demetrio ran his hand through his ruf-
fled hair, which hung over his moist forehead, pushed it
back over his ears, and opened his eyes.

Distinctly he heard the woman's melodious voice which
he had already sensed in his dream. He walked toward
the door.

It was broad daylight; the rays of sunlight filtered
through the thatch of the hut.

The girl who had offered him water the day before,
the girl of whom he had dreamed all night long, now
came forward, kindly and eager as ever. This time she
carried a pitcher of milk brimming over with foam.

"It's goat's milk, but fine just the same. Come on now:
taste it."

Demetrio smiled gratefully, straightened up, grasped
the clay pitcher, and proceeded to drink the milk in little
gulps, without removing his eyes from the girl.
She grew self-conscious, lowered her eyes.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Camilla "

"Ah, there's a lovely name! And the girl that bears it,
lovelier still!"

Camilla blushed. As he sought to seize her wrist, she
grew frightened, and Picking up the empty pitcher, flew
out the door.

"No, Demetrio," Anastasio Montanez commented
gravely, "you've got to break them in first. Hmm! It's a
hell of a lot of scars the women have left on my body.
Yes, my friend, I've a heap of experience along that line."

"I feet all right now, Compadre." Demetrio pretended
he had not heard him. "I had fever, and I sweated like a
horse all night, but I feel quite fresh today. The thing
that's irking me hellishly is that Goddamn wound. Can
Venancio to look after me."

"What are we going to do with the tenderfoot we
caught last night?" Pancracio asked.

"That's right: I was forgetting all about him."

As usual, Demetrio hesitated a while before he reached
a decision.

"Here, Quail, come here. Listen: you go and find out
where's the nearest church around here. I know there's
one about six miles away. Go and steal a priest's robe
and bring it back."

"What's the idea?" asked Pancracio in surprise.

"Well, I'll soon find out if this tenderfoot came here
to murder me. I'll tell him he's to be shot, see, and
Quail will put on the priest's robes, say that he's a
priest and hear his confession. If he's got anything up
his sleeve, he'll come out with it, and then I'll shoot
him. Otherwise I'll let him go."

"God, there's a roundabout way to tackle the ques-
tion. If I were you, I'd just shoot him and let it go at
that," said Pancracio contemptuously.

That night Quail returned with the priest's robes;
Demetrio ordered the prisoner to be led in. Luis Cer-
vantes had not eaten or slept for two days, there were
deep black circles under his eyes; his face was deathly
pale, his lips dry and colorless. He spoke awkwardly,
slowly: "You can do as you please with me. . . . I am
convinced I was wrong to come looking for you."

There was a prolonged silence. Then:

"I thought that you would welcome a man who comes
to offer his help, with open arms, even though his help
was quite worthless. After all, you might perhaps have
found some use for it. What, in heaven's name, do I
stand to gain, whether the revolution wins or loses?"

Little by little he grew more animated; at times the
languor in his eyes disappeared.

"The revolution benefits the poor, the ignorant, all
those who have been slaves all their lives, all the un-
happy people who do not even suspect they are poor be-
cause the rich who stand above them, the rich who rule
them, change their sweat and blood and tears into
gold. . .

"Well, what the hell is the gist of all this palaver?
I'll be damned if I can stomach a sermon," Pancracio

broke in.

"I wanted to fight for the sacred cause of the op-
pressed, but you don't understand . . . you cast me
aside. . . . Very well, then, you can do as you please
with me!"

"All I'm going to do now is to put this rope around
your neck. Look what a pretty white neck you've got."

"Yes, I know what brought you here," Demetrio in-
terrupted dryly, scratching his head. "I'm going to have
you shot!"

Then, looking at Anastasio he said:

"Take him away. And . . . if he wants to confess,
bring the priest to him."

Impassive as ever, Anastasio took the prisoner gently
by the arm.

"Come along this way, Tenderfoot."

They all laughed uproariously, when a few minutes
later, Quail appeared in priestly robes.

"By God, this tenderfoot certainly talks his head off,"
Quail said. "You know, I've a notion he was having a
bit of a laugh on me when I started asking him ques-
tions."

"But didn't he have anything to say?"

"Nothing, save what he said last night."

"I've a hunch he didn't come here to shoot you at
all, Compadre," said Anastasio.

"Give him something to eat and guard him."





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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