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VIII


On the morrow, Luis Cervantes was barely able to
get up. His injured leg trailing behind him, he shuffled
from hut to hut in search of a little alcohol, a kettle of
boiled water and some rags. With unfailing kindness, Ca-
milla provided him with all that he wanted.

As he began washing his foot, she sat beside him,
and, with typical mountaineer's curiosity, inquired:

"Tell me, who learned you how to cure people? Why
did you boil that water? Why did you boil the rags?
Look, look, how careful you are about everything! And
what did you put on your hands? Really. . . . And why
did you pour on alcohol? I just knew alcohol was good
to rub on when you had a bellyache, but . . . Oh, I
see! So you was going to be a doctor, huh? Ha, ha, that's
a good one! Why don't you mix it with cold water?
Well, there's a funny sort of a trick. Oh, stop fooling
me . . . the idea: little animals alive in the water unless
you boil it! Ugh! Well, I can't see nothing in it myself."

Camilla continued to cross-question him with such fa-
miliarity that she suddenly found herself addressing him
intimately, in the singular tu. Absorbed in his own
thoughts, Luis Cervantes had ceased listening to her.
He thought:

Where are those men on Pancho Villa's payroll, so
admirably equipped and mounted, who only get paid in
those pure silver pieces Villa coins at the Chihuahua
mint? Bah! Barely two dozen half-naked mangy men,
some of them riding decrepit mares with the coat
nibbled off from neck to withers. Can the accounts
given by the Government newspapers and by myself be
really true and are these so-called revolutionists simply
bandits grouped together, using the revolution as a won-
derful pretext to glut their thirst for gold and blood?
Is it all a lie, then? Were their sympathizers talking a
lot of exalted nonsense?

If on one hand the Government newspapers vied
with each other in noisy proclamation of Federal victory
after victory, why then had a paymaster on his way
from Guadalajara started the rumor that President
Huerta's friends and relatives were abandoning the capi-
tal and scuttling away to the nearest port? Was
Huerta's, "I shall have peace, at no matter what cost,"
a meaningless growl? Well, it looked as though the
revolutionists or bandits, call them what you will, were
going to depose the Government. Tomorrow would there-
fore belong wholly to them. A man must consequently
be on their side, only on their side.

"No," he said to himself almost aloud, "I don't think
I've made a mistake this time."

"What did you say?" Camilla asked. "I thought you'd
lost your tongue. . . . I thought the mice had eaten it
up!"

Luis Cervantes frowned and cast a hostile glance at
this little plump monkey with her bronzed complexion,
her ivory teeth, and her thick square toes.

"Look here, Tenderfoot, you know how to tell fairy
stories, don't you?"

For all answer, Luis made an impatient gesture and
moved off, the girl's ecstatic glance following his re-
treating figure until it was lost on the river path. So
profound was her absorption that she shuddered in nerv-
ous surprise as she heard the voice of her neighbor, one-
eyed Maria Antonia, who had been spying from her hut,
shouting:

"Hey, you there: give him some love powder. Then
he might fall for you."

"That's what you'd do, all right!"

"Oh, you think so, do you? Well, you're quite wrong!
Faugh! I despise a tenderfoot, and don't forget it!"
Ho there, Remigia, lend me some eggs, will you? My
chicken has been hatching since morning. There's some
gentlemen here, come to eat."

Her neighbor's eyes blinked as the bright sunlight
poured into the shadowy hut, darker than usual, even,
as dense clouds of smoke rose from the stove. After a
few minutes, she began to make out the contour of the
various objects inside, and recognized the wounded man's
stretcher, which lay in one corner, close to the ashy-
gray galvanized iron roof.

She sat down beside Remigia Indian-fashion, and,
glancing furtively toward where Demetrio rested, asked
in a low voice:

"How's the patient, better? That's fine. Oh, how young
he is! But he's still pale, don't you think? So the wound's
not closed up yet. Well, Remigia, don't you think we'd
better try and do something about it?"

Remigia, naked from the waist up, stretched her thin
muscular arms over the corn grinder, pounding the corn
with a stone bar she held in her hands.

"Oh, I don't know; they might not like it," she an-
swered, breathing heavily as she continued her rude task.
"They've got their own doctor, you know, so--"

"Hallo, there, Remigia," another neighbor said as she
came in, bowing her bony back to pass through the open-
ing, "haven't you any laurel leaves? We want to make a
potion for Maria Antonia who's not so well today,
what with her bellyache."

In reality, her errand was but a pretext for asking
questions and passing the time of day in gossip, so she
turned her eyes to the corner where the patient lay and,
winking, sought information as to his health.

Remigia lowered her eyes to indicate that Demetrio
was sleeping.

"Oh, I didn't see you when I came in. And you're
here too, Panchita? Well, how are you?"
"Good morning to you, Fortunata. How are you?"

"All right. But Maria Antonia's got the curse today
and her belly's aching something fierce."

She sat Indian-fashion, with bent knees, huddling hip
to hip against Panchita.

"I've got no laurel leaves, honey," Remigia answered,
pausing a moment in her work to push a mop of hair
back from over her sweaty forehead. Then, plunging
her two hands into a mass of corn, she removed a hand-
ful of it dripping with muddy yellowish water. "I've none
at all; you'd better go to Dolores, she's always got herbs,
you know."

"But Dolores went to Cofradia last night. I don't
know, but they say they came to fetch her to help Uncle
Matias' girl who's big with child."

"You don't say, Panchita?"

The three old women came together forming an ani-
mated group, and speaking in low tones, began to gossip
with great gusto.

"Certainly, I swear it, by God up there in heaven."

"Well, well, I was the first one to say that Marcelina
was big with child, wasn't I? But of course no one would
believe me."

"Poor girl. It's going to be terrible if the kid is her
uncle's, you know!"

"God forbid!"

"Of course it's not her uncle: Nazario had nothing to
do with it, I know. It was them damned soldiers, that's
who done it."

"God, what a bloody mess! Another unhappy woman!"

The cackle of the old hens finally awakened Demetrio.
They kept silent for a moment; then Panchita, taking
out of the bosom of her blouse a young pigeon which
opened its beak in suffocation, said:

"To tell you the truth, I brought this medicine for
the gentleman here, but they say he's got a doctor, so
I suppose--"

"That makes no difference, Panchita, that's no medi-
cine anyhow, it's simply something to rub on his body."

"Forgive this poor gift from a poor woman, senor,"
said the wrinkled old woman, drawing close to Demetrio,
"but there's nothing like it in the world for hemorrhages
and suchlike."

Demetrio nodded hasty approval. They had already
placed a loaf of bread soaked in alcohol on his stomach;
although when this was removed he began to be cooler,
he felt that he was still feverish inside.

"Come on, Remigia, you do it, you certainly know
how," the women said.

Out of a reed sheath, Remigia pulled a long and
curved knife which served to cut cactus fruit. She took
the pigeon in one hand, turned it over, its breast up-
ward, and with the skill of a surgeon, ripped it in two
with a single thrust.

"In the name of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Remigia
said, blessing the room and making the sign of the cross;
next, with infinite dexterity, she placed the warm bleed-
ing portions of the pigeon upon Demetrio's abdomen.

"You'll see: you'll feel much better now."

Obeying Remigia's instructions, Demetrio lay motion-
less, crumpled up on one side.

Then Fortunata gave vent to her sorrows. She liked
these gentlemen of the revolution, all right, that she did
--for, three months ago, you know, the Government sol-
diers had run away with her only daughter. This had
broken her heart, Yes, and driven her all but crazy.

As she began, Anastasio Montanez and Quail lay on
the floor near the stretcher, their mouths gaping, all
ears to the story. But Fortunata's wealth of detail by
the time she had told half of it bored Quail and he
left the hut to scratch himself out in the sun. By the
time Fortunata had at last concluded with a solemn "I
pray God and the Blessed Virgin Mary that you are
not sparing the life of a single one of those Federals
from hell," Demetrio, face to wall, felt greatly relieved
by the stomach cure, and was busy thinking of the best
route by which to proceed to Durango. Anastasio Mon-
tanez was snoring like a trombone.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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