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IX


Why don't you call in the tenderfoot to treat you,
Compadre Demetrio," Anastasio Montanez asked his
chief, who had been complaining daily of chills and fever.
"You ought to see him; no one has laid a hand to him
but himself, and now he's so fit that he doesn't limp
a step."

But Venancio, standing by with his tins of lard and
his dirty string rags ready, protested:

"All right, if anybody lays a hand on Demetrio, I
won't be responsible."

"Nonsense! Rot! What kind of doctor do you think
you are? You're no doctor at all. I'll wager you've al-
ready forgotten why you ever joined us," said Quail.

"Well, I remember why you joined us, Quail," Ve-
nancio replied angrily. "Perhaps you'll deny it was be-
cause you had stolen a watch and some diamond rings."

"Ha, ha, ha! That's rich! But you're worse, my lad;
you ran away from your hometown because you poi-
soned your sweetheart."

"You're a Goddamned liar!"

"Yes you did! And don't try and deny it! You fed her
Spanish fly and . . ."

Venancio's shout of protest was drowned out in the
loud laughter of the others. Demetrio, looking pale and
sallow, motioned for silence. Then, plaintively:

"That'll do. Bring in the student."

Luis Cervantes entered. He uncovered Demetrio's
wound, examined it carefully, and shook his head. The
ligaments had made a furrow in the skin. The leg, badly
swollen, seemed about to burst. At every move he made,
Demetrio stifled a moan. Luis Cervantes cut the liga-
ments, soaked the wound in water, covered the leg with
large clean rags and bound it up. Demetrio was able to
sleep all afternoon and all night. On the morrow he
woke up happy.

"That tenderfoot has the softest hand in the world!"
he said.

Quickly Venancio cut in:

"All right; just as you say. But don't forget that ten-
derfoots are like moisture, they seep in everywhere. It's
the tenderfoots who stopped us reaping the harvest of
the revolution."

Since Demetrio believed in the barber's knowledge
implicitly, when Luis Cervantes came to treat him on
the next day he said:

"Look here, do your best, see. I want to recover
soon and then you can go home or anywhere else you
damn well please."

Discreetly, Luis Cervantes made no reply.

A week, ten days, a fortnight elapsed. The Federal
troops seemed to have vanished. There was an abun-
dance of corn and beans, too, in the neighboring ranches.
The people hated the Government so bitterly that they
were overjoyed to furnish assistance to the rebels. De-
metrio's men, therefore, were peacefully waiting for the
complete recovery of their chief.

Day after day, Luis Cervantes remained humble and
silent.

"By God, I actually believe you're in love," De-
metrio said jokingly one morning after the daily treat-
ment. He had begun to like this tenderfoot. From then
on, Demetrio began gradually to show an increasing in-
terest in Cervantes' comfort. One day he asked him if
the soldiers gave him his daily ration of meat and milk;
Luis Cervantes was forced to answer that his sole nour-
ishment was whatever the old ranch women happened to
give him and that everyone still considered him an in-
truder.

"Look here, Tenderfoot, they're all good boys, really,"
Demetrio answered. "You've got to know how to handle
them, that's all. You mark my words; from tomorrow
on, there won't be a thing you'll lack."

In effect, things began to change that very afternoon.
Some of Demetrio's men lay in the quarry, glancing at
the sunset that turned the clouds into huge clots of
congealed blood and listening to Venancio's amusing
stories culled from The Wandering Jew. Some of them,
lulled by the narrator's mellifluous voice, began to snore.
But Luis Cervantes listened avidly and as soon as
Venancio topped off his talk with a storm of anticlerical
denunciations he said emphatically: "Wonderful, wonder-
ful! What intelligence! You're a most gifted man!"

"Well, I reckon it's not so bad," Venancio answered,
warming to the flattery, "but my parents died and I
didn't have a chance to study for a profession."

"That's easy to remedy, I'm sure. Once our cause is
victorious, you can easily get a degree. A matter of two
or three weeks' assistant's work at some hospital and a
letter of recommendation from our chief and you'll be a
full-fledged doctor, all right. The thing is child's play."

From that night onward Venancio, unlike the others,
ceased calling him Tenderfoot. He addressed him as
Louie.

It was Louie, this, and Louie, that, right and left, all
the time.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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