1: Part I
About the Author || 2: Part II >>
"How beautiful the revolution!
Even in its most barbarous aspect it is beautiful,"
Solis said with deep feeling.
That's no animal, I tell you! Listen to the dog barking! It must be a human being."
The woman stared into the darkness of the sierra.
"What if they're soldiers?" said a man, who sat Indian-fashion, eating, a coarse earthenware plate in his
right hand, three folded tortillas in the other.
The woman made no answer, all her senses directed
outside the hut. The beat of horses' hoofs rang in the
quarry nearby. The dog barked again, louder and more
"Well, Demetrio, I think you had better hide, all the
Stolidly, the man finished eating; next he reached for
a cantaro and gulped down the water in it; then he
"Your rifle is under the mat," she whispered.
A tallow candle illumined the small room. In one corner stood a plow, a yoke, a goad, and other agricultural
implements. Ropes hung from the roof, securing an old
adobe mold, used as a bed; on it a child slept, covered
with gray rags.
Demetrio buckled his cartridge belt about his waist
and picked up his rifle. He was tall and well built, with a
sanguine face and beardless chin; he wore shirt and
trousers of white cloth, a broad Mexican hat and leather
With slow, measured step, he left the room, vanishing
into the impenetrable darkness of the night.
The dog, excited to the point of madness, had jumped
over the corral fence.
Suddenly a shot rang out. The dog moaned, then
barked no more. Some men on horseback rode up, shouting and sweating; two of them dismounted, while the
other hung back to watch the horses.
"Hey, there, woman: we want food! Give us eggs,
milk, beans, anything you've got! We're starving!"
"Curse the sierra! It would take the Devil himself
not to lose his way!"
"Guess again, Sergeant! Even the Devil would go
astray if he were as drunk as you are."
The first speaker wore chevrons on his arm, the other
red stripes on his shoulders.
"Whose place is this, old woman? Or is it an empty
house? God's truth, which is it?"
"Of course it's not empty. How about the light and
that child there? Look here, confound it, we want to
eat, and damn quick tool Are you coming out or are we
going to make you?"
"You swine! Both of you! You've gone and killed my
dog, that's what you've done! What harm did he ever do
you? What did you have against him?"
The woman reentered the house, dragging the dog behind her, very white and fat, with lifeless eyes and flabby
"Look at those cheeks, Sergeant! Don't get riled, light
of my life: I swear I'll turn your home into a dovecot,
"By God!" he said, breaking off into song:
"Don't look so haughty, dear,
Banish all fears,
Kiss me and melt to me,
I'll drink up your tears!"
His alcoholic tenor trailed off into the night.
"Tell me what they call this ranch, woman?" the sergeant asked.
"Limon," the woman replied curtly, carrying wood to
the fire and fanning the coals.
"So we're in Limon, eh, the famous Demetrio Macias'
country, eh? Do you hear that, Lieutenant? We're in
"Limon? What the hell do I care? If I'm bound for
hell, Sergeant, I might as well go there now. I don't
mind, now that I've found as good a remount as this!
Look at the cheeks on the darling, look at them! There's
a pair of ripe red apples for a fellow to bite into!"
"I'll wager you know Macias the bandit, lady? I was
in the pen with him at Escobedo, once."
"Bring me a bottle of tequila, Sergeant: I've decided
to spend the night with this charming lady. . . . What's
that? The colonel? . . . Why in God's name talk about
the colonel now? He can go straight to hell, for all I
care. And if he doesn't like it, it's all right with me. Come
on, Sergeant, tell the corporal outside to unsaddle the
horses and feed them. I'll stay here all night. Here, my
girl, you let the sergeant fry the eggs and warm up the
tortillas; you come here to me. See this wallet full of nice
new bills? They're all for you, darling. Sure, I want you
to have them. Figure it out for yourself. I'm drunk, see:
I've a bit of a load on and that's why I'm kind of hoarse,
you might call it. I left half my gullet down Guadalajara
way, and I've been spitting the other half out all the way
up here. Oh well, who cares? But I want you to have that
money, see, dearie? Hey, Sergeant, where's my bottle?
Now, little girl, come here and pour yourself a drink.
You won't, eh? Aw, come on! Afraid of your—er—husband . . . or whatever he is, huh? Well, if he's skulking in
some hole, you tell him to come out. What the hell do I
care? I'm not scared of rats, see!"
Suddenly a white shadow loomed on the threshold.
"Demetrio Macias!" the sergeant cried as he stepped
back in terror.
The lieutenant stood up, silent, cold and motionless
as a statue.
"Shoot them!" the woman croaked.
"Oh, come, you'll surely spare us! I didn't know you
were there. I'll always stand up for a brave man."
Demetrio stood his ground, looking them up and down,
an insolent and disdainful smile wrinkling his face.
"Yes, I not only respect brave men, but I like them.
I'm proud and happy to call them friends. Here's my
hand on it: friend to friend." Then, after a pause: "All
right, Demetrio Macias, if you don't want to shake
hands, all right! But it's because you don't know me,
that's why, just because the first time you saw me I was
doing this dog's job. But look here, I ask you, what in
God's name can a man do when he's poor and has a
wife to support and kids? . . . Right you are, Sergeant,
let's go: I've nothing but respect for the home of what I
call a brave man, a real, honest, genuine man!"
When they had gone, the woman drew close to
"Holy Virgin, what agony! I suffered as though it was
you they'd shot."
"You go to father's house, quick!" Demetrio ordered.
She wanted to hold him in her arms; she entreated, she
wept. But he pushed away from her gently and, in a sullen
voice, said, "I've an idea the whole lot of them are coming."
"Why didn't you kill 'em?"
"Their hour hasn't struck yet."
They went out together; she bore the child in her
arms. At the door, they separated, moving off in different
The moon peopled the mountain with vague shadows.
As he advanced at every turn of his way Demetrio could
see the poignant, sharp silhouette of a woman pushing
forward painfully, bearing a child in her arms.
When, after many hours of climbing, he gazed back,
huge flames shot up from the depths of the canyon by
the river. It was his house, blazing. . . .
Everything was still swathed in shadows as
Demetrio Macias began his descent to the bottom of
the ravine. Between rocks striped with huge eroded
cracks, and a squarely cut wall, with the river flowing
below, a narrow ledge along the steep incline served as a
"They'll surely find me now and track us down like
dogs," he mused. "It's a good thing they know nothing
about the trails and paths up here. . . . But if they got
someone from Moyahua to guide them . . ." He left the
sinister thought unfinished. "All the men from Limon or
Santa Rosa or the other nearby ranches are on our side:
they wouldn't try to trail us. That cacique who's chased
and run me ragged over these hills, is at Moyahua now;
he'd give his eyeteeth to see me dangling from a telegraph
pole with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, purple
and swollen. . . ."
At dawn, he approached the pit of the canyon. Here,
he lay on the rocks and fell asleep.
The river crept along, murmuring as the waters rose
and fell in small cascades. Birds sang lyrically from their
hiding among the pitaya trees. The monotonous, eternal
drone of insects filled the rocky solitude with mystery.
Demetrio awoke with a start. He waded the river, following its course which ran counter to the canyon; he
climbed the crags laboriously as an ant, gripping root and
rock with his hands, clutching every stone in the trail
with his bare feet.
When he reached the summit, he glanced down to
see the sun steeping the valley in a lake of gold. Near the
canyon, enormous rocks loomed protrudent, like fantastic
Negro skulls. The pitaya trees rose tenuous, tall, like the
tapering, gnarled fingers of a giant; other trees of all sorts
bowed their crests toward the pit of the abyss. Amid
the stark rocks and dry branches, roses bloomed like a
white offering to the sun as smoothly, suavely, it unraveled its golden threads, one by one, from rock to rock.
Demetrio stopped at the summit. Reaching backward,
with his right arm he drew his horn which hung at his
back, held it up to his thick lips, and, swelling his cheeks
out, blew three loud blasts. From across the hill close by,
three sharp whistles answered his signal.
In the distance, from a conical heap of reeds and dry
straws, man after man emerged, one after the other, their
legs and chests naked, lambent and dark as old bronze.
They rushed forward to greet Demetrio, and stopped before him, askance.
"They've burnt my house," he said.
A murmur of oaths, imprecations, and threats rose
Demetrio let their anger run its course. Then he drew
a bottle from under his shirt and took a deep swig;
then he wiped the neck of the bottle with the back of his
hand and passed it around. It passed from mouth to
mouth; not a drop was left. The men passed their tongues
greedily over their lips to recapture the tang of the liquor.
"Glory be to God and by His Will," said Demetrio,
"tonight or tomorrow at the latest we'll meet the Federals.
What do you say, boys, shall we let them find their way
about these trails?"
The ragged crew jumped to their feet, uttering shrill
cries of joy; then their jubilation tamed sinister and they
gave vent to threats, oaths and imprecations.
"Of course, we can't tell how strong they are," said
Demetrio as his glance traveled over their faces in
"Do you remember Medina? Out there at Hostotipaquillo, he only had a half a dozen men with knives
that they sharpened on a grindstone. Well, he held back
the soldiers and the police, didn't he? And he beat them,
"We're every bit as good as Medina's crowd!" said a
tall, broad-shouldered man with a black beard and bushy
"By God, if I don't own a Mauser and a lot of cartridges, if I can't get a pair of trousers and shoes, then
my name's not Anastasio Montañez! Look here, Quail,
you don't believe it, do you? You ask my partner
Demetrio if I haven't half a dozen bullets in me already.
Christ! Bullets are marbles to me! And I dare you to
"Viva Anastasio Montañez," shouted Manteca.
"All right, all right!" said Montañez. "Viva Demetrio
Macias, our chief, and long life to God in His heaven
and to the Virgin Mary."
"Viva Demetrio Macias," they all shouted.
They gathered dry brush and wood, built a fire and
placed chunks of fresh meat upon the burning coals. As
the blaze rose, they collected about the fire, sat down Indian-fashion and inhaled the odor of the meat as it twisted on the crackling fire. The rays of the sun, falling about
them, cast a golden radiance over the bloody hide of a
calf, lying on the ground nearby. The meat dangled from a
rope fastened to a huizache tree, to dry in the sun and
"Well, men," Demetrio said, "you know we've only
twenty rifles, besides my thirty-thirty. If there are just a
few of them, we'll shoot until there's not a live man left.
If there's a lot of 'em, we can give 'em a good scare, anyhow."
He undid a rag belt about his waist, loosened a knot
in it and offered the contents to his companions. Salt. A
murmur of approbation rose among them as each took a
few grains between the tips of his fingers.
They ate voraciously; then, glutted, lay down on the
ground, facing the sky. They sang monotonous, sad
songs, uttering a strident shout after each stanza.
In the brush and foliage of the sierra, Demetrio Macias
and his threescore men slept until the halloo of the horn,
blown by Pancracio from the crest of a peak, awakened
"Time, boys! Look around and see what's what!"
Anastasio Montañez said, examining his rifle springs.
Yet he was previous; an hour or more elapsed with no
sound or stir save the song of the locust in the brush or
the frog stirring in his mud hole. At last, when the ultimate faint rays of the moon were spent in the rosy dimness of the dawn, the silhouette of a soldier loomed at the
end of the trail. As they strained their eyes, they could
distinguish others behind him, ten, twenty, a hundred.
. . . Then, suddenly, darkness swallowed them up. Only
when the sun rose, Demetrio's band realized that the
canyon was alive with men, midgets seated on miniature
"Look at 'em, will you?" said Pancracio. "Pretty, ain't
they? Come on, boys, let's go and roll marbles with 'em."
Now the moving dwarf figures were lost in the dense
chaparral, now they reappeared, stark and black against
the ocher. The voices of officers, as they gave orders, and
soldiers, marching at ease, were clearly audible.
Demetrio raised his hand; the locks of rifles clicked.
"Fire!" he cried tensely.
Twenty-one men shot as one; twenty-one soldiers fell
off their horses. Caught by surprise, the column halted,
etched like bas-reliefs in stone against the rocks.
Another volley and a score of soldiers hurtled down
from rock to rock.
"Come out, bandits. Come out, you starved dogs!"
"To bell with you, you corn rustlers!"
"Kill the cattle thieves! Kill 'em!
The soldiers shouted defiance to their enemies; the latter, giving proof of a marksmanship which had already
made them famous, were content to keep under cover,
"Look, Pancracio," said Meco, completely black save
for his eyes and teeth. "This is for that man who passes
that tree. I'll get the son of a . . ."
"Take that! Right in the head. You saw it, didn't you,
mate? Now, this is for the fellow on the roan horse.
Down you come, you shave-headed bastard!"
"I'll give that lad on the trail's edge a shower of lead.
If you don't hit the river, I'm a liar! Now: look at him!"
"Oh, come on, Anastasio don't be cruel; lend me your
rifle. Come along, one shot, just one!"
Manteca and Quail, unarmed, begged for a gun as a
boon, imploring permission to fire at least a shot apiece.
"Come out of your holes if you've got any guts!"
"Show your faces, you lousy cowards!"
From peak to peak, the shouts rang as distinctly as
though uttered across a street. Suddenly, Quail stood up,
naked, holding his trousers to windward as though he
were a bullfighter flaunting a red cape, and the soldiers
below the bull. A shower of shots peppered upon
"God! That was like a hornet's nest buzzing overhead," said Anastasio Montañez, lying flat on the ground
without daring to wink an eye.
"Here, Quail, you son of a bitch, you stay where I
told you," roared Demetrio.
They crawled to take new positions. The soldiers, congratulating themselves on their successes, ceased firing
when another volley roused them.
"More coming!" they shouted.
Some, panic-stricken, turned their horses back; others,
abandoning their mounts, began to climb up the mountain and seek shelter behind the rocks. The officers had
to shoot at them to enforce discipline.
"Down there, down there!" said Demetrio as he leveled
his rifle at the translucent thread of the river.
A soldier fell into the water; at each shot, invariably
a soldier bit the dust. Only Demetrio was shooting in that
direction; for every soldier killed, ten or twenty of them,
intact, climbed afresh on the other side.
"Get those coming up from under! Los de Abajo!
Get the underdogs!" he screamed.
Now his fellows were exchanging rifles, laughing and
making wagers on their marksmanship.
"My leather belt if I miss that head there, on the black
"Lend me your rifle, Meco."
"Twenty Mauser cartridges and a half yard of sausage
if you let me spill that lad riding the bay mare. All right!
Watch me.... There! See him jump! Like a bloody deer."
"Don't run, you half-breeds. Come along with you!
Come and meet Father Demetrio!"
Now it was Demetrio's men who screamed insults.
Manteca, his smooth face swollen in exertion, yelled his
lungs out. Pancracio roared, the veins and muscles in his
neck dilated, his murderous eyes narrowed to two evil
Demetrio fired shot after shot, constantly warning his
men of impending danger, but they took no heed until
they felt the bullets spattering them from one side.
"Goddamn their souls, they've branded me!" Demetrio
cried, his teeth flashing.
Then, very swiftly, he slid down a gully and was lost....
Two men were missing, Serapio the candy maker, and
Antonio, who played the cymbals in the Juchipila band.
"Maybe they'll join us further on," said Demetrio.
The return journey proved moody. Anastasio Montañez
alone preserved his equanimity, a kindly expression playing in his sleepy eyes and on his bearded face. Pancracio's
harsh, gorilla-like profile retained its repulsive immutability.
The soldiers had retreated; Demetrio began the search
for the soldiers' horses which had been hidden in the
Suddenly Quail, who had been walking ahead, shrieked.
He had caught sight of his companions swinging from
the branches of a mesquite. There could be no doubt of
their identity; Serapio and Antonio they certainly were.
Anastasio Montañez prayed brokenly.
"Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy
name. Thy kingdom come..."
"Amen," his men answered in low tones, their heads
bowed, their hats upon their breasts. . . .
Then, hurriedly, they took the Juchipila canyon northward, without halting to rest until nightfall.
Quail kept walking close to Anastasio unable to
banish from his mind the two who were hanged, their
dislocated limp necks, their dangling legs, their arms
pendulous, and their bodies moving slowly in the wind.
On the morrow, Demetrio complained bitterly of his
wound; he could no longer ride on horseback. They were
forced to carry him the rest of the way on a makeshift
stretcher of leaves and branches.
"He's bleeding frightfully," said Anastasio Montañez,
tearing off one of his shirt-sleeves and tying it tightly
about Demetrio's thigh, a little above the wound.
"That's good," said Venancio. "It'll keep him from
bleeding and stop the pain."
Venancio was a barber. In his native town, he pulled
teeth and fulfilled the office of medicine man. He was
accorded an unimpeachable authority because he had
read The Wandering Jew and one or two other books.
They called him "Doctor"; and since he was conceited
about his knowledge, he employed very few words.
They took turns, carrying the stretcher in relays of
four over the bare stony mesa and up the steep passes.
At high noon, when the reflection of the sun on the
calcareous soil burned their shoulders and made the
landscape dimly waver before their eyes, the monotonous, rhythmical moan of the wounded rose in unison
with the ceaseless cry of the locusts. They stopped to rest
at every small hut they found hidden between the steep,
"Thank God, a kind soul and tortillas full of beans and
chili are never lacking," Anastasio Montañez said with
a triumphant belch.
The mountaineers would shake calloused hands with
the travelers, saying:
"God's blessing on you! He will find a way to help you
all, never fear. We're going ourselves, starting tomorrow
morning. We're dodging the draft, with those damned
Government people who've declared war to the death on
us, on all the poor. They come and steal our pigs, our
chickens and corn, they burn our homes and carry our
women off, and if they ever get hold of us they'll kill us
like mad dogs, and we die right there on the spot and
that's the end of the story!"
At sunset, amid the flames dyeing the sky with vivid,
variegated colors, they descried a group of houses up
in the heart of the blue mountains. Demetrio ordered
them to carry him there.
These proved to be a few wretched straw huts, dispersed all over the river slopes, between rows of young
sprouting corn and beans. They lowered the stretcher
and Demetrio, in a weak voice, asked for a glass of
Groups of squalid Indians sat in the dark pits of the
huts, men with bony chests, disheveled, matted hair,
and ruddy cheeks; behind them, eyes shone up from
floors of fresh reeds.
A child with a large belly and glossy dark skin came
close to the stretcher to inspect the wounded man. An
old woman followed, and soon all of them drew about
Demetrio in a circle.
A girl sympathizing with him in his plight brought a
jicara of bluish water. With hands shaking, Demetrio took
it up and drank greedily.
"Will you have some more?"
He raised his eyes and glanced at the girl, whose
features were common but whose voice had a note of
kindness in it. Wiping his sweating brow with the back of
his palm and turning on one side, he gasped:
"May God reward you."
Then his whole body shook, making the leaves of the
stretcher rustle. Fever possessed him; he fainted.
"It's a damp night and that's terrible for the fever,"
said Remigia, an old wrinkled barefooted woman, wearing a cloth rag for a blouse.
She invited them to move Demetrio into her hut.
Pancracio, Anastasio Montañez, and Quail lay down
beside the stretcher like faithful dogs, watchful of their
master's wishes. The rest scattered about in search of
Remigia offered them all she had, chili and tortillas.
"Imagine! I had eggs, chickens, even a goat and her
kid, but those damn soldiers wiped me out clean."
Then, making a trumpet of her hands, she drew near
Anastasio and murmured in his ear:
"Imagine, they even carried away Senora Nieves'
Suddenly awakening, Quail opened his eyes and
"Montañez, did you hear? A shot, Montañez! Hey,
Montañez, get up!"
He shook him vigorously until Montañez 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," Anastasio muttered out of a half-sleep.
"I heard a shot, Montañez!"
"Go back to sleep, Quail, or I'll bust your nose."
"Hell, Anastasio I tell you it's no nightmare. I've forgotten 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 Montañez 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
"Well, I'm a revolutionist, too, you know. The Government drafted me and I served as a private, but I managed 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 incredulity rose from the men, interrupting the stranger.
"So that's what you are, eh? One of those damn half-breeds," said Anastasio Montañez. "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
"Shoot the half-breed!"
"Burn 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," Anastasio 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
"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 student 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 possesses the same religion, who is inspired by the same ideals,
who defends and fights for the same cause you are now
"What are we fighting for? That's what I'd like to
In his disconcertment, Luis Cervantes could find no
"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 Pancracio and Manteca watch him. Tomorrow, we'll see.
Through the shadows of the starry night, Luis Cervantes had not yet managed to detect the exact shape of
the objects about him. Seeking the most suitable resting-place, he laid his weary bones down on a fresh pile of
manure under the blurred mass of a huizache tree. He
lay down, more exhausted than resigned, and closed his
eyes, resolutely determined to sleep until his fierce keepers
or the morning sun, burning his ears, awakened him.
Something vaguely like warmth at his side, then a tired
hoarse breath, made him shudder. He opened his eyes
and feeling about him with his hands, he sensed the
coarse hairs of a large pig which, resenting the presence of
a neighbor, began to grunt.
All Luis' efforts to sleep proved quite useless, not
only because the pain of his wound or the bruises on his
flesh smarted, but because he suddenly realized the
exact nature of his failure.
Yes, failure! For he had never learned to appreciate
exactly the difference between fulminating sentences of
death upon bandits in the columns of a small country
newspaper and actually setting out in search of them,
and tracking them to their lairs, gun in hand. During his
first day's march as volunteer lieutenant, he had begun to
suspect the error of his ways—brutal sixty miles'
journey it was, that left his hips and legs one mass of
raw soreness and soldered all his bones together. A week
later, after his first skirmish against the rebels, he understood every rule of the game. Luis Cervantes would have
taken up a crucifix and solemnly sworn that as soon as
the soldiers, gun in hand, stood ready to shoot, some profoundly eloquent voice had spoken behind them, saying,
"Run for your lives." It was all crystal clear. Even his
noble-spirited horse, accustomed to battle, sought to
sweep back on its hind legs and gallop furiously away,
to stop only at a safe distance from the sound of firing.
The sun was setting, the mountain became peopled with
vague and restless shadows, darkness scaled the ramparts of the mountain hastily.
What could be more logical then, than to seek refuge behind the rocks and attempt to sleep, granting mind and body a sorely needed
But the soldier's logic is the logic of absurdity. On the
morrow, for example, his colonel awakened him rudely
out of his sleep, cuffing and belaboring him unmercifully, and, after having bashed in his face, deprived him
of his place of vantage. The rest of the officers, moreover,
burst into hilarious mirth and holding their sides with
laughter begged the colonel to pardon the deserter. The
colonel, therefore, instead of sentencing him to be shot,
kicked his buttocks roundly for him and assigned him to
This signal insult was destined to bear poisonous
fruit. Luis Cervantes determined to play turncoat; indeed, mentally, he had already changed sides. Did not
the sufferings of the underdogs, of the disinherited
masses, move him to the core? Henceforth he espoused
the cause of Demos, of the subjugated, the beaten and
baffled, who implore justice, and justice alone. He became intimate with the humblest private. More, even, he
shed tears of compassion over a dead mule which fell,
load and all, after a terribly long journey.
From then on, Luis Cervantes' prestige with the soldiers increased. Some actually
dared to make confessions. One among them, conspicuous for his sobriety
and silence, told him: "I'm a carpenter by trade, you
know. I had a mother, an old woman nailed to her chair
for ten years by rheumatism. In the middle of the night,
they pulled me out of my house; three damn policemen;
I woke up a soldier twenty-five miles away from my
hometown. A month ago our company passed by there
again. My mother was already under the sod! . . . So
there's nothing left for me in this wide world; no one
misses me now, you see. But, by God, I'm damned if I'll
use these cartridges they make us carry, against the
enemy. If a miracle happens (I pray for it every night,
you know, and I guess our Lady of Guadalupe can do
it all right), then I'll join Villa's men; and I swear by the
holy soul of my old mother, that I'll make every one of
these Government people pay, by God I will."
Another soldier, a bright young fellow, but a charlatan,
at heart, who drank habitually and smoked the narcotic
marihuana weed, eyeing him with vague, glassy stare,
whispered in his ear, "You know, partner . . . the men
on the other side ... you know, the other side . . . you
understand . . . they ride the best horses up north there,
and all over, see? And they harness their mounts with
pure hammered silver. But us? Oh hell, we've got to ride
plugs, that's all, and not one of them good enough to
stagger round a water well. You see, don't you, partner?
You see what I mean? You know, the men on the other
side-they get shiny new silver coins while we get only
lousy paper money printed in that murderer's factory,
that's what we get, yes, that's ours, I tell you!"
The majority of the soldiers spoke in much the same
tenor. Even a top sergeant candidly confessed, "Yes, I
enlisted all right. I wanted to. But, by God, I missed the
right side by a long shot. What you can't make in a lifetime, sweating like a mule and breaking your back in
peacetime, damn it all, you can make in a few months
just running around the sierra with a gun on your back,
but not with this crowd, dearie, not with this lousy
Luis Cervantes, who already shared this hidden, implacably mortal hatred of
the upper classes, of his officers, and of his superiors, felt that a veil had
been removed from his eyes; clearly, now, he saw the final outcome of the struggle. And yet what had happened? The
first moment he was able to join his coreligionists, instead of welcoming him with open arms, they threw him
into a pigsty with swine for company.
Day broke. The roosters crowed in the huts. The
chickens perched in the huizache began to stretch their
wings, shake their feathers, and fly down to the ground.
Luis Cervantes saw his guards lying on top of a dung
heap, snoring. In his imagination, he reviewed the features of last night's men. One, Pancracio, was pockmarked, blotchy, unshaven; his chin protruded, his
forehead receded obliquely; his ears formed one solid
piece with head and neck—a horrible man. The other,
Manteca, was so much human refuse; his eyes were almost hidden, his look sullen; his wiry straight hair fen
over his ears, forehead and neck; his scrofulous lips
hung eternally agape. Once more, Luis Cervantes felt
his flesh quiver.
Still drowsy, Demetrio ran his hand through his ruffled 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
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:
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.
"Ah, there's a lovely name! And the girl that bears it,
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 Montañez 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
"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 question. 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 Cervantes 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 unhappy people who do not even suspect they are poor because 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
"I wanted to fight for the sacred cause of the oppressed, but you don't understand . . . you cast me
aside. . . . Very well, then, you can do as you please
"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 interrupted dryly, scratching his head. "I'm going to have
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 questions."
"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."
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, Camilla 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 familiarity that she suddenly found herself addressing him
intimately, in the singular tu. Absorbed in his own
thoughts, Luis Cervantes had ceased listening to her.
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 wonderful 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 capital 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 therefore 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
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 retreating figure until it was lost on the river path. So
profound was her absorption that she shuddered in nervous surprise as she heard the voice of her neighbor,
eyed Maria Antonia, who had been spying from her hut,
"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 ash-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 answered, 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 opening, "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
"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 handful of it dripping with muddy yellowish water. "I've none
at all; you'd better go to Dolores, she's always got herbs,
"But Dolores went to Cofradía 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 animated 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
"Poor girl. It's going to be terrible if the kid is her
uncle's, you know!"
"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
"That makes no difference, Panchita, that's no medicine 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
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 upward, 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 bleeding portions of the pigeon upon Demetrio's abdomen.
"You'll see: you'll feel much better now."
Obeying Remigia's instructions, Demetrio lay motionless, 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 soldiers had run away with her only daughter. This had
broken her heart, Yes, and driven her all but crazy.
As she began, Anastasio Montañez 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 Montañez was snoring like a trombone.
"Why don't you call in the tenderfoot to treat you,
Compadre Demetrio," Anastasio Montañez 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
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 already forgotten why you ever joined us," said Quail.
"Well, I remember why you joined us, Quail," Venancio replied angrily. "Perhaps you'll deny it was because 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 poisoned 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 ligaments, 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!"
Quickly Venancio cut in:
"All right; just as you say. But don't forget that tenderfoots are like moisture, they seep in everywhere. It's
the tenderfoots who stopped us reaping the harvest of
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 abundance 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. Demetrio's men, therefore, were peacefully waiting for the
complete recovery of their chief.
Day after day, Luis Cervantes remained humble and
"By God, I actually believe you're in love," Demetrio said jokingly one
morning after the daily treatment. He had begun to like this tenderfoot. From then
on, Demetrio began gradually to show an increasing interest 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 nourishment was whatever the old ranch women happened to
give him and that everyone still considered him an intruder.
"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, wonderful! 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
It was Louie, this, and Louie, that, right and left, all
"Look here, Tenderfoot, I want to tell you something," Camilla called to Luis Cervantes, as he made his
way to the hut to fetch some boiling water for his foot.
For days the girl had been restless. Her coy ways and
her reticence had finally annoyed the man; stopping suddenly, he stood up and eyeing her squarely:
"All right. What do you want to tell me?"
Camilla's tongue clove to her mouth, heavy and damp
as a rag; she could not utter a word. A blush suffused
her cheeks, turning them red as apples; she shrugged
her shoulders and bowed her head, pressing her chin
against her naked breast. Then without moving, with the
fixity of an idiot, she glanced at the wound, and said in
"Look, how nicely it's healing now: it's like a red
Luis Cervantes frowned and with obvious disgust continued to care for his foot, completely ignoring her as
he worked. When he had finished, Camilla had vanished.
For three days she was nowhere to be found. It was
always her mother, Agapita, who answered Cervantes'
call, and boiled the water for him and gave him rags.
He was careful to avoid questioning her. Three days
later, Camilla reappeared, more coy and eager than ever.
The more distrait and indifferent Luis Cervantes grew,
the bolder Camilla. At last, she said: "Listen to me, you
nice young fellow, I want to tell you something pleasant. Please go over the words of the revolutionary song
'Adelita' with me, will you? You can guess why, eh? I
want to sing it and sing it, over again often and often,
see? Then when you're off and away and when you've
forgotten all about Camilla, it'll remind me of you."
To Luis Cervantes her words were like the noise of a
sharp steel knife drawn over the side of a glass bottle.
Blissfully unaware of the effect they had produced, she
proceeded, candid as ever:
"Well, I want to tell you something. You don't know
that your chief is a wicked man, do you? Shall I tell you
what he did to me? You know Demetrio won't let a
soul but Mamma cook for him and me take him his food.
Well, the other day I take some food over to him and
what do you think he did to me, the old fool. He grabs
hold of my wrist and he presses it tight, tight as can
be, and then he starts pinching my legs.
"'Come on, let me go,' I said. 'Keep still, lay off, you
shameless creature. You've got no manners, that's the
trouble with you.' So I wrestled with him, and shook myself free, like this, and ran off as fast as I could. What
do you think of that?"
Camilla had never seen Luis Cervantes laugh so
"But it is really true, all this you've told me?"
Utterly at a loss, Camilla could not answer. Then he
burst into laughter again and repeated the question. A
sense of confusion came upon her. Disturbed, troubled,
she said brokenly:
"Yes, it's the truth. And I wanted to tell you about it.
But you don't seem to feel at all angry."
Once more Camilla glanced adoringly at Luis Cervantes' radiant, clean face; at his glaucous, soft eyes,
his cheeks pink and polished as a porcelain doll's; at his
tender white skin that showed below the line of his
collar and on his shoulders, protruding from under a
rough woolen poncho; at his hair, ever so slightly curled.
"What the devil are you waiting for, fool? If the chief
likes you, what more do you want?"
Camilla felt something rise within her breast, an empty
ache that became a knot when it reached her throat; she
closed her eyes fast to hold back the tears that welled up
in them. Then, with the back of her hand, she wiped her
wet cheeks, and just as she had done three days
ago, fled with all the swiftness of a young deer.
Demetrio's wound had already healed. They began to discuss various projects to go northward where,
according to rumor, the rebels had beaten the Federal
troops all along the line.
A certain incident came to precipitate their action.
Seated on a crag of the sierra in the cool of the afternoon breeze, Luis Cervantes gazed away in the distance,
dreaming and killing time. Below the narrow rock Pancracio and Manteca, lying like lizards between the
jarales along one of the river margins, were playing
cards. Anastasio Montañez, looking on indifferently,
turned his black hairy face toward Luis Cervantes and,
leveling his kindly gaze upon him, asked:
"Why so sad, you from the city? What are you daydreaming about? Come on over here and let's have a
Luis Cervantes did not move; Anastasio went over to
him and sat down beside him like a friend.
"What you need is the excitement of the city. I wager
you shine your shoes every day and wear a necktie. Now,
I may look dirty and my clothes may be torn to shreds,
but I'm not really what I seem to be. I'm not here because
I've got to be and don't you think so. Why, I own twenty
oxen. Certainly I do; ask my friend Demetrio. I cleared
ten bushels last harvest time. You see, if there's one
thing I love, that's riling these Government fellows and
making them furious. The last scrape I had—it'll be eight
months gone now, ever since I've joined these men—I
stuck my knife into some captain. He was just a nobody, a little Government squirt. I pinked him here, see,
right under the navel. And that's why I'm here: that and
because I wanted to give my mate Demetrio a hand."
"Christ! The bloody little darling of my life!" Manteca
shouted, waxing enthusiastic over a winning hand. He
placed a twenty-cent silver coin on the jack of spades.
"If you want my opinion, I'm not much on gambling. Do you want to bet? Well, come on then, I'm game.
How do you like the sound of this leather snake jingling,
Anastasio shook his belt; the silver coins rang as he
shook them together.
Meanwhile, Pancracio dealt the cards, the jack of
spades turned up out of the deck and a quarrel ensued.
Altercation, noise, then shouts, and, at last, insults. Pancracio brought his stony face close to Manteca, who
looked at him with snake's eyes, convulsive, foaming at
the mouth. Another moment and they would have been
exchanging blows. Having completely exhausted their
stock of direct insults, they now resorted to the most
flowery and ornate insulting of each other's ancestors,
male and female, paternal or maternal. Yet nothing untoward occurred.
After their supply of words was exhausted, they gave
over gambling and, their arms about each other's shoulders, marched off in search of a drink of alcohol.
"I don't like to fight with my tongue either, it's not decent. I'm right, too, eh? I tell you no man living has ever
breathed a word to me against my mother. I want to be
respected, see? That's why you've never seen me fooling
with anyone." There was a pause. Then, suddenly, "Look
there, Tenderfoot," Anastasio said, changing his tone
and standing up with one hand spread over his eyes.
"What's that dust over there behind the hillock. By God,
what if it's those damned Federals and we sitting here
doing nothing. Come on, let's go and warn the rest of the
The news met with cries of joy.
"Ah, we're going to meet them!" cried Pancracio jubilantly, first among them to rejoice.
"Of course, we're going to meet them! We'll strip them
clean of everything they brought with them."
A few moments later, amid cries of joy and a bustle of
arms, they began saddling their horses. But the enemy
turned out to be a few burros and two Indians, driving
"Stop them, anyhow. They must have come from somewhere and they've probably news for us," Demetrio
Indeed, their news proved sensational. The Federal
troops had fortified the hills in Zacatecas; this was said
to be Huerta's last stronghold, but everybody predicted
the fall of the city. Many families had hastily fled southward. Trains were overloaded with people; there was a
scarcity of trucks and coaches; hundreds of people,
panic-stricken, walked along the highroad with their belongings in a pack slung over their shoulders. General
Pánfilo Natera was assembling his men at Fresnillo; the
Federals already felt it was all up with them.
"The fall of Zacatecas will be Huerta's requiescat in
pace," Luis Cervantes cried with unusual excitement.
"We've got to be there before the fight starts so that we
can join Natera's army."
Then, suddenly, he noted the surprise with which Demetrio and his men greeted his suggestion. Crestfallen,
he realized they still considered him of no account.
On the morrow, as the men set off in search of good
mounts before taking to the road again, Demetrio called
"Do you really want to come with us? Of course you're
cut from another timber, we all know that; God knows
why you should like this sort of life. Do you imagine
we're in this game because we like it? Now, I like the excitement all right, but that's not all. Sit down here;
that's right. Do you want to know why I'm a rebel? Well,
I'll tell you.
"Before the revolution, I had my land all plowed, see,
and just right for sowing and if it hadn't been for a little
quarrel with Don Monico, the boss of my town, Moyahua, I'd be there in a jiffy getting the oxen ready for the
"Here, there, Pancracio, pull down two bottles of beer
for me and this tenderfoot. . . . By the Holy Cross . . .
drinking won't hurt me, now, will it?"
I was born in Limon, close by Moyahua, right in
the heart of the Juchipila canyon. I had my house and my
cows and a patch of land, see: I had everything I wanted.
Well, I suppose you know how we farmers make a habit
of going over to town every week to hear Mass and the
sermon and then to market to buy our onions and tomatoes and in general everything they want us to buy at
the ranch. Then you pick up some friends and go to Primitivo Lopez' saloon for a bit of a drink before dinner;
well, you sit there drinking and you've got to be sociable,
so you drink more than you should and the liquor goes
to your head and you laugh and you're damned happy
and if you feel like it, you sing and shout and kick up a
bit of a row. That's quite all right, anyhow, for we're not
doing anyone any harm. But soon they start bothering
you and the policeman walks up and down and stops occasionally, with his ear to the door. To put it in a nutshell, the chief of police and his gang are a lot of joykillers who decide they want to put a stop to your fun, see?
But by God! You've got guts, you've got red blood in
your veins and you've got a soul, too, see? So you lose
your temper, you stand up to them and tell them to go to
"Now if they understand you, everything's all right;
they leave you alone and that's all there is to it; but sometimes they try to talk you down and hit you and—well,
you know how it is, a fellow's quick-tempered and he'll be
damned if he'll stand for someone ordering him around
and telling him what's what. So before you know it, you've
got your knife out or your gun leveled, and then off you
go for a wild run in the sierra, until they've forgotten the
"All right: that's just about what happened to Monico. The fellow was a greater bluffer than the rest. He
couldn't tell a rooster from a hen, not he. Well, I spit on
his beard because he wouldn't mind his own business.
That's all, there's nothing else to tell.
"Then, just because I did that, he had the whole God
damned Federal Government against me. You must have
heard something about that story in Mexico City—about the killing of Madero and some other fellow,
Felix or Felipe Diaz, or something—I don't know.
Well, this man Monico goes in person to Zacatecas to
get an army to capture me. They said that I was a Maderista and that I was going to rebel. But a man like me
always has friends. Somebody came and warned me of
what was coming to me, so when the soldiers reached
Limon I was miles and miles away. Trust me! Then my
compadre Anastasio who killed somebody came and
joined me, and Pancracio and Quail and a lot of friends
and acquaintances came after him. Since then we've been
sort of collecting, see? You know for yourself, we get
along as best we can. . . ."
For a while, both men sat meditating in silence. Then:
"Look here, Chief," said Luis Cervantes. "You know
that some of Natera's men are at Juchipila, quite near
here. I think we should join them before they capture
Zacatecas. All we need do is speak to the General."
"I'm no good at that sort of thing. And I don't like the
idea of accepting orders from anybody very much."
"But you've only a handful of men down here; you'll
only be an unimportant chieftain. There's no argument
about it, the revolution is bound to win. After it's all
over they'll talk to you just as Madero talked to all those
who had helped him: 'Thank you very much, my friends,
you can go home now. . . .' "
"Well that's all I want, to be let alone so I can go
"Wait a moment, I haven't finished. Madero said:
'You men have made me President of the Republic. You
have run the risk of losing your lives and leaving your
wives and children destitute; now I have what I wanted,
you can go back to your picks and shovels, you can
resume your hand-to-mouth existence, you can go half naked and hungry just as you did before, while we, your
superiors, will go about trying to pile up a few million
pesos. . . .'"
Demetrio nodded and, smiling, scratched his head.
"You said a mouthful, Louie," Venancio the barber
put in enthusiastically. "A mouthful as big as a church!"
"As I was saying," Luis Cervantes resumed, "when
the revolution is over, everything is over. Too bad that so
many men have been killed, too bad there are so many
widows and orphans, too bad there was so much bloodshed.
"Of course, you are not selfish; you say to yourself:
'All I want to do is go back home.' But I ask you, is it
fair to deprive your wife and kids of a fortune which God
himself places within reach of your hand? Is it fair to
abandon your motherland in this solemn moment when
she most needs the self-sacrifice of her sons, when she
most needs her humble sons to save her from falling
again in the clutches of her eternal oppressors, executioners, and caciques? You must not forget that the thing
a man holds most sacred on earth is his motherland."
Macias smiled, his eyes shining.
"Will it be all right if we go with Natera?"
"Not only all right," Venancio said insinuatingly, "but
I think it absolutely necessary."
"Now Chief," Cervantes pursued, "I took a fancy to
you the first time I laid eyes on you and I like you more
and more every day because I realize what you are
worth. Please let me be utterly frank. You do not yet
realize your lofty noble function. You are a modest man
without ambitions, you do not wish to realize the exceedingly important role you are destined to play in the
revolution. It is not true that you took up arms simply because of Senor Monico. You are under arms to protest
against the evils of all the caciques who are overrunning
the whole nation. We are the elements of a social movement which will not rest until it has enlarged the destinies
of our motherland. We are the tools Destiny makes use of
to reclaim the sacred rights of the people. We are not
fighting to dethrone a miserable murderer, we are fighting against tyranny itself. What moves us is what men call
ideals; our action is what men call fighting for a principle. A principle!
That's why Villa and Natera and Carranza are fighting; that's why we, every man of us, are
"Yes ... yes ... exactly what I've been thinking myself," said Venancio in a climax of enthusiasm.
"Hey, there, Pancracio," Macias called, "pull down
two more beers."
"You ought to see how clear that fellow can make
things, Compadre," Demetrio said. All morning long he
had been pondering as much of Luis Cervantes' speech
as he had understood.
"I heard him too," Anastasio answered. "People who
can read and write get things clear, all right; nothing
was ever truer. But what I can't make out is how you're
going to go and meet Natera with as few men as we
"That's nothing. We're going to do things different
now. They tell me that as soon as Crispín Robles enters
a town he gets hold of all the horses and guns in the
place; then he goes to the jail and lets all the jailbirds
out, and, before you know it, he's got plenty of men, all
right. You'll see. You know I'm beginning to feel that
we haven't done things right so far. It don't seem right
somehow that this city guy should be able to tell us
what to do."
"Ain't it wonderful to be able to read and write!"
They both sighed, sadly. Luis Cervantes came in with
several others to find out the day of their departure.
"We're leaving no later than tomorrow," said Demetrio
Quail suggested that musicians be summoned from
the neighboring hamlet and that a farewell dance be
given. His idea met with enthusiasm on all sides.
"We'll go, then," Pancracio shouted, "but I'm certainly
going in good company this time. My sweetheart's coming
along with me!"
Demetrio replied that he too would willingly take along
a girl he had set his eye on, but that he hoped none of his
men would leave bitter memories behind them as the
"You won't have long to wait. Everything will be ar
ranged when you return," Luis Cervantes whispered to him.
"What do you mean?" Demetrio asked. "I thought
that you and Camilla . . ."
"There's not a word of truth in it, Chief. She likes you
but she's afraid of you, that's all."
"Really? Is that really true?"
"Yes. But I think you're quite right in not wanting
to leave any bitter feelings behind you as you go. When
you come back as a conqueror, everything will be different. They'll all thank you for it even."
"By God, you're certainly a shrewd one," Demetrio re
plied, patting him on the back.
At sundown, Camilla went to the river to fetch water
as usual. Luis Cervantes, walking down the same trail,
met her. Camilla felt her heart leap to her mouth. But,
without taking the slightest notice of her, Luis Cervantes
hastily took one of the turns and disappeared among the
At this hour, as usual, the calcinated rocks, the sun
burnt branches, and the dry weeds faded into the semi-
obscurity of the shadows. The wind blew softly, the green
lances of the young corn leaves rustling in the twilight.
Nothing was changed; all nature was as she had found it
before, evening upon evening; but in the stones and the
dry weeds, amid the fragrance of the air and the light
whir of falling leaves, Camilla sensed a new strangeness,
a vast desolation in everything about her.
Rounding a huge eroded rock, suddenly Camilla found
herself face to face with Luis, who was seated on a stone,
hatless, his legs dangling.
"Listen, you might come down here to say good-bye."
Luis Cervantes was obliging enough; he jumped down
and joined her.
"You're proud, ain't you? Have I been so mean that
you don't even want to talk to me?"
"Why do you say that, Camilla? You've been extreme
ly kind to me; why, you've been more than a friend,
you've taken care of me as if you were my sister. Now
I'm about to leave, I'm very grateful to you; I'll always
"Liar!" Camilla said, her face transfigured with joy.
"Suppose I hadn't come after you?"
"I intended to say good-bye to you at the dance this
"What dance? If there's a dance, I'll not go to it."
"Because I can't stand that horrible man . . . Deme
"Don't be silly, child," said Luis. "He's really very fond
of you. Don't go and throw away this opportunity. You'll
never have one like it again in your life. Don't you know
that Demetrio is on the point of becoming a general, you
silly girl? He'll be a very wealthy man, with horses galore; and you'll have jewels and clothes and a fine house
and a lot of money to spend. Just imagine what a life
you would lead with him!"
Camilla stared up at the blue sky so he should not
read the expression in her eyes. A dead leaf shook slowly
loose from the crest of a tree swinging slowly on the
wind, fell like a small dead butterfly at her feet. She
bent down and took it in her fingers. Then, without looking at him, she murmured:
"It's horrible to hear you talk like that. . . . I like
you . . . no one else. . . . Ah, well, go then, go: I feel
ashamed now. Please leave me!"
She threw away the leaf she had crumpled in her
hand and covered her face with a corner of her apron.
When she opened her eyes, Luis Cervantes had disappeared.
She followed the river trail. The river seemed to have
been sprinkled with a fine red dust. On its surface drifted
now a sky of variegated colors, now the dark crags,
half light, half shadow. Myriads of luminous insects
twinkled in a hollow. Camilla, standing on the beach of
washed, round stones, caught a reflection of herself in
the waters; she saw herself in her yellow blouse with the
green ribbons, her white skirt, her carefully combed hair,
her wide eyebrows and broad forehead, exactly as she
had dressed to please Luis. She burst into tears.
Among the reeds, the frogs chanted the implacable
melancholy of the hour. Perched on a dry root, a dove
That evening, there was much merrymaking at the
dance, and a great quantity of mezcal was drunk.
"I miss Camilla," said Demetrio in a loud voice.
Everybody looked about for Camilla.
"She's sick, she's got a headache," said Agapita harshly, uneasy as she caught sight of the malicious glances
leveled at her.
When the dance was over, Demetrio, somewhat un
steady on his feet, thanked all the kind neighbors who
had welcomed them and promised that when the revo
lution had triumphed he would remember them one and
all, because "hospital or jail is a true test of friendship."
"May God's hand lead you all," said an old woman.
"God bless you all and keep you well," others added.
Utterly drunk, Maria Antonia said:
"Come back soon, damn soon!"
On the morrow, Maria Antonia, who, though she was
pockmarked and walleyed, nevertheless enjoyed a no
torious reputation—indeed it was confidently proclaimed
that no man had failed to go with her behind the river
weeds at some time or other—shouted to Camilla:
"Hey there, you! What's the matter? What are you
doing there skulking in the corner with a shawl tied
round your head! You're crying, I wager. Look at her
eyes; they look like a witch's. There's no sorrow lasts
more than three days!"
Agapita knitted her eyebrows and muttered indistinctly to herself.
The old crones felt uneasy and lonesome since Demetrio's men had left. The men, too, in spite of their gossip
and insults, lamented their departure since now they
would have no one to bring them fresh meat every day.
It is pleasant indeed to spend your time eating and drinking, and sleeping all day long in the cool shade of the
rocks, while clouds ravel and unravel their fleecy threads
on the blue shuttle of the sky.
"Look at them again. There they go!" Maria Antonia
yelled. "Why, they look like toys."
Demetrio's men, riding their thin nags, could still be
descried in the distance against the sapphire translucence
of the sky, where the broken rocks and the chaparral
melted into a single bluish smooth surface. Across the air
a gust of hot wind bore the broken, faltering strains of
"La Adelita," the revolutionary song, to the settlement.
Camilla, who had come out when Maria Antonia
shouted, could no longer control herself; she dived back
into her hut, unable to restrain her tears and moaning.
Maria Antonia burst into laughter and moved off.
"They've cast the evil eye on my daughter," Agapita
said in perplexity. She pondered a while, then duly reached
a decision. From a pole in the hut she took down a piece
of strong leather which her husband used to hitch up the
yoke. This pole stood between a picture of Christ and
one of the Virgin. Agapita promptly twisted the leather
and proceeded to administer a sound thrashing to Camilla in order to dispel the evil spirits.
Riding proudly on his horse, Demetrio felt like a new
man. His eyes recovered their peculiar metallic brilliance,
and the blood flowed, red and warm, through his coppery, pure-blooded Aztec cheeks.
The men threw out their chests as if to breathe the
widening horizon, the immensity of the sky, the blue from
the mountains and the fresh air, redolent with the various
odors of the sierra. They spurred their horses to a gallop
as if in that mad race they laid claims of possession to
the earth. What man among them now remembered the
stern chief of police, the growling policeman, or the conceited cacique? What man remembered his pitiful hut
where he slaved away, always under the eyes of the
owner or the ruthless and sullen foreman, always forced
to rise before dawn, and to take up his shovel, basket,
or goad, wearing himself out to earn a mere pitcher of
atole and a handful of beans?
They laughed, they sang, they whistled, drunk with the
sunlight, the air of the open spaces, the wine of life.
Meco, prancing forward on his horse, bared his white
glistening teeth, joking and kicking up like a clown.
"Hey, Pancracio," he asked with utmost seriousness,
"my wife writes me I've got another kid. How in hell is
that? I ain't seen her since Madero was President."
"That's nothing," the other replied. "You just left her
a lot of eggs to hatch for you!"
They all laughed uproariously. Only Meco, grave and
aloof, sang in a voice horribly shrill:
"I gave her a penny
That wasn't enough.
I gave her a nickel
The wench wanted more.
We bargained. I asked
If a dime was enough
But she wanted a quarter.
By God! That was tough!
All wenches are fickle
And trumpery stuff!"
The sun, beating down upon them, dulled their minds
and bodies and presently they were silent. All day long
they rode through the canyon, up and down the steep,
round hills, dirty and bald as a man's head, hill after hill
in endless succession. At last, late in the afternoon, they
descried several stone church towers in the heart of a
bluish ridge, and, beyond, the white road with its curling
spirals of dust and its gray telegraph poles.
They advanced toward the main road; in the distance
they spied a figure of an Indian sitting on the embankment. They drew up to him. He proved to be an
friendly looking old man, clad in rags; he was laboriously
attempting to mend his leather sandals with the help of a
dull knife. A burro loaded with fresh green grass stood
by. Demetrio accosted him.
"What are you doing, Grandpa?"
"Gathering alfalfa for my cow."
"How many Federals are there around here?"
"Just a few: not more than a dozen, I reckon."
The old man grew communicative. He told them of
many important rumors: Obregon was besieging Guadalajara, Torres was in complete control of the Potosi
region, Natera ruled over Fresnillo.
"All right," said Demetrio, "you can go where you're
headed for, see, but you be damn careful not to tell any
one you saw us, because if you do, I'll pump you full of
lead. And I could track you down, even if you tried to
hide in the pit of hell, see?"
"What do you say, boys?" Demetrio asked them as
soon as the old man had disappeared.
"To hell with the mochos! We'll kill every blasted one
of them!" they cried in unison.
Then they set to counting their cartridges and the hand
grenades the Owl had made out of fragments of iron
tubing and metal bed handles.
"Not much to brag about, but we'll soon trade them
for rifles," Anastasio observed.
Anxiously they pressed forward, spurring the thin flanks
of their nags to a gallop. Demetrio's brisk, imperious
tones of order brought them abruptly to a halt.
They dismounted by the side of a hill, protected by
thick huizache trees. Without unsaddling their horses,
each began to search for stones to serve as pillows.
At midnight Demetrio Macias ordered the march to
be resumed. The town was five or six miles away; the best
plan was to take the soldiers by surprise, before reveille.
The sky was cloudy, with here and there a star shining.
From time to time a flash of lightning crossed the sky
with a red dart, illumining the far horizon.
Luis Cervantes asked Demetrio whether the success of
the attack might not be better served by procuring a guide
or leastways by ascertaining the topographic conditions of
the town and the precise location of the soldiers' quarters.
"No," Demetrio answered, accompanying his smile with
a disdainful gesture, "we'll simply fall on them when they
least expect it; that's all there is to it, see? We've done it
before all right, lots of times! Haven't you ever seen the
squirrels stick their heads out of their holes when you
poured in water? Well, that's how these lousy soldiers are
going to feel. Do you see? They'll be frightened out of
their wits the moment they hear our first shot. Then they'll
slink out and stand as targets for us."
"Suppose the old man we met yesterday lied to us.
Suppose there are fifty soldiers instead of twenty. Who
knows but he's a spy sent out by the Federals!"
"Ha, Tenderfoot, frightened already, eh?" Anastasio
"Sure! Handling a rifle and messing about with band
ages are two different things," Pancracio observed.
"Well, that's enough talk, I guess," said Meco. "All we
have to do is fight a dozen frightened rats."
"This fight won't convince our mothers that they gave
birth to men or whatever the hell you like. . . ." Manteca
When they reached the outskirts of the town, Venancio
walked ahead and knocked at the door of a hut.
"Where's the soldiers' barracks?" he inquired of a man
who came out barefoot, a ragged serape covering his
"Right there, just beyond the Plaza," he answered.
Since nobody knew where the city square was, Venan
cio made him walk ahead to show the way. Trembling
with fear, the poor devil told them they were doing him
a terrible wrong.
"I'm just a poor day laborer, sir; I've got a wife and a
lot of kids."
"What the hell do you think I have, dogs?" Demetrio
scowled. "I've got kids too, see?"
Then he commanded:
"You men keep quiet. Not a sound out of you! And
walk down the middle of the street, single file."
The rectangular church cupola rose above the small
"Here, gentlemen; there's the Plaza beyond the church.
Just walk a bit further and there's the barracks."
He knelt down, then, imploring them to let him go, but
Pancracio, without pausing to reply, struck him across
the chest with his rifle and ordered him to proceed.
"How many soldiers are there?" Luis Cervantes asked.
"I don't want to lie to you, boss, but to tell you the
truth, yes, sir, to tell you God's truth, there's a lot of
them, a whole lot of 'em."
Luis Cervantes turned around to stare at Demetrio,
who feigned momentary deafness.
They were soon in the city square.
A loud volley of rifle shots rang out, deafening them.
Demetrio's horse reared, staggered on its hind legs, bent
its forelegs, and fell to the ground, kicking. The Owl
uttered a piercing cry and fell from his horse which
rushed madly to the center of the square.
Another volley: the guide threw up his arms and fell
on his back without a sound.
With all haste, Anastasio Montañez helped Demetrio
up behind him on his horse; the others retreated, seeking shelter along the walls of the houses.
"Hey, men," said a workman sticking his head out of a
large door, "go for 'em through the back of the chapel.
They're all in there. Cut back through this street, then
turn to the left; you'll reach an alley. Keep on going ahead
until you hit the chapel."
As he spoke a fresh volley of pistol shots, directed
from the neighboring roofs, fell like a rain about them.
"By God," the man said, "those ain't poisonous spiders;
they're only townsmen scared of their own shadow. Come
in here until they stop."
"How many of them are there?" asked Demetrio.
"There were only twelve of them. But last night they
were scared out of their wits so they wired to the town
beyond for help. I don't know how many of them there
are now. Even if there are a hell of a lot of them, it
doesn't cut any ice! Most of them aren't soldiers, you
know, but drafted men; if just one of them starts mutinying, the rest will follow like sheep. My brother was
drafted; they've got him there. I'll go along with you
and signal to him; all of them will desert and follow you.
Then we'll only have the officers to deal with! If you want
to give me a gun or something. . . ."
"No more rifles left, brother. But I guess you can
put these to some use," Anastasio Montañez said, passing
him two hand grenades.
The officer in command of the Federals was a young
coxcomb of a captain with a waxed mustache and blond
hair. As long as he felt uncertain about the strength of the
assailants, he had remained extremely quiet and prudent;
but now that they had driven the rebels back without allowing them a chance to fire a single shot, he waxed bold
and brave. While the soldiers did not dare put out their
heads beyond the pillars of the building, his own shadow
stood against the pale clear dawn, exhibiting his well-built
slender body and his officer's cape bellying in the breeze.
"Ha, I remember our coup d'etat!"
His military career had consisted of the single adven
ture when, together with other students of the Officers'
School, he was involved in the treacherous revolt of Félix Díaz and Huerta against President Madero.
ever the slightest insubordination arose, he invariably recalled his feat at the Ciudadela.
"Lieutenant Campos," he ordered emphatically, "take
a dozen men and wipe out the bandits hiding there! The
curs! They're only brave when it comes to guzzling meat
and robbing a hencoop!"
A workingman appeared at the small door of the spiral
staircase, announcing that the assailants were hidden in
a corral where they might easily be captured. This message came from the citizens keeping watch on housetops.
"I'll go myself and get it over with!" the officer declared impetuously.
But he soon changed his mind. Before he had reached
the door, he retraced his steps.
"Very likely they are waiting for more men and, of
course, it would be wrong for me to abandon my post.
Lieutenant Campos, go there yourself and capture them
dead or alive. We'll shoot them at noon when everybody's coming out of church. Those bandits will see the
example I'll set around here. But if you can't capture
them, Lieutenant, kill them all. Don't leave a man of
them alive, do you understand?"
In high good humor, he began pacing up and down
the room, formulating the official dispatch he would send
off no later than today.
To His Honor the Minister for War,
General A. Blanquet,
I have the honor to inform your Excellency that on the
morning of . . . a rebel army, five hundred strong, commanded by . . . attacked this town, which I am charged
to defend. With such speed as the gravity of the situation
called for, I fortified my post in the town. The battle
lasted two hours. Despite the superiority of the enemy in
men and equipment, I was able to defeat and rout them.
Their casualties were twenty killed and a far greater number of wounded, judging from the trails of blood they left
behind them as they retreated. I am pleased to state there
was no casualty on our side. I have the honor to congratulate Your Excellency upon this new triumph for the
Federal arms. Viva Presidente Huerta! Viva Mexico!
"Well," the young captain mused, "I'll be promoted to
major." He clasped his hands together, jubilant. At this
precise moment, a detonation rang out. His ears buzzed, he—
"If we get through the corral, we can make the alley,
eh?" Demetrio asked.
"That's right," the workman answered. "Beyond the
corral there's a house, then another corral, then there's
Demetrio scratched his head, thoughtfully. This time
his decision was immediate.
"Can you get hold of a crowbar or something like that
to make a hole through the wall?"
"Yes, we'll get anything you want, but . . ."
"But what? Where can we get a crowbar?"
"Everything is right there. But it all belongs to the
Without further ado, Demetrio strode into the shed
which had been pointed out as the tool house.
It was all a matter of a few minutes. Once in the alley,
hugging to the walls, they marched forward in single file
until they reached the rear of the church. Now they had
but a single fence and the rear wall of the chapel to
"God's will be done!" Demetrio said to himself. He was
the first to clamber over.
Like monkeys the others followed him, reaching the
other side with bleeding, grimy hands. The rest was easy.
The deep worn steps along the stonework made their as
cent of the chapel wall swifter. The church vault hid
them from the soldiers.
"Wait a moment, will you?" said the workman. "I'll
go and see where my brother is; I'll let you know and then
you'll get at the officers."
But no one paid the slightest attention to him.
For a second, Demetrio glanced at the soldiers' black
coats hanging on the wall, then at his own men, thick on
the church tower behind the iron rail. He smiled with
satisfaction and turning to his men said:
"Come on, now, boys!"
Twenty bombs exploded simultaneously in the midst
of the soldiers who, awaking terrified out of their sleep,
started up, their eyes wide open. But before they had real
ized their plight, twenty more bombs burst like thunder
upon them leaving a scattering of men killed or maimed.
"Don't do that yet, for God's sake! Don't do it till I
find my brother," the workman implored in anguish.
In vain an old sergeant harangued the soldiers, insult
ing them in the hope of rallying them. For they were rats,
caught in a trap, no more, no less. Some of the soldiers,
attempting to reach the small door by the staircase, fell
to the ground pierced by Demetrio's shots. Others fell at
the feet of these twenty-odd specters, with faces and
breasts dark as iron, clad in long torn trousers of white
cloth which fell to their leather sandals, scattering death
and destruction below them. In the belfry, a few men
struggled to emerge from the pile of dead who had fallen
"It's awful, Chief!" Luis Cervantes cried in alarm.
"We've no more bombs left and we left our guns in the
Smiling, Demetrio drew out a large shining knife. In the
twinkling of an eye, steel flashed in every hand. Some
knives were large and pointed, others wide as the palm
of a hand, others heavy as bayonets.
"The spy!" Luis Cervantes cried triumphantly. "Didn't
I tell you?"
"Don't kill me, Chief, please don't kill me," the old ser
geant implored squirming at the feet of Demetrio, who
stood over him, knife in hand. The victim raised his
wrinkled Indian face; there was not a single gray hair in
his head today. Demetrio recognized the spy who had
lied to him the day before. Terrified, Luis Cervantes
quickly averted his face. The steel blade went crack,
crack, on the old man's ribs. He toppled backward, his
arms spread, his eyes ghastly.
"Don't kill my brother, don't kill him, he's my brother!"
the workman shouted in terror to Pancracio who was
pursuing a soldier. But it was too late. With one thrust,
Pancracio had cut his neck in half, and two streams of
scarlet spurted from the wound.
"Kill the soldiers, kill them all!"
Pancracio and Manteca surpassed the others in the
savagery of their slaughter, and finished up with the
wounded. Montañez, exhausted, let his arm fall; it hung
limp to his side. A gentle expression still filled his glance;
his eyes shone; he was naive as a child, unmoral as a
"Here's one who's not dead yet," Quail shouted.
Pancracio ran up. The little blond captain with curled
mustache turned pale as wax. He stood against the door
to the staircase unable to muster enough strength to take
Pancracio pushed him brutally to the edge of the corridor. A jab with his knee against the captain's thigh—then a sound not unlike a bag of stones falling from the
top of the steeple on the porch of the church.
"My God, you've got no brains!" said Quail. "If I'd
known what you were doing, I'd have kept him for my
self. That was a fine pair of shoes you lost!"
Bending over them, the rebels stripped those among
the soldiers who were best clad, laughing and joking as
they despoiled them. Brushing back his long hair, that
had fallen over his sweating forehead and covered his
eyes, Demetrio said:
"Now let's get those city fellows!"
On the day General Natera began his advance against
the town of Zacatecas, Demetrio with a hundred men went
to meet him at Fresnillo.
The leader received him cordially.
"I know who you are and the sort of men you bring.
I heard about the beatings you gave the Federals from
Tepic to Durango."
Natera shook hands with Demetrio effusively while Luis
"With men like General Natera and Colonel Demetrio
Macias, we'll cover our country with glory."
Demetrio understood the purpose of those words, after
Natera had repeatedly addressed him as "Colonel."
Wine and beer were served; Demetrio and Natera
drank many a toast. Luis Cervantes proposed: "The triumph of our cause, which is the sublime triumph of
Justice, because our ideal—to free the noble, long-suffering
people of Mexico—is about to be realized and because
those men who have watered the earth with their blood
and tears will reap the harvest which is rightfully theirs."
Natera fixed his cruel gaze on the orator, then turned his
back on him to talk to Demetrio. Presently, one of Na
tera's officers, a young man with a frank open face, drew
up to the table and stared insistently at Cervantes.
"Are you Luis Cervantes?"
"Yes. You're Solis, eh?"
"The moment you entered I thought I recognized you.
Well, well, even now I can hardly believe my eyes!"
"It's true enough!"
"Well, but . . . look here, let's have a drink, come
"Hm," Solis went on, offering Cervantes a chair,
"since when have you turned rebel?"
"I've been a rebel the last two months!"
"Oh, I see! That's why you speak with such faith and
enthusiasm about things we all felt when we joined the
"Have you lost your faith or enthusiasm?"
"Look here, man, don't be surprised if I confide in you
right off. I am so anxious to find someone intelligent
among this crowd, that as soon as I get hold of a man
like you I clutch at him as eagerly as I would at a glass
of water, after walking mile after mile through a parched
desert. But frankly, I think you should do the explaining
first. I can't understand how a man who was correspond
ent of a Government newspaper during the Madero regime, and later editorial writer on a Conservative journal, who denounced us as bandits in the most fiery articles, is now fighting on our side."
"I tell you honestly: I have been converted," Cervantes
"Are you absolutely convinced?"
Solis sighed, filled the glasses; they drank.
"What about you? Are you tired of the revolution?"
asked Cervantes sharply.
"Tired? My dear fellow, I'm twenty-five years old and
I'm fit as a fiddle! But am I disappointed? Perhaps!"
"You must have sound reasons for feeling that way."
"I hoped to find a meadow at the end of the road. I
found a swamp. Facts are bitter; so are men. That bitter
ness eats your heart out; it is poison, dry rot. Enthusiasm, hope, ideals, happiness-vain dreams, vain dreams.
. . . When that's over, you have a choice. Either you
turn bandit, like the rest, or the timeservers will swamp
you. . . ."
Cervantes writhed at his friend's words; his argument
was quite out of place . . . painful. . . . To avoid being
forced to take issue, he invited Solis to cite the cir
cumstances that had destroyed his illusions.
"Circumstances? No—it's far less important than that.
It's a host of silly, insignificant things that no one notices
except yourself . . . a change of expression, eyes shining-lips curled in a sneer-the deep import of a phrase
that is lost! Yet take these things together and they com
pose the mask of our race . . . terrible . . . grotesque . . .
a race that awaits redemption!"
He drained another glass. After a long pause, he continued:
"You ask me why I am still a rebel? Well, the revolu
tion is like a hurricane: if you're in it, you're not a man
. . . you're a leaf, a dead leaf, blown by the wind."
Demetrio reappeared. Seeing him, Solis relapsed into
"Come along," Demetrio said to Cervantes. "Come
Unctuously, Solis congratulated Demetrio on the
feats that had won him fame and the notice of Pancho
Villa's northern division.
Demetrio warmed to his praise. Gratefully, he heard his
prowess vaunted, though at times he found it difficult to
believe he was the hero of the exploits the other nar
rated. But Solis' story proved so charming, so convincing, that before long he found himself repeating it
as gospel truth.
"Natera is a genius!" Luis Cervantes said when they had
returned to the hotel. "But Captain Solis is a nobody
. . . a timeserver."
Demetrio Macias was too elated to listen to him.
"I'm a colonel, my lad! And you're my secretary!"
Demetrio's men made many acquaintances that evening; much liquor flowed to celebrate new friendships.
Of course men are not necessarily even tempered, nor is
alcohol a good counselor; quarrels naturally ensued.
Yet many differences that occurred were smoothed out in
a friendly spirit, outside the saloons, restaurants, or brothels.
On the morrow, casualties were reported. Always a few
dead. An old prostitute was found with a bullet through
her stomach; two of Colonel Macias' new men lay in the
gutter, slit from ear to ear.
Anastasio Montañez carried an account of the events
to his chief. Demetrio shrugged his shoulders.
"Bury them!" he said.
"They're coming back!"
It was with amazement that the inhabitants of Fresnillo
learned that the rebel attack on Zacatecas had failed completely.
"They're coming back!"
The rebels were a maddened mob, sunburnt, filthy,
naked. Their high wide-brimmed straw hats hid their
faces. The "high hats" came back as happily as they had
marched forth a few days before, pillaging every hamlet
along the road, every ranch, even the poorest hut.
"Who'll buy this thing?" one of them asked. He had
carried his spoils long: he was tired. The sheen of the
nickel on the typewriter, a new machine, attracted every
glance. Five times that morning the Oliver had changed
hands. The first sale netted the owner ten pesos; presently it had sold for eight; each time it changed hands, it
was two pesos cheaper. To be sure, it was a heavy burden; nobody could carry it for more than a half-hour.
"I'll give you a quarter for it!" Quail said.
"Yours!" cried the owner, handing it over quickly, as
though he feared Quail might change his mind. Thus for
the sum of twenty-five cents, Quail was afforded the pleas
ure of taking it in his hands and throwing it with all his
might against the wall.
It struck with a crash. This gave the signal to all who
carried any cumbersome objects to get rid of them by
smashing them against the rocks. Objects of all sorts,
crystal, china, faience, porcelain, flew through the air.
Heavy, plated mirrors, brass candlesticks, fragile, delicate
statues, Chinese vases, any object not readily convertible
into cash fell by the wayside in fragments.
Demetrio did not share the untoward exaltation. After
all, they were retreating defeated. He called Montañez
and Pancracio aside and said:
"These fellows have no guts. It's not so hard to take a
town. It's like this. First, you open up, this way. . . ."
He sketched a vast gesture, spreading his powerful arms.
"Then you get close to them, like this. . . ." He brought
his arms together, slowly. "Then slam! Bang! Whack!
Crash!" He beat his hands against his chest.
Anastasio and Pancracio, convinced by this simple,
lucid explanation answered:
"That's God's truth! They've no guts! That's the trouble
Demetrio's men camped in a corral.
"Do you remember Camilla?" Demetrio asked with a
sigh as he settled on his back on the manure pile where
the rest were already stretched out.
"Camilla? What girl do you mean, Demetrio?"
"The girl that used to feed me up there at the ranch!"
Anastasio made a gesture implying: "I don't care a
damn about the women ... Camilla or anyone else...."
"I've not forgotten," Demetrio went on, drawing on his
cigarette. "Yes, I was feeling like hell! I'd just finished
drinking a glass of water. God, but it was cool. . . . 'Don't
you want any more?' she asked me. I was half dead with
fever . . . and all the time I saw that glass of water, blue
. . . so blue . . . and I heard her little voice, 'Don't you
want any more?' That voice tinkled in my ears like a
silver hurdy-gurdy! Well, Pancracio, what about it? Shall
we go back to the ranch?"
"Demetrio, we're friends, aren't we? Well then, listen.
You may not believe it, but I've had a lot of experience
with women. Women! Christ, they're all right for a while,
granted! Though even that's going pretty far. Demetrio,
you should see the scars they've given me . . . all over
my body, not to speak of my soul! To hell with women.
They're the devil, that's what they are! You may have
noticed I steer clear of them. You know why. And don't
think I don't know what I'm talking about. I've had a hell
of a lot of experience and that's no lie!"
"What do you say, Pancracio? When are we going back
to the ranch?" Demetrio insisted, blowing gray clouds of
tobacco smoke into the air.
"Say the day, I'm game. You know I left my woman
"Your woman, hell!" Quail said, disgruntled and sleepy.
"All right, then, our woman! It's a good thing you're
kindhearted so we all can enjoy her when you bring her
over," Manteca murmured.
"That's right, Pancracio, bring one-eyed Maria Antonia. We're all getting pretty cold around here," Meco
shouted from a distance.
The crowd broke into peals of laughter. Pancracio and
Manteca vied with each other in calling forth oaths and
"Villa is coming!"
The news spread like lightning. Villa—the magic word!
The Great Man, the salient profile, the unconquerable
warrior who, even at a distance, exerts the fascination of
a reptile, a boa constrictor.
"Our Mexican Napoleon!" exclaimed Luis Cervantes.
"Yes! The Aztec Eagle! He buried his beak of steel
in the head of Huerta the serpent!" Solis, Natera's chief
of staff, remarked somewhat ironically, adding: "At least,
that's how I expressed it in a speech I made at Ciudad Juárez!"
The two sat at the bar of the saloon, drinking beer.
The "high hats," wearing mufflers around their necks and
thick rough leather shoes on their feet, ate and drank
endlessly. Their gnarled hands loomed across table,
across bar. All their talk was of Villa and his men. The
tales Natera's followers related won gasps of astonish
ment from Demetrio's men. Villa! Villa's battles! Ciu
dad Juárez . . . Tierra Blanca . . . Chihuahua . . . Torreón. . . .
The bare facts, the mere citing of observation and ex
perience meant nothing. But the real story, with its extraordinary contrasts of high exploits and abysmal cruelties was quite different. Villa, indomitable lord of the
sierra, the eternal victim of all governments . . . Villa
tracked, hunted down like a wild beast . . . Villa the reincarnation of the old legend; Villa as Providence, the
bandit, that passes through the world armed with the blazing
torch of an ideal: to rob the rich and give to the poor. It
was the poor who built up and imposed a legend about
him which Time itself was to increase and embellish as a
shining example from generation to generation.
"Look here, friend," one of Natera's men told Anastasio, "if General Villa takes a fancy to you, he'll give you
a ranch on the spot. But if he doesn't, he'll shoot
you down like a dog! God! You ought to see Villa's
troops! They're all northerners and dressed like lords!
You ought to see their wide-brimmed Texas hats and their
brand-new outfits and their four-dollar shoes, imported
from the U. S. A."
As they retailed the wonders of Villa and his men,
Natera's men gazed at one another ruefully, aware that
their own hats were rotten from sunlight and moisture,
that their own shirts and trousers were tattered and
barely fit to cover their grimy, lousy bodies.
"There's no such a thing as hunger up there. They
carry boxcars full of oxen, sheep, cows! They've got cars
full of clothing, trains full of guns, ammunition, food
enough to make a man burst!"
Then they spoke of Villa's airplanes.
"Christ, those planes! You know when they're close
to you, be damned if you know what the hell they are!
They look like small boats, you know, or tiny rafts . . .
and then pretty soon they begin to rise, making a hell of
a row. Something like an automobile going sixty miles an
hour. Then they're like great big birds that don't even
seem to move sometimes. But there's a joker! The God
damn things have got some American fellow inside with
hand grenades by the thousand. Now you try and figure
what that means! The fight is on, see? You know how
a farmer feeds corn to his chickens, huh? Well, the American throws his lead bombs at the enemy just like that.
Pretty soon the whole damn field is nothing but a grave
yard . . . dead men all over the dump . . . dead men here
. . . dead men there . . . dead men everywhere!"
Anastasio Montañez questioned the speaker more particularly. It was not long before he realized that all this
high praise was hearsay and that not a single man in
Natera's army had ever laid eyes on Villa.
"Well, when you get down to it, I guess it doesn't mean
so much! No man's got much more guts than any other
man, if you ask me. All you need to be a good fighter is
pride, that's all. I'm not a professional soldier even though
I'm dressed like hell, but let me tell you. I'm not forced
to do this kind of bloody job, because I own . . ."
"Because I own over twenty oxen, whether you believe
it or not!" Quail said, mocking Anastasio.
The firing lessened, then slowly died out. Luis Cervantes, who had been hiding amid a heap of ruins at the
fortification on the crest of the hill, made bold to show
his face. How he had managed to hang on, he did not
know. Nor did he know when Demetrio and his men had
disappeared. Suddenly he had found himself alone; then,
hurled back by an avalanche of infantry, he fell from his
saddle; a host of men trampled over him until he rose
from the ground and a man on horseback hoisted him
up behind him. After a few moments, horse and riders
fell. Left without rifle, revolver, or arms of any kind, Cervantes found himself lost in the midst of white smoke and
whistling bullets. A hole amid a debris of crumbling
stone offered a refuge of safety.
"Luis, how are you!"
"The horse threw me. They fell upon me. Then they
took my gun away. You see, they thought I was dead.
There was nothing I could do!" Luis Cervantes explained
"Nobody threw me down," Solis said. "I'm here because I like to play safe."
The irony in Solis' voice brought a blush to Cervantes' cheek.
"By God, that chief of yours is a man!" Solis said.
"What daring, what assurance! He left me gasping—and a
hell of a lot of other men with more experience than me,
Luis Cervantes vouchsafed no answer.
"What! Weren't you there? Oh, I see! You found a
nice place for yourself at the right time. Come here, Luis,
I'll explain; let's go behind that rock. From this meadow
to the foot of the hill, there's no road save this path be
low. To the right, the incline is too sharp; you can't do
anything there. And it's worse to the left; the ascent is so
dangerous that a second's hesitation means a fall down
those rocks and a broken neck at the end of it. All right!
A number of men from Moya's brigade who went down to
the meadow decided to attack the enemy's trenches the
first chance they got. The bullets whizzed about us, the
battle raged on all sides. For a time they stopped firing,
so we thought they were being attacked from behind. We
stormed their trenches—look, partner, look at that
meadow! It's thick with corpses! Their machine guns did
that for us. They mowed us down like wheat; only a hand
ful escaped. Those Goddamned officers went white as a
sheet; even though we had reinforcements they were
afraid to order a new charge. That was when Demetrio
Macias plunged in. Did he wait for orders? Not he! He
"'Come on, boys! Let's go for them!'
"'Damn fool!' I thought. 'What the hell does he think
"The officers, surprised, said nothing. Demetrio's
horse seemed to wear eagle's claws instead of hoofs, it
soared so swiftly over the rocks. 'Come on! Come on!' his
men shouted, following him like wild deer, horses and
men welded into a mad stampede. Only one young fellow
stepped wild and fell headlong into the pit. In a few sec
onds the others appeared at the top of the hill, storming
the trenches and killing the Federals by the thousand.
With his rope, Demetrio lassoed the machine guns and
carried them off, like a bull herd throwing a steer. Yet his
success could not last much longer, for the Federals
were far stronger in numbers and could easily have de
stroyed Demetrio and his men. But we took advantage of
their confusion, we rushed upon them and they soon
cleared out of their position. That chief of yours is a
Standing on the crest of the hill, they could easily
sight one side of the Bufa peak. Its highest crag spread out
like the feathered head of a proud Aztec king. The three-hundred-foot slope was literally covered with dead, their
hair matted, their clothes clotted with grime and blood.
A host of ragged women, vultures of prey, ranged over
the tepid bodies of the dead, stripping one man bare, de
spoiling another, robbing from a third his dearest pos
Amid clouds of white rifle smoke and the dense black
vapors of flaming buildings, houses with wide doors and
windows bolted shone in the sunlight. The streets seemed
to be piled upon one another, or wound picturesquely
about fantastic corners, or set to scale the hills nearby.
Above the graceful cluster of houses, rose the lithe
columns of a warehouse and the towers and cupola of the
"How beautiful the revolution! Even in its most bar
barous aspect it is beautiful," Solis said with deep feeling. Then a vague melancholy seized him, and speaking
"A pity what remains to do won't be as beautiful! We
must wait a while, until there are no men left to fight
on either side, until no sound of shot rings through the
air save from the mob as carrion-like it falls upon the
booty; we must wait until the psychology of our race, con
densed into two words, shines clear and luminous as a
drop of water: Robbery! Murder! What a colossal failure
we would make of it, friend, if we, who offer our enthu
siasm and lives to crush a wretched tyrant, became the
builders of a monstrous edifice holding one hundred or
two hundred thousand monsters of exactly the same sort.
People without ideals! A tyrant folk! Vain bloodshed!"
Large groups of Federals pushed up the hill, fleeing
from the "high hats." A bullet whistled past them, singing
as it sped. After his speech, Alberto Solis stood lost in
thought, his arms crossed. Suddenly, he took fright.
"I'll be damned if I like these plaguey mosquitoes!" he
said. "Let's get away from here!"
So scornfully Luis Cervantes smiled that Solis sat
down on a rock quite calm, bewildered. He smiled. His
gaze roved as he watched the spirals of smoke from the
rifles, the dust of roofs crumbling from houses as they
fell before the artillery. He believed he discerned the sym
bol of the revolution in these clouds of dust and smoke
that climbed upward together, met at the crest of the hill
and, a moment after, were lost. . . .
"By heaven, now I see what it all means!"
He sketched a vast gesture, pointing to the station.
Locomotives belched huge clouds of black dense smoke
rising in columns; the trains were overloaded with fugi
tives who had barely managed to escape from the cap
Suddenly he felt a sharp blow in the stomach. As though
his legs were putty, he rolled off the rock. His ears
buzzed. . . Then darkness . . . silence . . . eternity. . . .
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