Part 3 out of 3
"You wouldn't do that!"
"Why not? What are we staying on for? . . . What
cause are we defending now?"
"That's something I can't explain, Tenderfoot. But I'm
thinking it wouldn't show much guts."
"Take your choice, General," said Luis Cervantes,
pointing to the jewels which he had set in a row.
"Oh, you keep it all. . . . Certainly! . . . You know, I
don't really care for money at all. I'll tell you the truth!
I'm the happiest man in the world, so long as there's
always something to drink and a nice little wench that
catches my eye. . . ."
"Ha! Ha! You make the funniest jokes, General. Why
do you stand for that snake of a War Paint, then?"
"I'll tell you, Tenderfoot, I'm fed up with her. But
I'm like that: I just can't tell her so. I'm not brave
enough to tell her to go plumb to hell. That's the way
I am, see? When I like a woman, I get plain silly; and
if she doesn't start something, I've not got the courage
to do anything myself." He sighed. "There's Camilla at
the ranch for instance. . . . Now, she's not much on
looks, I know, but there's a woman I'd like to
"Well, General, we'll go and get her any day you
Demetrio winked maliciously.
"I promise you I'll do it."
"Are you sure? Do you really mean it? Look here, if
you pull that off for me, I'll give you the watch and
chain you're hankering after."
Luis Cervantes' eyes shone. He took the phosphate box,
heavy with its contents, and stood up smiling.
"I'll see you tomorrow," he said. "Good night, Gen-
eral! Sleep well."
I don't know any more about it than you do. The
General told me, 'Quail, saddle your horse and my black
mare and follow Cervantes; he's going on an errand for
me.' Well, that's what happened. We left here at noon,
and reached the ranch early that evening. One-eyed
Maria Antonia took us in. . . . She asked after you,
Pancracio. Next morning Luis Cervantes wakes me up.
'Quail, Quail, saddle the horses. Leave me mine but take
the General's mare back to Moyahua. I'll catch up after
a bit.' The sun was high when he arrived with Camilla.
She got off and we stuck her on the General's mare."
"Well, and her? What sort of a face did she make
coming back?" one of the men inquired.
"Hum! She was so damned happy she was gabbing
all the way."
"And the tenderfoot?"
"Just as quiet as he always is, you know him."
"I think," Venancio expressed his opinion with great
seriousness, "that if Camilla woke up in the General's
bed, it was just a mistake. We drank a lot, remember!
That alcohol went to our heads; we must have lost our
"What the hell do you mean: alcohol! It was all
cooked up between Cervantes and the General."
"Certainly! That city dude's nothing but a . . ."
"I don't like to talk about friends behind their backs,"
said Blondie, "but I can tell you this: one of the two
sweethearts he had, one was mine, and the other was
for the General."
They burst into guffaws of laughter.
When War Paint realized what had happened, she
sought out Camilla and spoke with great affection:
"Poor little child! Tell me how all this happened."
Camilla's eyes were red from weeping.
"He lied to me! He lied! He came to the ranch and
he told me, 'Camilla, I came just to get you. Do you
want to go away with me?' You can be sure I wanted
to go with him; when it comes to loving, I adore him.
Yes, I adore him. Look how thin I've grown just pin-
ing away for him. Mornings I used to loathe to grind
corn, Mamma would call me to eat, and anything I
put in my mouth had no taste at all."
Once more she burst into tears, stuffing the corner
of her apron into her mouth to drown her sobs.
"Look here, I'll help you out of this mess. Don't be
silly, child, don't cry. Don't think about the dude any
more! Honest to God, he's not worth it. You surely
know his game, dear? . . . That's the only reason why
the General stands for him. What a goose! . . . All
right, you want to go back home?"
"The Holy Virgin protect me. My mother would beat
me to death!"
"She'll do nothing of the sort. You and I can fix things.
Listen! The soldiers are leaving any moment now. When
Demetrio tells you to get ready, you tell him you feel
pains all over your body as though someone had hit
you; then you lie down and start yawning and shivering.
Then put your hand on your forehead and say, 'I'm
burning up with fever.' I'll tell Demetrio to leave us
both here, that I'll stay to take care of you, that as
soon as you're feeling all right again, we'll catch up with
them. But instead of that, I'll see that you get home
safe and sound."
The sun had set, the town was lost in the drab mel-
ancholy of its ancient streets amid the frightened silence
of its inhabitants, who had retired very early, when Luis
Cervantes reached Primitivo's general store, his arrival
interrupting a party that promised great doings.
Demetrio was engaged in getting drunk with his old
comrades. The entire space before the bar was occupied.
War Paint and Blondie had tied up their horses outside;
but the other officers had stormed in brutally, horses
and all. Embroidered hats with enormous and concave
brims bobbed up and down everywhere. The horses
wheeled about, prancing; tossing their restive heads; their
fine breed showing in their black eyes, their small ears
and dilating nostrils. Over the infernal din of the drunk-
ards, the heavy breathing of the horses, the stamp of
their hoofs on the tiled floor, and occasionally a quick,
nervous whinny rang out.
A trivial episode was being commented upon when
Luis Cervantes came in. A man, dressed in civilian
clothes, with a round, black, bloody hole in his fore-
head, lay stretched out in the middle of the street, his
mouth gaping. Opinion was at first divided but finally
all concurred with Blondie's sound reasoning. The poor
dead devil lying out there was the church sexton. . . .
But what an idiot! His own fault, of course! Who in
the name of hell could be so foolish as to dress like a
city dude, with trousers, coat, cap, and all? Pancracio
simply could not bear the sight of a city man in front
of him! And that was that!
Eight musicians, playing wind instruments, interrupted
their labors at Cervantes' command. Their faces were
round and red as suns, their eyes popping, for they had
been blowing on their brass instruments since dawn.
"General," Luis said pushing his way through the men
on horseback, "a messenger has arrived with orders to
proceed immediately to the pursuit and capture of
Orozco and his men."
Faces that had been dark and gloomy were now il-
lumined with joy.
"To Jalisco, boys!" cried Blondie, pounding on the
"Make ready, all you darling Jalisco girls of my heart,
for I'm coming along too!" Quail shouted, twisting back
the brim of his hat.
The enthusiasm and rejoicing were general. Demetrio's
friends, in the excitement of drunkenness, offered their
services. Demetrio was so happy that he could scarcely
speak. They were going to fight Orozco and his men!
At last, they would pit themselves against real men! At
last they would stop shooting down the Federals like so
many rabbits or wild turkeys.
"If I could get hold of Orozco alive," Blondie said,
"I'd rip off the soles of his feet and make him walk
twenty-four hours over the sierra!"
"Was that the guy who killed Madero?" asked Meco.
"No," Blondie replied solemnly, "but once when I was
a waiter at 'El Monico,' up in Chihuahua, he hit me
in the face!"
"Give Camilla the roan mare," Demetrio ordered Pan-
cracio, who was already saddling the horses.
"Camilla can't go!" said War Paint promptly.
"Who in hell asked for your opinion?" Demetrio re-
"It's true, isn't it, Camilla? You were sore all over,
weren't you? And you've got a fever right now?"
"Well--anything Demetrio says."
"Don't be a fool! say 'No,' come on, say 'No,"' War
Paint whispered nervously into Camilla's ear.
"I'll tell you, War Paint. . . . It's funny, but I'm be-
ginning to fall for him. . . . Would you believe it!" Ca-
milla whispered back.
War Paint turned purple, her cheeks swelled. Without
a word she went out to get her horse that Blondie was
A whirlwind of dust, scorching down the road, sud-
denly broke into violent diffuse masses; and Demetrio's
army emerged, a chaos of horses, broad chests, tangled
manes, dilated nostrils, oval, wide eyes, hoofs flying in the
air, legs stiffened from endless galloping; and of men
with bronze faces, ivory teeth, and flashing eyes, their
rifles in their hands or slung across the saddles.
Demetrio and Camilla brought up the rear. She was
still nervous, white-lipped and parched; he was angry
at their futile maneuver. For there had been battles, no
followers of Orozco's to be seen. A handful of Federals,
routed. A poor devil of a priest left dangling from a
mesquite; a few dead, scattered over the field, who had
once been united under the archaic slogan, RIGHTS AND
RELIGION, with, on their breasts, the red cloth insignia:
Halt! The Sacred Heart of Jesus is with me!
"One good thing about it is that I've collected all
my back pay," Quail said, exhibiting some gold watches
and rings stolen from the priest's house.
"It's fun fighting this way," Manteca cried, spicing
every other word with an oath. "You know why the hell
you're risking your hide."
In the same hand with which he held the reins, he
clutched a shining ornament that he had torn from one
of the holy statues.
After Quail, an expert in such matters, had examined
Manteca's treasure covetously, he uttered a solemn
"Hell, Your ornament is nothing but tin!"
"Why in hell are you hanging on to that poison?"
Pancracio asked Blondie who appeared dragging a pris-
"Do you want to know why? Because it's a long time
since I've had a good look at a man's face when a rope
tightens around his neck!"
The fat prisoner breathed with difficulty as he fol-
lowed Blondie on foot; his face was sunburnt, his eyes
red; his forehead beaded with sweat, his wrists tightly
"Here, Anastasio, lend me your lasso. Mine's not
strong enough; this bird will bust it. No, by God, I've
changed my mind, friend Federal: think I'll kill you on
the spot, because you are pulling too hard. Look, all the
mesquites are still a long way off and there are no tele-
graph poles to hang you to!"
Blondie pulled his gun out, pressed the muzzle against
the prisoner's chest and brought his finger against the
trigger slowly . . . slowly. . . . The prisoner turned pale
as a corpse; his face lengthened; his eyelids were fixed
in a glassy stare. He breathed in agony, his whole body
shook as with ague. Blondie kept his gun in the same
position for a moment long as all eternity. His eyes
shone queerly. An expression of supreme pleasure lit up
his fat puffy face.
"No, friend Federal," he drawled, putting back his
gun into the holster; "I'm not going to kill you just yet.
. . . I'll make you my orderly. You'll see that I'm not so
Slyly he winked at his companions. The prisoner had
turned into an animal; he gulped, panting, dry-mouthed.
Camilla, who had witnessed the scene, spurred her horse
and caught up with Demetrio.
"What a brute that Blondie is: you ought to see what
he did to a wretched prisoner," she said. Then she told
Demetrio what had occurred. The latter wrinkled his
brow but made no answer.
War Paint called Camilla aside.
"Hey you . . . what are you gobbling about? Blondie's
my man, understand? From now on, you know how
things are: whatever you've got against him you've got
against me too! I'm warning you."
Camilla, frightened, hurried back to Demetrio's side.
The men camped in a meadow, near three small
lone houses standing in a row, their white walls cutting
the purple fringe of the horizon. Demetrio and Camilla
rode toward them. Inside the corral a man, clad in shirt
and trousers of cheap white cloth, sat greedily puffing at
a cornhusk cigarette. Another man sitting beside him
on a flat cut stone was shelling corn. Kicking the air
with one dry, withered leg, the extremity of which was
like a goat's hoof, he frightened the chickens away.
"Hurry up, 'Pifanio," said the man who was smoking,
"the sun has gone down already and you haven't taken
the animals to water."
A horse neighed outside the corral; both men glanced
up in amazement. Demetrio and Camilla were looking
over the corral wall at them.
"I just want a place to sleep for my woman and me,"
Demetrio said reassuringly.
As he explained that he was the chief of a small
army which was to camp nearby that night, the man
smoking, who owned the place, bid them enter with great
deference. He ran to fetch a broom and a pail of water
to dust and wash the best corner of the hut as decent
lodging for his distinguished guests.
"Here, 'Pifanio, go out there and unsaddle the horses."
The man who was shelling corn stood up with an
effort. He was clad in a tattered shirt and vest. His
torn trousers, split at the seam, looked like the wings of
a cold, stricken bird; two strings of cloth dangled from
his waist. As he walked, he described grotesque circles.
"Surely you're not fit to do any work!" Demetrio said,
refusing to allow him to touch the saddles.
"Poor man," the owner cried from within the hut,
"he's lost all his strength. . . . But he surely works for
his pay. . . . He starts working the minute God Almighty
himself gets up, and it's after sundown now but he's
Demetrio went out with Camilla for a stroll about
the encampment. The meadow, golden, furrowed, stripped
even of the smallest bushes, extended limitless in its im-
mense desolation. The three tall ash trees which stood
in front of the small house, with dark green crests, round
and waving, with rich foliage and branches drooping to
the very ground, seemed a veritable miracle.
"I don't know why but I feel there's a lot of sadness
around here," said Demetrio.
"Yes," Camilla answered, "I feel that way too."
On the bank of a small stream, 'Pifanio was strenu-
ously tugging at a rope with a large can tied to the end
of it. He poured a stream of water over a heap of fresh,
cool grass; in the twilight, the water glimmered like crys-
tal. A thin cow, a scrawny nag, and a burro drank noisily
Demetrio recognized the limping servant and asked
him: "How much do you get a day?"
"Eight cents a day, boss."
He was an insignificant, scrofulous wraith of a man
with green eyes and straight, fair hair. He whined com-
plaint of his boss, the ranch, his bad luck, his dog's life.
"You certainly earn your pay all right, my lad," De-
metrio interrupted kindly. "You complain and complain,
but you aren't no loafer, you work and work." Then,
aside to Camilla: "There's always more damned fools in
the valley than among us folk in the sierra, don't you
"Of course!" she replied.
They went on. The valley was lost in darkness; stars
came out. Demetrio put his arm around Camilla's waist
amorously and whispered in her ear.
"Yes," she answered in a faint voice.
She was indeed beginning to "fall for him" as she had
Demetrio slept badly. He flung out of the house very
"Something is going to happen to me," he thought.
It was a silent dawn, with faint murmurs of joy. A
thrush sang timidly in one of the ash trees. The animals
in the corral trampled on the refuse. The pig grunted its
somnolence. The orange tints of the sun streaked the
sky; the last star flickered out.
Demetrio walked slowly to the encampment.
He was thinking of his plow, his two black oxen--
young beasts they were, who had worked in the fields
only two years--of his two acres of well-fertilized corn.
The face of his young wife came to his mind, clear and
true as life: he saw her strong, soft features, so gracious
when she smiled on her husband, so proudly fierce to-
ward strangers. But when he tried to conjure up the
image of his son, his efforts were vain; he had for-
gotten. . . .
He reached the camp. Lying among the farrows, the
soldiers slept with the horses, heads bowed, eyes closed.
"Our horses are pretty tired, Anastasio. I think we
ought to stay here at least another day."
"Well, Compadre Demetrio, I'm hankering for the
sierra. . . . If you only knew. . . . You may not believe
me but nothing strikes me right here. I don't know what
I miss but I know I miss something. I feel sad . . .
lost. . . ."
"How many hours' ride from here to Limon?"
"It's no matter of hours; it's three days' hard riding,
"You know," Demetrio said softly, "I feel as though
I'd like to see my wife again!"
Shortly after, War Paint sought out Camilla.
"That's one on you, my dear. . . . Demetrio's going to
leave you flat! He told me so himself; 'I'm going to get
my real woman,' he says, and he says, 'Her skin is white
and tender . . . and her rosy cheeks. . . . How beautiful
she is!' But you don't have to leave him, you know; if
you're set on staying, well--they've got a child, you know,
and I suppose you could drag it around. . . ."
When Demetrio returned, Camilla, weeping, told him
"Don't pay no attention to that crazy baggage. It's all
Since Demetrio did not go to Limon or remember his
wife again, Camilla grew very happy. War Paint had
merely stung herself, like a scorpion.
Before dawn, they left for Tepatitlan. Their sil-
houettes wavered indistinctly over the road and the fields
that bordered it, rising and falling with the monotonous,
rhythmical gait of their horses, then faded away in the
nacreous light of the swooning moon that bathed the
Dogs barked in the distance.
"By noon we'll reach Tepatitlan, Cuquio tomorrow,
and then . . . on to the sierra!" Demetrio said.
"Don't you think it advisable to go to Aguascalientes
first, General?" Luis Cervantes asked.
"Our funds are melting slowly."
"Nonsense . . . forty thousand pesos in eight days!"
"Well, you see, just this week we recruited over five
hundred new men; all the money's gone in advance loans
and gratuities," Luis Cervantes answered in a low voice.
"No! We'll go straight to the sierra. We'll see later
"Yes, to the sierra!" many of the men shouted.
"To the sierra! To the sierra! Hurrah for the moun-
The plains seemed to torture them; they spoke with
enthusiasm, almost with delirium, of the sierra. They
thought of the mountains as of a most desirable mistress
long since unvisited.
Dawn broke behind a cloud of fine reddish dust; the
sun rose an immense curtain of fiery purple. Luis Cer-
vantes pulled his reins and waited for Quail.
"What's the last word on our deal, Quail?"
"I told you, Tenderfoot: two hundred for the watch
"No! I'll buy the lot: watches, rings, everything else.
Quail hesitated, turned slightly pale; then he cried
"Two thousand in bills, for the whole business!"
Luis Cervantes gave himself away. His eyes shone
with such an obvious greed that Quail recanted and
"Oh, I was just fooling you. I won't sell nothing! Just
the watch, see? And that's only because I owe Pancracio
two hundred. He beat me at cards last night!"
Luis Cervantes pulled out four crisp "double-face" bills
of Villa's issue and placed them in Quail's hands.
"I'd like to buy the lot. . . . Besides, nobody will offer
you more than that!"
As the sun began to beat down upon them, Manteca
"Ho, Blondie, your orderly says he doesn't care to go
on living. He says he's too damned tired to walk."
The prisoner had fallen in the middle of the road, ut-
"Well, well!" Blondie shouted, retracing his steps. "So
little mama's boy is tired, eh? Poor little fellow. I'll buy
a glass case and keep you in a corner of my house just
as if you were the Virgin Mary's own little son. You've
got to reach home first, see? So I'll help you a little,
He drew his sword out and struck the prisoner several
"Let's have a look at your rope, Pancracio," he said.
There was a strange gleam in his eyes. Quail observed
that the prisoner no longer moved arm or leg. Blondie
burst into a loud guffaw: "The Goddamned fool. Just as
I was learning him to do without food, too!"
"Well, mate, we're almost to Guadalajara," Venancio
said, glancing over the smiling row of houses in Tepatit-
lan nestling against the hillside.
They entered joyously. From every window rosy
cheeks, dark luminous eyes observed them. The schools
were quickly converted into barracks; Demetrio found
lodging in the chapel of an abandoned church.
The soldiers scattered about as usual pretending to
seek arms and horses, but in reality for the sole purpose
In the afternoon some of Demetrio's men lay stretched
out on the church steps, scratching their bellies. Venan-
cio, his chest and shoulders bare, was gravely occupied
in killing the fleas in his shirt. A man drew near the wall
and sought permission to speak to the commander. The
soldiers raised their heads; but no one answered.
"I'm a widower, gentlemen. I've got nine children and
I barely make a living with the sweat of my brow. Don't
be hard on a poor widower!"
"Don't you worry about women, Uncle," said Meco,
who was rubbing his feet with tallow, "we've got War
Paint here with us; you can have her for nothing."
The man smiled bitterly.
"She's only got one fault," Pancracio observed,
stretched out on the ground, staring at the blue sky,
"she goes mad over any man she sees."
They laughed loudly; but Venancio with utmost gravity
pointed to the chapel door. The stranger entered timidly
and confided his troubles to Demetrio. The soldiers had
cleaned him out; they had not left a single grain of corn.
"Why did you let them?" Demetrio asked indolently.
The man persisted, lamenting and weeping. Luis Cer-
vantes was about to throw him out with an insult. But
"Come on, Demetrio, don't be harsh, give him an order
to get his corn back."
Luis Cervantes was obliged to obey; he scrawled a few
lines to which Demetrio appended an illegible scratch.
"May God repay you, my child! God will lead you to
heaven that you may enjoy his glory. Ten bushels of corn
are barely enough for this year's food!" the man cried,
weeping for gratitude. Then he took the paper, kissed
everybody's hand, and withdrew.
They had almost reached Cuquio, when Anastasio
Montanez rode up to Demetrio: "Listen, Compadre, I
almost forgot to tell you. . . . You ought to have seen
the wonderful joke that man Blondie played. You know
what he did with the old man who came to complain
about the corn we'd taken away for horses? Well, the
old man took the paper and went to the barracks. 'Right
you are, brother, come in,' said Blondie, 'come in, come
in here; to give you back what's yours is only the right
thing to do. How many bushels did we steal? Ten? Sure
it wasn't more than ten? . . . That's right, about fifteen,
eh? Or was it twenty, perhaps? . . . Try and remember,
friend. . . . Of course you're a poor man, aren't you, and
you've a lot of kids to raise. . . . Yes, twenty it was. All
right, now! It's not ten or fifteen or twenty I'm going to
give you. You're going to count for yourself. . . . One,
two, three . . . and when you've had enough you just tell
me and I'll stop.' And Blondie pulled out his sword and
beat him till he cried for mercy."
War Paint rocked in her saddle, convulsed with mirth.
Camilla, unable to control herself, blurted out:
"The beast! His heart's rotten to the core! No wonder
I loathe him!"
At once War Paint's expression changed.
"What the hell is it to you!" she scowled. Camilla,
frightened, spurred her horse forward. War Paint did like-
wise and, as she trotted past Camilla, suddenly she
reached out, seized the other's hair and pulled with all
her might. Camilla's horse shied; Camilla, trying to brush
her hair back from over her eyes, abandoned the reins.
She hesitated, lost her balance and fell in the road, striking
her forehead against the stones.
War Paint, weeping with laughter, pressed on with ut-
most skill and caught Camilla's horse.
"Come on, Tenderfoot; here's a job for you," Pan-
cracio said as he saw Camilla on Demetrio's saddle, her
face covered with blood.
Luis Cervantes hurried toward her with some cotton;
but Camilla, choking down her sobs and wiping her eyes,
"Not from you! If I was dying, I wouldn't accept any-
thing from you . . . not even water."
In Cuquio Demetrio received a message.
"We've got to go back to Tepatitlan, General," said
Luis Cervantes, scanning the dispatch rapidly. "You've
got to leave the men there while you go to Lagos and take
the train over to Aguascalientes."
There was much heated protest, the men muttering to
themselves or even groaning out loud. Some of them,
mountaineers, swore that they would not continue with
Camilla wept all night. On the morrow at dawn, she
begged Demetrio to let her return home.
"If you don't like me, all right," he answered sullenly.
"That's not the reason. I care for you a lot, really.
But you know how it is. That woman . . ."
"Never mind about her. It's all right! I'll send her off to
hell today. I had already decided that."
Camilla dried her tears. . . .
Every horse was saddled; the men were waiting only
for orders from the Chief. Demetrio went up to War
Paint and said under his breath:
"You're not coming with us."
"What!" she gasped.
"You're going to stay here or go wherever you damn
well please, but you're not coming along with us."
"What? What's that you're saying?" Still she could not
catch Demetrio's meaning. Then the truth dawned upon
her. "You want to send me away? By God, I suppose you
believe all the filth that bitch . . . "
And War Paint proceeded to insult Camilla, Luis Cer-
vantes, Demetrio, and anyone she happened to remem-
ber at the moment, with such power and originality that
the soldiers listened in wonder to vituperation that trans-
cended their wildest dream of profanity and filth.
Demetrio waited a long time patiently. Then, as she
showed no sign of stopping, he said to a soldier quite
"Throw this drunken woman out."
"Blondie, Blondie, love of my life! Help! Come and
show them you're a real man! Show them they're nothing
but sons of bitches! . . ."
She gesticulated, kicked, and shouted.
Blondie appeared; he had just got up. His blue eyes
blinked under heavy lids; his voice rang hoarse. He asked
what had occurred; someone explained. Then he went
up to War Paint, and with great seriousness, said:
"Yes? Really? Well, if you want my opinion, I think
this is just what ought to happen. So far as I'm con-
cerned, you can go straight to hell. We're all fed up
with you, see?"
War Paint's face turned to granite; she tried to speak
but her muscles were rigid.
The soldiers laughed. Camilla, terrified, held her breath.
War Paint stared slowly at everyone about her. It all
took no more than a few seconds. In a trice she bent
down, drew a sharp, gleaming dagger from her stocking
and leapt at Camilla.
A shrill cry. A body fell, the blood spurting from it.
"Kill her, Goddamn it," cried Demetrio, beyond him-
self. "Kill her!"
Two soldiers fell upon War Paint, but she brandished
her dagger, defying them to touch her:
"Not the likes of you, Goddamn you! Kill me your-
War Paint stepped forward, surrendered her dagger
and, thrusting her breast forward, let her arms fall to
Demetrio picked up the dagger, red with blood, but
his eyes clouded; he hesitated, took a step backward.
Then, with a heavy hoarse voice he growled, enraged:
"Get out of here! Quick!"
No one dared stop her. She moved off slowly, mute,
Blondie's shrill, guttural voice broke the silent stupor:
"Thank God! At last I'm rid of that damned louse!"
Someone plunged a knife
Deep in my side.
Did he know why?
I don't know why.
Maybe he knew,
I never knew.
The blood flowed out
Of that mortal wound.
Did he know why?
I don't know why.
Maybe he knew,
I never knew.
His head lowered, his hands crossed over the pommel
of his saddle, Demetrio in melancholy accents sang the
strains of the intriguing song. Then he fell silent; for
quite a while he continued to feel oppressed and sad.
"You'll see, as soon as we reach Lagos you'll come out
of it, General. There's plenty of pretty girls to give us a
good time," Blondie said.
"Right now I feel like getting damn drunk," Deme-
trio answered, spurring his horse forward and leaving
them as if he wished to abandon himself entirely to his
After many hours of riding he called Cervantes.
"Listen, Tenderfoot, why in hell do we have to go to
"You have to vote for the Provisional President of the
"President, what? Who in the devil, then, is this man
Carranza? I'll be damned if I know what it's all about."
At last they reached Lagos. Blondie bet that he would
make Demetrio laugh that evening.
Trailing his spurs noisily over the pavement, Deme-
trio entered "El Cosmopolita" with Luis Cervantes,
Blondie, and his assistants.
The civilians, surprised in their attempt to escape, re-
mained where they were. Some feigned to return to their
tables to continue drinking and talking; others hesitantly
stepped up to present their respects to the commander.
"General, so pleased! . . . Major! Delighted to meet you!"
"That's right! I love refined and educated friends,"
Blondie said. "Come on, boys," he added, jovially draw-
ing his gun, "I'm going to play a tune that'll make you
A bullet ricocheted on the cement floor passing be-
tween the legs of the tables, and the smartly dressed
young men-about-town began to jump much as a woman
jumps when frightened by a mouse under her skirt. Pale
as ghosts, they conjured up wan smiles of obsequious ap-
proval. Demetrio barely parted his lips, but his followers
doubled over with laughter.
"Look, Blondie," Quail shouted, "look at that man
going out there. Look, he's limping."
"I guess the bee stung him all right."
Blondie, without turning to look at the wounded man,
announced with enthusiasm that he could shoot off the
top of a tequila bottle at thirty paces without aiming.
"Come on, friend, stand up," he said to the waiter.
He dragged him out by the hand to the patio of the
hotel and set a tequila bottle on his head. The poor
devil refused. Insane with fright, he sought to escape,
but Blondie pulled his gun and took aim.
"Come on, you son of a sea cook! If you keep on
I'll give you a nice warm one!"
Blondie went to the opposite wall, raised his gun and
fired. The bottle broke into bits, the alcohol poured over
the lad's ghastly face.
"Now it's a go," cried Blondie, running to the bar to
get another bottle, which he placed on the lad's head.
He returned to his former position, he whirled about,
and shot without aiming. But he hit the waiter's ear in-
stead of the bottle. Holding his sides with laughter, he
said to the young waiter:
"Here, kid, take these bills. It ain't much. But you'll
be all right with some alcohol and arnica."
After drinking a great deal of alcohol and beer, Deme-
"Pay the bill, Blondie, I'm going to leave you."
"I ain't got a penny, General, but that's all right. I'll
fix it. How much do we owe you, friend?"
"One hundred and eighty pesos, Chief," the bartender
Quickly, Blondie jumped behind the bar and with a
sweep of both arms, knocked down all the glasses and
"Send the bill to General Villa, understand?"
He left, laughing loudly at his prank.
"Say there, you, where do the girls hang out?"
Blondie asked, reeling up drunkenly toward a small well-
dressed man, standing at the door of a tailor shop.
The man stepped down to the sidewalk politely to let
Blondie stopped and looked at him curiously, im-
"Little boy, you're very small and dainty, ain't you?
. . . No? . . . Then I'm a liar! . . . That's right! . . . You
know the puppet dance. . . . You don't? The hell you
don't! . . . I met you in a circus! I know you can even
dance on a tightrope! . . . You watch!"
Blondie drew his gun out and began to shoot, aiming
at the tailor's feet; the tailor gave a little jump at every
pull of the trigger.
"See! You do know how to dance on the tightrope,
Taking his friends by the arm, he ordered them to
lead him to the red-light district, punctuating every step
by a shot which smashed a street light, or struck some
wall, a door, or a distant house.
Demetrio left him and returned to the hotel, singing
"Someone plunged a knife
Deep in my side.
Did he know why?
I don't know why.
Maybe he knew,
I never knew."
Stale cigarette smoke, the acrid odors of sweaty
clothing, the vapors of alcohol, the breathing of a
crowded multitude, worse by far than a trainful of pigs.
Texas hats, adorned with gold braid, and khaki pre-
dominate. "Gentlemen, a well-dressed man stole my suit-
case in the station. My life's savings! I haven't enough
to feed my little boy now!"
The shrill voice, rising to a shriek or trailing off into
a sob, is drowned out by the tumult within the train.
"What the hell is the old woman talking about?"
Blondie asks, entering in search of a seat.
"Something about a suitcase . . . and a well-dressed
man," Pancracio replies. He has already the laps of two
civilians to sit on.
Demetrio and the others elbow their way in. Since
those on whom Pancracio had sat preferred to stand up,
Demetrio and Luis Cervantes quickly seize the vacant
Suddenly a woman who has stood up holding a child
all the way from Irapuato, faints. A civilian takes the
child in his arms. The others pretend to have seen noth-
ing. Some women, traveling with the soldiers, occupy two
or three seats with baggage, dogs, cats, parrots. Some
of the men wearing Texan hats laugh at the plump arms
and pendulous breasts of the woman who fainted.
"Gentlemen, a well-dressed man stole my suitcase at
the station in Silao! All my life's savings . . . I haven't
got enough to feed my little boy now! . . ."
The old woman speaks rapidly, parrotlike, sighing and
sobbing. Her sharp eyes peer about on all sides. Here
she gets a bill, and further on, another. They shower
money upon her. She finishes the collection, and goes a
few seats ahead.
"Gentlemen, a well-dressed man stole my suitcase in
the station at Silao." Her words produce an immediate
and certain effect.
A well-dressed man, a dude, a tenderfoot, stealing a
suitcase! Amazing, phenomenal! It awakens a feeling of
universal indignation. It's a pity: if this well-dressed man
were here every one of the generals would shoot him
one after the other!
"There's nothing as vile as a city dude who steals!"
a man says, exploding with indignation.
"To rob a poor old lady!"
"To steal from a poor defenseless woman!"
They prove their compassion by word and deed: a
harsh verdict against the culprit; a five-peso bill for the
"And I'm telling you the truth," Blondie declares.
"Don't think it's wrong to kill, because when you kill,
it's always out of anger. But stealing--Bah!"
This profound piece of reasoning meets with unani-
mous assent. After a short silence while he meditates,
a colonel ventures his opinion:
"Everything is all right according to something, see?
That is, everything has its circumstances, see? God's own
truth is this: I have stolen, and if I say that everyone
here has done the trick, I'm not telling a lie, I reckon! "
"Hell, I stole a lot of them sewing machines in Mex-
ico," exclaims a major. "I made more'n five hundred
pesos even though I sold them at fifty cents apiece!"
A toothless captain, with hair prematurely white, an-
"I stole some horses in Zacatecas, all damn fine horses
they was, and then I says to myself, 'This is your own
little lottery, Pascual Mata,' I says. 'You won't have a
worry in all your life after this.' And the damned thing
about it was that General Limon took a fancy to the
horses too, and he stole them from me!"
"Of course--there's no use denying it, I've stolen too,"
Blondie confesses. "But ask any one of my partners
how much profit I've got. I'm a big spender and my
Purse is my friends' to have a good time on! I have
a better time if I drink myself senseless than I would
have sending money back home to the old woman!"
The subject of "I stole," though apparently inexhausti-
ble, ceases to hold the men's attention. Decks of cards
gradually appear on the seats, drawing generals and of-
ficers as the light draws mosquitoes.
The excitement of gambling soon absorbs every in-
terest, the heat grows more and more intense. To breathe
is to inhale the air of barracks, prison, brothel, and
pigsty all in one.
And rising above the babble, from the car ahead ever
the shrill voice, "Gentlemen, a well-dressed young man
stole . . ."
The streets in Aguascalientes were so many refuse
piles. Men in khaki moved to and fro like bees before
their hive, overrunning the restaurants, the crapulous
lunch houses, the parlous hotels, and the stands of the
street vendors on which rotten pork lay alongside grimy
The smell of these viands whetted the appetites of
Demetrio and his men. They forced their way into a
small inn, where a disheveled old hag served, on earthen-
ware plates, some pork with bones swimming in a clear
chili stew and three tough burnt tortillas. They paid two
pesos apiece; as they left Pancracio assured his comrades
he was hungrier than when he entered.
"Now," said Demetrio, "we'll go and consult with
They made for the northern leader's billet.
A noisy, excited crowd stopped them at a street cross-
ing. A man, lost in the multitude, was mouthing words
in the monotonous, unctuous tones of a prayer. They
came up close enough to see him distinctly; he wore a
shirt and trousers of cheap white cloth and was repeat-
"All good Catholics should read this prayer to Christ
Our Lord upon the Cross with due devotion. Thus they
will be immune from storms and pestilence, famine, and
"This man's no fool," said Demetrio smiling.
The man waved a sheaf of printed handbills in his
hand and cried:
"A quarter of a peso is all you have to pay for this
prayer to Christ Our Lord upon the Cross. A quarter . . ."
Then he would duck for a moment, to reappear with
a snake's tooth, a sea star, or the skeleton of a fish.
In the same predicant tone, he lauded the medical virtues
and the mystical powers of every article he sold.
Quail, who had no faith in Venancio, requested the
man to pull a tooth out. Blondie purchased a black seed
from a certain fruit which protected the possessor from
lightning or any other catastrophe. Anastasio Montanez
purchased a prayer to Christ Our Lord upon the Cross,
and, folding it carefully, stuck it into his shirt with a
"As sure as there's a God in heaven," Natera said,
"this mess hasn't blown over yet. Now it's Villa fighting
Without answering him, his eyes fixed in a stare,
Demetrio demanded a further explanation.
"It means," Natera said, "that the Convention won't
recognize Carranza as First Chief of the Constitutionalist
Army. It's going to elect a Provisional President of the
Republic. Do you understand me, General?"
Demetrio nodded assent.
"What's your opinion, General?" asked Natera.
Demetrio shrugged his shoulders:
"It seems to me that the meat of the matter is that
we've got to go on fighting, eh? All right! Let's go to it!
I'm game to the end, you know."
"Good, but on what side?"
Demetrio, nonplussed, scratched his head:
"Look here, don't ask me any more questions. I never
went to school, you know. . . . You gave me the eagle
I wear on my hat, didn't you? All right then; you just
tell me: 'Demetrio, do this or do that,' and that's all
there's to it!"
"Villa? Obregon? Carranza? What's the difference? I love
the revolution like a volcano in eruption; I love the volcano,
because it's a volcano, the revolution, because it's the revolution!"
El Paso, Texas, May 16, 1915
My Dear Venancio:
Due to the pressure of professional duties I have
been unable to answer your letter of January 4 before
now. As you already know, I was graduated last De-
cember. I was sorry to hear of Pancracio's and Manteca's
fate, though I am not surprised that they stabbed each
other over the gambling table. It is a pity; they were
both brave men. I am deeply grieved not to be able to
tell Blondie how sincerely and heartily I congratulate
him for the only noble and beautiful thing he ever did
in his whole life: to have shot himself!
Dear Venancio, although you may have enough money
to purchase a degree, I am afraid you won't find it
very easy to become a doctor in this country. You know
I like you very much, Venancio; and I think you de-
serve a better fate. But I have an idea which may prove
profitable to both of us and which may improve your
social position, as you desire. We could do a fine busi-
ness here if we were to go in as partners and set up a
typical Mexican restaurant in this town. I have no re-
serve funds at the moment since I've spent all I had in
getting my college degree, but I have something much
more valuable than money; my perfect knowledge of this
town and its needs. You can appear as the owner; we
will make a monthly division of profits. Besides, con-
cerning a question that interests us both very much,
namely, your social improvement, it occurs to me that
you play the guitar quite well. In view of the recom-
mendations I could give you and in view of your train-
ing as well, you might easily be admitted as a member
of some fraternal order; there are several here which
would bring you no inconsiderable social prestige.
Don't hesitate, Venancio, come at once and bring
your funds. I promise you we'll get rich in no time. My
best wishes to the General, to Anastasio, and the rest
of the boys.
Your affectionate friend,
Venancio finished reading the letter for the hundredth
time and, sighing, repeated:
"Tenderfoot certainly knows how to pull the strings
"What I can't get into my head," observed Anastasio
Montanez, "is why we keep on fighting. Didn't we finish
off this man Huerta and his Federation?"
Neither the General nor Venancio answered; but the
same thought kept beating down on their dull brains like
a hammer on an anvil.
They ascended the steep hill, their heads bowed, pen-
sive, their horses walking at a slow gait. Stubbornly
restless, Anastasio made the same observation to other
groups; the soldiers laughed at his candor. If a man has
a rifle in his hands and a beltful of cartridges, surely he
should use them. That means fighting. Against whom?
For whom? That is scarcely a matter of importance.
The endless wavering column of dust moved up the
trail, a swirling ant heap of broad straw sombreros, dirty
khaki, faded blankets, and black horses. . . .
Not a man but was dying of thirst; no pool or stream
or well anywhere along the road. A wave of dust rose
from the white, wild sides of a small canyon, swayed
mistily on the hoary crest of huizache trees and the green-
ish stumps of cactus. Like a jest, the flowers in the cac-
tus opened out, fresh, solid, aflame, some thorny, others
At noon they reached a hut, clinging to the precipi-
tous sierra, then three more huts strewn over the margin
of a river of burnt sand. Everything was silent, desolate.
As soon as they saw men on horseback, the people in
the huts scurried into the hills to hide. Demetrio grew
"Bring me anyone you find hiding or running away,"
he commanded in a loud voice.
"What? What did you say?" Valderrama cried in sur-
prise. "The men of the sierra? Those brave men who've
not yet done what those chickens down in Aguascalientes
and Zacatecas have done all the time? Our own brothers,
who weather storms, who cling to the rocks like moss
itself ? I protest, sir; I protest!"
He spurred his miserable horse forward and caught
up with the General.
"The mountaineers," he said solemnly and emphati-
cally, "are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. Os ex
osibus meis et caro de carne mea. Mountaineers are made
from the same timber we're made of! Of the same sound
timber from which heroes . . ."
With a confidence as sudden as it was courageous,
he hit the General across the chest. The General smiled
Valderrama, the tramp, the crazy maker of verses, did
he ever know what he said?
When the soldiers reached a small ranch, despairingly,
they searched the empty huts and small houses without
finding a single stale tortilla, a solitary rotten pepper, or
one pinch of salt with which to flavor the horrible taste
of dry meat. The owners of the huts, their peaceful
brethren, were impassive with the stonelike impassivity
of Aztec idols; others, more human, with a slow smile on
their colorless lips and beardless faces, watched these
fierce men who less than a month ago had made the
miserable huts of others tremble with fear, now in their
turn fleeing their own huts where the ovens were cold
and the water tanks dry, fleeing with their tails between
their legs, cringing, like curs kicked out of their own
But the General did not countermand his order. Some
soldiers brought back four fugitives, captive and bound.
WHY do you hide?" Demetrio asked the prisoners.
"We're not hiding, Chief, we're hitting the trail."
"To our own homes, in God's name, to Durango."
"Is this the road to Durango?"
"Peaceful people can't travel over the main road
nowadays, you know that, Chief."
"You're not peaceful people, you're deserters. Where
do you come from?" Demetrio said, eyeing them with
The prisoners grew confused; they looked at each
other hesitatingly, unable to give a prompt answer.
"They're Carranzistas," one of the soldiers said.
"Carranzistas hell!" one of them said proudly. "I'd
rather be a pig."
"The truth is we're deserters," another said. "After the
defeat we deserted from General Villa's troops this side
"General Villa defeated? Ha! Ha! That's a good joke."
The soldiers laughed. But Demetrio's brow was
wrinkled as though a black shadow had passed over his
"There ain't a son of a bitch on earth who can beat
General Villa!" said a bronzed veteran with a scar clear
across the face.
Without a change of expression, one of the deserters
stared persistently at him and said:
"I know who you are. When we took Torreon you
were with General Urbina. In Zacatecas you were with
General Natera and then you shifted to the Jalisco
troops. Am I lying?"
These words met with a sudden and definite effect.
The prisoners gave a detailed account of the tremendous
defeat of Villa at Celaya. Demetrio's men listened in
Before resuming their march, they built a fire on which
to roast some bull meat. Anastasio Montanez, searching
for food among the huizache trees, descried the close-
cropped neck of Valderrama's horse in the distance
among the rocks.
"Hey! Come here, you fool, after all there ain't been
no gravy!" he shouted.
Whenever anything was said about shooting someone,
Valderrama, the romantic poet, would disappear for a
Hearing Anastasio's voice, Valderrama was convinced
that the prisoners had been set at liberty. A few mo-
ments later, he was joined by Venancio and Demetrio.
"Heard the news?" Venancio asked gravely.
"It's very serious. A terrible mess! Villa was beaten
at Celaya by Obregon and Carranza is winning all
along the line! We're done for!"
Valderrama's gesture was disdainful and solemn as
an emperor's. "Villa? Obregon? Carranza? What's the
difference? I love the revolution like a volcano in erup-
tion; I love the volcano because it's a volcano, the revolu-
tion because it's the revolution! What do I care about
the stones left above or below after the cataclysm? What
are they to me?"
In the glare of the midday sun the reflection of a
white tequila bottle glittered on his forehead; and, jubi-
lant, he ran toward the bearer of such a marvelous gift.
"I like this crazy fool," Demetrio said with a smile.
"He says things sometimes that make you think."
They resumed their march; their uncertainty translated
into a lugubrious silence. Slowly, inevitably, the catastro-
phe must come; it was even now being realized. Villa
defeated was a fallen god; when gods cease to be
omnipotent, they are nothing.
Quail spoke. His words faithfully interpreted the gen-
"What the hell, boys! Every spider's got to spin his
own web now!"
In Zacatecas and Aguascalientes, in the little country
towns and the neighboring communities, haciendas and
ranches were deserted. When one of the officers found
a barrel of tequila, the event assumed miraculous propor-
tions. Everything was conducted with secrecy and care;
deep mystery was preserved to oblige the soldiers to
leave on the morrow before sunrise under Anastasio and
When Demetrio awoke to the strains of music, his
general staff, now composed chiefly of young ex-govern-
ment officers, told him of the discovery, and Quail, in-
terpreting the thoughts of his colleagues, said senten-
"These are bad times and you've got to take advantage
of everythin'. If there are some days when a duck can
swim, there's others when he can't take a drink."
The string musicians played all day; the most solemn
honors were paid to the barrel: but Demetrio was very sad.
"Did he know why?
I don't know why."
He kept repeating the same refrain.
In the afternoon there were cockfights. Demetrio sat
down with the chief officers under the roof of the mu-
nicipal portals in front of a city square covered with
weeds, a tumbled kiosk, and some abandoned adobe
"Valderrama," Demetrio called, looking away from the
ring with tired eyes, "come and sing me a song--sing
But Valderrama did not hear him; he had no eyes
for the fight; he was reciting an impassioned soliloquy as
he watched the sunset over the hills.
With solemn gestures and emphatic tones, he said:
"O Lord, Lord, pleasurable it is this thy land! I shall
build me three tents: one for Thee, one for Moses, one
"Valderrama," Demetrio shouted again. "Come and
sing 'The Undertaker' song for me."
"Hey, crazy, the General is calling you," an officer
Valderrama with his eternally complacent smile went
over to Demetrio's seat and asked the musicians for a
"Silence," the gamesters cried. Valderrama finished
tuning his instrument.
Quail and Meco let loose on the sand a pair of cocks
armed with long sharp blades attached to their legs. One
was light red; his feathers shone with beautiful obsidian
glints. The other was sand-colored with feathers like
scales burned slowly to a fiery copper color.
The fight was swift and fierce as a duel between men.
As though moved by springs, the roosters flew at each
other. Their feathers stood up on their arched necks;
their combs were erect, their legs taut. For an instant
they swung in the air without even touching the ground,
their feathers, beaks, and claws lost in a dizzy whirl-
wind. The red rooster suddenly broke, tossed with his
legs to heaven outside the chalk lines. His vermilion eyes
closed slowly, revealing eyelids of pink coral; his tangled
feathers quivered and shook convulsively amid a pool of
Valderrama, who could not repress a gesture of violent
indignation, began to play. With the first melancholy
strains of the tune, his anger disappeared. His eyes
gleamed with the light of madness. His glance strayed
over the square, the tumbled kiosk, the old adobe houses,
over the mountains in the background, and over the sky,
burning like a roof afire. He began to sing. He put such
feeling into his voice and such expression into the strings
that, as he finished, Demetrio turned his head aside to
hide his tears.
But Valderrama fell upon him, embraced him warmly,
and with a familiarity he showed everyone at the ap-
propriate moment, he whispered:
"Drink them! . . . Those are beautiful tears."
Demetrio asked for the bottle, passed it to Valder-
rama. Greedily the poet drank half its contents in one
gulp; then, showing only the whites of his eyes, he faced
the spectators dramatically and, in a highly theatrical
"Here you may witness the blessings of the revolution
caught in a single tear."
Then he continued to talk like a madman, but like a
madman whose vast prophetic madness encompassed all
about him, the dusty weeds, the tumbled kiosk, the gray
houses, the lovely hills, and the immeasurable sky.
Juchipila rose in the distance, white, bathed in sun-
light, shining in the midst of a thick forest at the foot of a
proud, lofty mountain, pleated like a turban.
Some of the soldiers, gazing at the spire of the church,
sighed sadly. They marched forward through the canyon,
uncertain, unsteady, as blind men walking without a hand
to guide them. The bitterness of the exodus pervaded
"Is that town Juchipila?" Valderrama asked.
In the first stage of his drunkenness, Valderrama had
been counting the crosses scattered along the road, along
the trails, in the hollows near the rocks, in the tortuous
paths, and along the riverbanks. Crosses of black timber
newly varnished, makeshift crosses built out of two logs,
crosses of stones piled up and plastered together, crosses
whitewashed on crumbling walls, humble crosses drawn
with charcoal on the surface of whitish rocks. The
traces of the first blood shed by the revolutionists of
1910, murdered by the Government.
Before Juchipila was lost from sight, Valderrama got off
his horse, bent down, kneeled, and gravely kissed the
The soldiers passed by without stopping. Some laughed
at the crazy man, others jested. Valderrama, deaf to all
about him, breathed his unctuous prayer:
"O Juchipila, cradle of the Revolution of 1910, 0
blessed land, land steeped in the blood of martyrs, blood
of dreamers, the only true men . . ."
"Because they had no time to be bad!" an ex-Federal
officer interjected as he rode.
Interrupting his prayer, Valderrama frowned, burst into
stentorian laughter, reechoed by the rocks, and ran to-
ward the officer begging for a swallow of tequila.
Soldiers minus an arm or leg, cripples, rheumatics,
and consumptives spoke bitterly of Demetrio. Young
whippersnappers were given officers' commissions and
wore stripes on their hats without a day's service, even
before they knew how to handle a rifle, while the veter-
ans, exhausted in a hundred battles, now incapacitated
for work, the veterans who had set out as simple pri-
vates, were still simple privates. The few remaining offi-
cers among Demetrio's friends also grumbled, because
his staff was made up of wealthy, dapper young men who
oiled their hair and used perfume.
"The worst part of it," Venancio said, "is that we're
gettin' overcrowded with Federals!"
Anastasio himself, who invariably found only praise
for Demetrio's conduct, now seemed to share the general
"See here, brothers," he said, "I spits out the truth
when I sees something. I always tell the boss that if
these people stick to us very long we'll be in a hell of a
fix. Certainly! How can anyone think otherwise? I've no
hair on my tongue; and by the mother that bore me, I'm
going to tell Demetrio so myself."
Demetrio listened benevolently, and, when Anastasio
had finished, he replied:
"You're right, there's no gettin' around it, we're in a
bad way. The soldiers grumble about the officers, the
officers grumble about us, see? And we're damn well
ready now to send both Villa and Carranza to hell to
have a good time all by themselves. . . . I guess we're in
the same fix as that peon from Tepatitlan who com-
plained about his boss all day long but worked on just
the same. That's us. We kick and kick, but we keep on
killing and killing. But there's no use in saying anything
"Hm, I don't know. . . . Because . . . because . . . do
you see? . . . What we've got to do is to make the men
toe the mark. I've got orders to stop a band of men
coming through Cuquio, see? In a few days we'll have
to fight the Carranzistas. It will be great to beat the hell
out of them."
Valderrama, the tramp, who had enlisted in Deme-
trio's army one day without anyone remembering the
time or the place, overheard some of Demetrio's words.
Fools do not eat fire. That very day Valderrama disap-
peared mysteriously as he had come.
They entered the streets of Juchipila as the church
bells rang, loud and joyfully, with that peculiar tone that
thrills every mountaineer.
"It makes me think we are back in the days when the
revolution was just beginning, when the bells rang like
mad in every town we entered and everybody came out
with music, flags, cheers, and fireworks to welcome us,"
said Anastasio Montanez.
"They don't like us no more," Demetrio returned.
"Of course. We're crawling back like a dog with its tail
between its legs," Quail remarked.
"It ain't that, I guess. They don't give a whoop for the
other side either."
"But why should they like us?"
They spoke no more.
Presently they reached the city square and stopped in
front of an octagonal, rough, massive church, reminis-
cent of the colonial period. At one time the square must
have been a garden, judging from the bare stunted orange
trees planted between iron and wooden benches. The
sonorous, joyful bells rang again. From within the church,
the honeyed voices of a female chorus rose melancholy
and grave. To the strains of a guitar, the young girls of
the town sang the "Mysteries."
"What's the fiesta, lady?" Venancio asked of an old
woman who was running toward the church.
"The Sacred Heart of Jesus!" answered the pious
They remembered that one year ago they had captured
Zacatecas. They grew sadder still.
Juchipila, like the other towns they had passed through
on their way from Tepic, by way of Jalisco, Aguasca-
lientes and Zacatecas, was in ruins. The black trail of
the incendiaries showed in the roofless houses, in the
burnt arcades. Almost all the houses were closed, yet,
here and there, those still open offered, in ironic contrast,
portals gaunt and bare as the white skeletons of horses
scattered over the roads. The terrible pangs of hunger
seemed to speak from every face; hunger on every dusty
cheek, in their dusty countenances; in the hectic flame
of their eyes, which, when they met a soldier, blazed
with hatred. In vain the soldiers scoured the streets in
search of food, biting their lips in anger. A single lunch-
room was open; at once they filled it. No beans, no tor-
tillas, only chili and tomato sauce. In vain the officers
showed their pocketbooks stuffed with bills or used
"Yea, you've got papers all right! That's all you've
brought! Try and eat them, will you?" said the owner,
an insolent old shrew with an enormous scar on her
cheek, who told them she had already lain with a dead
man, "to cure her from ever feeling frightened again."
Despite the melancholy and desolation of the town,
while the women sang in the church, birds sang in the
foliage, and the thrushes piped their lyrical strain on
the withered branches of the orange trees.
Demetrio Macias' wife, mad with joy, rushed
along the trail to meet him, leading a child by the hand.
An absence of almost two years!
They embraced each other and stood speechless. She
wept, sobbed. Demetrio stared in astonishment at his
wife who seemed to have aged ten or twenty years.
Then he looked at the child who gazed up at him in sur-
prise. His heart leaped to his mouth as he saw in the
child's features his own steel features and fiery eyes ex-
actly reproduced. He wanted to hold him in his arms, but
the frightened child took refuge in his mother's skirts.
"It's your own father, baby! It's your daddy!"
The child hid his face within the folds of his mother's
skirt, still hostile.
Demetrio handed the reins of his horse to his orderly
and walked slowly along the steep trail with his wife
"Blessed be the Virgin Mary, Praise be to God! Now
you'll never leave us any more, will you? Never . . .
never. . . . You'll stay with us always?"
Demetrio's face grew dark. Both remained silent, lost
in anguish. Demetrio suppressed a sigh. Memories
crowded and buzzed through his brain like bees about a
A black cloud rose behind the sierra and a deafening
roar of thunder resounded. The rain began to fall in
heavy drops; they sought refuge in a rocky hut.
The rain came pelting down, shattering the white Saint
John roses clustered like sheaves of stars clinging to tree,
rock, bush, and pitaya over the entire mountainside.
Below in the depths of the canyon, through the gauze
of the rain they could see the tall, sheer palms shaking
in the wind, opening out like fans before the tempest.
Everywhere mountains, heaving hills, and beyond more
hills, locked amid mountains, more mountains encircled
in the wall of the sierra whose loftiest peaks vanished in
the sapphire of the sky.
"Demetrio, please. For God's sake, don't go away! My
heart tells me something will happen to you this time."
Again she was wracked with sobs. The child, fright-
ened, cried and screamed. To calm him, she controlled
her own great grief.
Gradually the rain stopped, a swallow, with silver
breast and wings describing luminous charming curves,
fluttered obliquely across the silver threads of the rain,
gleaming suddenly in the afternoon sunshine.
"Why do you keep on fighting, Demetrio?"
Demetrio frowned deeply. Picking up a stone absent-
mindedly, he threw it to the bottom of the canyon. Then
he stared pensively into the abyss, watching the arch of
"Look at that stone; how it keeps on going. . . ."
It was a heavenly morning. It had rained all night,
the sky awakened covered with white clouds. Young wild
colts trotted on the summit of the sierra, with tense
manes and waving hair, proud as the peaks lifting their
heads to the clouds.
The soldiers stepped among the huge rocks, buoyed
up by the happiness of the morning. None for a moment
dreamed of the treacherous bullet that might be awaiting
him ahead; the unforeseen provides man with his greatest
joy. The soldiers sang, laughed, and chattered away.
The spirit of nomadic tribes stirred their souls. What mat-
ters it whether you go and whence you come? All that
matters is to walk, to walk endlessly, without ever stop-
ping; to possess the valley, the heights of the sierra, far
as the eye can read.
Trees, brush, and cactus shone fresh after rain. Heavy
drops of limpid water fell from rocks, ocher in hue as
Demetrio Macias' men grew silent for a moment.
They believed they heard the familiar rumor of firing in
the distance. A few minutes elapsed but the sound was
"In this same sierra," Demetrio said, "with but twenty
men I killed five hundred Federals. Remember, Anasta-
As Demetrio began to tell that famous exploit, the
men realized the danger they were facing. What if the
enemy, instead of being two days away, was hiding some-
where among the underbrush on the terrible hill through
whose gorge they now advanced? None dared show the
slightest fear. Not one of Demetrio Macias' men dared
say, "I shall not move another inch!"
So, when firing began in the distance where the van-
guard was marching, no one felt surprised. The recruits
turned back hurriedly, retreating in shameful flight,
searching for a way out of the canyon.
A curse broke from Demetrio's parched lips.
"Fire at 'em. Shoot any man who runs away!"
"Storm the hill!" he thundered like a wild beast.
But the enemy, lying in ambush by the thousand,
opened up its machine-gun fire. Demetrio's men fell like
wheat under the sickle.
Tears of rage and pain rise to Demetrio's eyes as
Anastasio slowly slides from his horse without a sound,
and lies outstretched, motionless. Venancio falls close
beside him, his chest riddled with bullets. Meco hurtles
over the precipice, bounding from rock to rock.
Suddenly, Demetrio finds himself alone. Bullets whiz
past his ears like hail. He dismounts and crawls over the
rocks, until he finds a parapet: he lays down a stone to
protect his head and, lying flat on the ground, begins to
The enemy scatter in all directions, pursuing the few
fugitives hiding in the brush. Demetrio aims; he does not
waste a single shot.
His famous marksmanship fills him with joy. Where
he settles his glance, he settles a bullet. He loads his gun
once more . . . takes aim. . . .
The smoke of the guns hangs thick in the air. Locusts
chant their mysterious, imperturbable song. Doves coo
lyrically in the crannies of the rocks. The cows graze
The sierra is clad in gala colors. Over its inaccessible
peaks the opalescent fog settles like a snowy veil on the
forehead of a bride.
At the foot of a hollow, sumptuous and huge as the
portico of an old cathedral, Demetrio Macias, his eyes
leveled in an eternal glance, continues to point the barrel
of his gun.