"No more rifles left, brother. But I guess you can put these to some use," Anastasio Montanez 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 adventure when, together with other students of the Officers' School, he was involved in the treacherous revolt of Feliz Diaz and Huerta against President Madero. Whenever 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 despatch he would send off no later than today.
To His Honor the Minister for War, General A. Blanquet, Mexico City.
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 a store."
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 boss."
Without further ado, Demetrio strode into the shed which had been pointed out as the toolhouse.
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 scale.
"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 ascent 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 realized 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, insulting 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 upon them.
"It's awful, Chief!" Luis Cervantes cried in alarm. "We've no more bombs left and we left our guns in the corral."
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 sergeant 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. Montanez, 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 hyena.
"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 another step.
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 myself. 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 Cervantes said:
"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 Natera'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 along." Then:
"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 revolution."
"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 correspondent 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 answered.
"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 bitterness 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 circumstances 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 compose 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 revolution 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 silence.
"Come along," Demetrio said to Cervantes. "Come with me."
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 narrated. 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 Montanez 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 pleasure 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 Montanez 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 with them!"
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 there too!"
"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 obscenity.
"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 Juarez!"
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 astonishment from Demetrio's men. Villa! Villa's battles! Ciudad Juarez ... Tierra Blanca ... Chihuahua ... Torreon....
The bare facts, the mere citing of observation and experience 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 graveyard ... dead men all over the dump ... dead men here ... dead men there ... dead men everywhere!"
Anastasio Montanez 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 apologetically. Then:
"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, too!"
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 below. 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 handful 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 just shouted:
"'Come on, boys! Let's go for them!'
"'Damn fool!' I thought. 'What the hell does he think he's doing!'
"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 seconds 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 destroyed 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 wonderful soldier!"
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, despoiling another, robbing from a third his dearest possessions.
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 church.
"How beautiful the revolution! Even in its most barbarous aspect it is beautiful," Solis said with deep feeling. Then a vague melancholy seized him, and speaking low:
"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, condensed 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 enthusiasm 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 symbol 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 fugitives who had barely managed to escape from the captured town.
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....
Demetrio, nonplussed, scratched his head: "Look here, don't ask me any more questions.... 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 is to it."
To champagne, that sparkles and foams as the beaded bubbles burst at the brim of the glass, Demetrio preferred the native tequila, limpid and fiery.
The soldiers sat in groups about the tables in the restaurant, ragged men, filthy with sweat, dirt and smoke, their hair matted, wild, disheveled.
"I killed two colonels," one man clamored in a guttural harsh voice. He was a small fat fellow, with embroidered hat and chamois coat, wearing a light purple handkerchief about his neck.
"They were so Goddamned fat they couldn't even run. By God, I wish you could have seen them, tripping and stumbling at every step they took, climbing up the hill, red as tomatoes, their tongues hanging out like hounds. 'Don't run so fast, you lousy beggars!' I called after them. 'I'm not so fond of frightened geese—stop, You bald-headed bastards: I won't harm you! You needn't worry!' By God, they certainly fell for it. Pop, pop! One shot for each of them, and a well-earned rest for a pair of poor sinners, be damned to them!"
"I couldn't get a single one of their generals!" said a swarthy man who sat in one corner between the wall and the bar, holding his rifle between his outstretched legs. "I sighted one: a fellow with a hell of a lot of gold plastered all over him. His gold chevrons shone like a Goddamned sunset. And I let him go by, fool that I was. He took off his handkerchief and waved it. I stood there with my mouth wide open like a fool! Then I ducked and he started shooting, bullet after bullet. I let him kill a poor cargador. Then I said: 'My turn, now! Holy Virgin, Mother of God! Don't let me miss this son of a bitch.' But, by Christ, he disappeared. He was riding a hell of a fine nag; he went by me like lightning! There was another poor fool coming up the road. He got it and turned the prettiest somersault you ever saw!"
Talk flew from lip to lip, each soldier vying with his fellow, snatching the words from the other's mouth. As they declaimed passionately, women with olive, swarthy skins, bright eyes, and teeth of ivory, with revolvers at their waists, cartridge-belts across their breasts, and broad Mexican hats on their heads, wove their way like stray street curs in and out among groups. A vulgar wench, with rouged cheeks and dark brown arms and neck, gave a great leap and landed on the bar near Demetrio's table.
He turned his head toward her and literally collided with a pair of lubric eyes under a narrow forehead and thick, straight hair, parted in the middle.
The door opened wide. Anastasio, Pancracio, Quail, and Meco filed in, dazed.
Anastasio uttered a cry of surprise and stepped forward to shake hands with the little fat man wearing a charro suit and a lavender bandanna. A pair of old friends, met again. So warm was their embrace, so tightly they clutched each other that the blood rushed to their heads, they turned purple.
"Look here, Demetrio, I want the honor of introducing you to Blondie. He's a real friend, you know. I love him like a brother. You must get to know him, Chief, he's a man! Do you remember that damn jail at Escobedo, where we stayed together for over a year?"
Without removing his cigar from his lips, Demetrio, buried in a sullen silence amid the bustle and uproar, offered his hand and said:
"I'm delighted to meet you!"
"So your name is Demetrio Macias?" the girl asked suddenly. Seated on the bar, she swung her legs; at every swing, the toes of her shoes touched Demetrio's back.
"Yes: I'm Demetrio Macias!" he said, scarcely turning toward her.
Indifferently, she continued to swing her legs, displaying her blue stockings with ostentation.
"Hey, War Paint, what are you doing here? Step down and have a drink!" said the man called Blondie.
The girl accepted readily and boldly thrust her way through the crowd to a chair facing Demetrio.
"So you're the famous Demetrio Macias, the hero of Zacatecas?" the girl asked.
Demetrio bowed assent, while Blondie, laughing, said:
"You're a wise one, War Paint. You want to sport a general!"
Without understanding Blondie's words, Demetrio raised his eyes to hers; they gazed at each other like two dogs sniffing one another with distrust. Demetrio could not resist her furiously provocative glances; he was forced to lower his eyes.
From their seats, some of Natera's officers began to hurl obscenities at War Paint. Without paying the slightest attention, she said:
"General Natera is going to hand you out a little general's eagle. Put it here and shake on it, boy!"
She stuck out her hand at Demetrio and shook it with the strength of a man. Demetrio, melting to the congratulations raining down upon him, ordered champagne.
"I don't want no more to drink," Blondie said to the waiter, "I'm feeling sick. Just bring me some ice water."
"I want something to eat," said Pancracio. "Bring me anything you've got but don't make it chili or beans!"
Officers kept coming in; presently the restaurant was crowded. Small stars, bars, eagles and insignia of every sort or description dotted their hats. They wore wide silk bandannas around their necks, large diamond rings on their fingers, large heavy gold watch chains across their breasts.
"Here, waiter," Blondie cried, "I ordered ice water. And I'm not begging for it either, see? Look at this bunch of bills. I'll buy you, your wife, and all you possess, see? Don't tell me there's none left—I don't care a damn about that! It's up to you to find some way to get it and Goddamned quick, too. I don't like to play about; I get mad when I'm crossed.... By God, didn't I tell you I wouldn't stand for any backchat? You won't bring it to me, eh? Well, take this...."
A heavy blow sent the waiter reeling to the floor.
"That's the sort of man I am, General Macias! I'm clean-shaven, eh? Not a hair on my chin? Do you know why? Well, I'll tell you! You see I get mad easy as hell; and when there's nobody to pick on, I pull my hair until my temper passes. If I hadn't pulled my beard hair by hair, I'd have died a long time ago from sheer anger!"
"It does you no good to go to pieces when you're angry," a man affirmed earnestly from below a hat that covered his head as a roof does a house. "When I was up at Torreon I killed an old lady who refused to sell me some enchiladas. She was angry, I can tell you; I got no enchiladas but I felt satisfied anyhow!"
"I killed a storekeeper at Parral because he gave me some change and there were two Huerta bills in it," said a man with a star on his hat and precious stones on his black, calloused hands.
"Down in Chihuahua I killed a man because I always saw him sitting at the table whenever I went to eat. I hated the looks of him so I just killed him! What the hell could I do!"
"Hmm! I killed...."
The theme is inexhaustible.
By dawn, when the restaurant was wild with joy and the floor dotted with spittle, young painted girls from the suburbs had mingled freely among the dark northern women. Demetrio pulled out his jeweled gold watch, asking Anastasio Montanez to tell him the time.
Anastasio glanced at the watch, then, poking his head out of a small window, gazed at the starry sky.
"The Pleiades are pretty low in the west. I guess it won't be long now before daybreak...."
Outside the restaurant, the shouts, laughter and song of the drunkards rang through the air. Men galloped wildly down the streets, the hoofs of their horses hammering on the sidewalks. From every quarter of the town pistols spoke, guns belched. Demetrio and the girl called War Paint staggered tipsily hand in hand down the center of the street, bound for the hotel.
"What damned fools," said War Paint convulsed with laughter! "Where the hell do you come from?..... Soldiers don't sleep in hotels and inns any more....... Where do you come from? You just go anywhere you like and pick a house that pleases you, see. When you go there, make yourself at home and don't ask anyone for anything. What the hell is the use of the revolution? Who's it for? For the folks who live in towns? We're the city folk now, see? Come on, Pancracio, hand me your bayonet. Damn these rich people, they lock up everything they've got!"
She dug the steel point through the crack of a drawer and, pressing on the hilt, broke the lock, opened the splinted cover of a writing desk. Anastasio, Pancracio and War Paint plunged their hands into a mass of post cards, photographs, pictures and papers, scattering them all over the rug. Finding nothing he wanted, Pancracio gave vent to his anger by kicking a framed photograph into the air with the toe of his shoe. It smashed on the candelabra in the center of the room.
They pulled their empty hands out of the heap of paper, cursing. But War Paint was of sterner stuff; tirelessly she continued to unlock drawer after drawer without failing to investigate a single spot. In their absorption, they did not notice a small gray velvet-covered box which rolled silently across the floor, coming to a stop at Luis Cervantes' feet.
Demetrio, lying on the rug, seemed to be asleep; Cervantes, who had watched everything with profound indifference, pulled the box closer to him with his foot, and stooping to scratch his ankle, swiftly picked it up. Something gleamed up at him, dazzling. It was two pure-water diamonds mounted in filigreed platinum. Hastily he thrust them inside his coat pocket.
When Demetrio awoke, Cervantes said:
"General, look at the mess these boys have made here. Don't you think it would be advisable to forbid this sort of thing?"
"No. It's about their only pleasure after putting their bellies up as targets for the enemy's bullets."
"Yes, of course, General, but they could do it somewhere else. You see, this sort of thing hurts our prestige, and worse, our cause!"
Demetrio leveled his eagle eyes at Cervantes. He drummed with his fingernails against his teeth, absent-mindedly. Then:
"Come along, now, don't blush," he said. "You can talk like that to someone else. We know what's mine is mine, what's yours is yours. You picked the box, all right; I picked my gold watch; all right too!"
His words dispelled any pretense. Both of them, in perfect harmony, displayed their booty.
War Paint and her companions were ransacking the rest of the house. Quail entered the room with a twelve-year-old girl upon whose forehead and arms were already marked copper-colored spots. They stopped short, speechless with surprise as they saw the books lying in piles on the floor, chairs and tables, the large mirrors thrown to the ground, smashed, the huge albums and the photographs torn into shreds, the furniture, objets d'art and bric-a-brac broken. Quail held his breath, his avid eyes scouring the room for booty.
Outside, in one corner of the patio, lost in dense clouds of suffocating smoke, Manteca was boiling corn on the cob, feeding his fire with books and paper that made the flames leap wildly through the air.
"Hey!" Quail shouted. "Look what I found. A fine sweat-cover for my mare."
With a swift pull he wrenched down a hanging, which fell over a handsomely carved upright chair.
"Look, look at all these naked women!" Quail's little companion cried, enchanted at a de luxe edition of Dante's Divine Comedy. "I like this; I think I'll take it along."
She began to tear out the illustrations which pleased her most.
Demetrio crossed the room and sat down beside Luis Cervantes. He ordered some beer, handed one bottle up to his secretary, downed his own bottle at one gulp. Then, drowsily, he half closed his eyes, and soon fell sound asleep.
"Hey!" a man called to Pancracio from the threshold. "When can I see your general?"
"You can't see him. He's got a hangover this morning. What the hell do you want?"
"I want to buy some of those books you're burning."
"I'll sell them to you myself."
"How much do you want for them?"
Pancracio frowned in bewilderment.
"Give me a nickel for those with pictures, see. I'll give you the rest for nothing if you buy all those with pictures."
The man returned with a large basket to carry away the books....
"Come on, Demetrio, come on, you pig, get up! Look who's here! It's Blondie. You don't know what a fine man he is!"
"I like you very much, General Macias, and I like the way you do things. So if it's all right, I'd like very much to serve under you!"
"What's your rank?" Demetrio asked him.
"I'm a captain, General."
"All right, you can serve with me now. I'll make you major. How's that?"
Blondie was a round little fellow, with waxed mustache. When he laughed, his blue eyes disappeared mischievously between his forehead and his fat cheeks. He had been a waiter at "El Monico," in Chihuahua; now he proudly wore three small brass bars, the insignia of his rank in the Northern Division.
Blondie showered eulogy after eulogy on Demetrio and his men; this proved sufficient reason for bringing out a fresh case of beer, which was finished in short order.
Suddenly War Paint reappeared in the middle of the room, wearing a beautiful silk dress covered with exquisite lace.
"You forgot the stockings," Blondie shouted, shaking with laughter. Quail's girl also burst out laughing. But War Paint did not care. She shrugged her shoulders indifferently, sat down on the floor, kicked off her white satin slippers, and wiggled her toes happily, giving their muscles a freedom welcome after their tight confinement in the slippers. She said:
"Hey, you, Pancracio, go and get me my blue stockings ... they're with the rest of my plunder."
Soldiers and their friends, companions and veterans of other campaigns, began to enter in groups of twos and threes. Demetrio, growing excited, began to narrate in detail his most notable feats of arms.
"What the hell is that noise?" he asked in surprise as he heard string and brass instruments tuning up in the patio.
"General Demetrio Macias," Luis Cervantes said solemnly, "it's a banquet all of your old friends and followers are giving in your honor to celebrate your victory at Zacatecas and your well-merited promotion to the rank of general!"
"General Macias, I want you to meet my future wife," Luis Cervantes said with great emphasis as he led a beautiful girl into the dining room.
They all turned to look at her. Her large blue eyes grew wide in wonder. She was barely fourteen. Her skin was like a rose, soft, pink, fresh; her hair was very fair; the expression in her eyes was partly impish curiosity, partly a vague childish fear. Perceiving that Demetrio eyed her like a beast of prey, Luis Cervantes congratulated himself.
They made room for her between Luis Cervantes and Blondie, opposite Demetrio.
Bottles of tequila, dishes of cut glass, bowls, porcelains and vases lay scattered over the table indiscriminately. Meco, carrying a box of beer upon his shoulders, came in cursing and sweating.
"You don't know this fellow Blondie yet," said War Paint, noticing the persistent glances he was casting at Luis Cervantes' bride. "He's a smart fellow, I can tell you, and he never misses a trick." She gazed at him lecherously, adding:
"That's why I don't like to see him close, even on a photograph!"
The orchestra struck up a raucous march as though they were playing at a bullfight. The soldiers roared with joy.
"What fine tripe, General; I swear I haven't tasted the like of it in all my life," Blondie said, as he began to reminisce about "El Monico" at Chihuahua.
"You really like it, Blondie?" responded Demetrio. "Go ahead, call for more, eat your bellyful."
"It's just the way I like it," Anastasio chimed in. "Yes, I like good food! But nothing really tastes good to you unless you belch!"
The noise of mouths being filled, of ravenous feeding followed. All drank copiously. At the end of the dinner, Luis Cervantes rose, holding a champagne glass in one hand, and said:
"Ho!" War Paint interrupted. "This speech-making business isn't for me; I'm all against it. I'll go out to the corral since there's no more eating here."
Presenting Demetrio with a black velvet-covered box containing a small brass eagle, Luis Cervantes made a toast which no one understood but everyone applauded enthusiastically. Demetrio took the insignia in his hands; and with flushed face, and eyes shining, declared with great candor:
"What in hell am I going to do with this buzzard!"
"Compadre," Anastasio Montanez said in a tremulous voice. "I ain't got much to tell you...."
Whole minutes elapsed between his words; the cursed words would not come to Anastasio. His face, coated with filth, unwashed for days, turned crimson, shining with perspiration. Finally he decided to finish his toast at all costs. "Well, I ain't got much to tell you, except that we are pals...."
Then, since everyone had applauded at the end of Luis Cervantes' speech, Anastasio having finished, made a sign, and the company clapped their hands in great gravity.
But everything turned out for the best, since his awkwardness inspired others. Manteca and Quail stood up and made their toasts, too. When Meco's turn came, War Paint rushed in shouting jubilantly, attempting to drag a splendid black horse into the dining room.
"My booty! My booty!" she cried, patting the superb animal on the neck. It resisted every effort she made until a strong jerk of the rope and a sudden lash brought it in prancing smartly. The soldiers, half drunk, stared at the beast with ill-disguised envy.
"I don't know what the hell this she-devil's got, but she always beats everybody to it," cried Blondie. "She's been the same ever since she joined us at Tierra Blanca!"
"Hey, Pancracio, bring me some alfalfa for my horse," War Paint commanded crisply, throwing the horse's rope to one of the soldiers.
Once more they filled their glasses. Many a head hung low with fatigue or drunkenness. Most of the company, however, shouted with glee, including Luis Cervantes' girl. She had spilled all her wine on a handkerchief and looked all about her with blue wondering eyes.
"Boys," Blondie suddenly screamed, his shrill, guttural voice dominating the mall, "I'm tired of living; I feel like killing myself right now. I'm sick and tired of War Paint and this other little angel from heaven won't even look at me!"
Luis Cervantes saw that the last remark was addressed to his bride; with great surprise he realized that it was not Demetrio's foot he had noticed close to the girl's, but Blondie's. He was boiling with indignation.
"Keep your eye on me, boys," Blondie went on, gun in hand. "I'm going to shoot myself right in the forehead!"
He aimed at the large mirror on the opposite wall which gave back his whole body in reflection. He took careful aim....
"Don't move, War Paint."
The bullet whizzed by, grazing War Paint's hair. The mirror broke into large jagged fragments. She did not even so much as blink.
Late in the afternoon Luis Cervantes rubbed his eyes and sat up. He had been sleeping on the hard pavement, close to the trunk of a fruit tree. Anastasio, Pancracio and Quail slept nearby, breathing heavily.
His lips were swollen, his nose dry and cold. There were bloodstains on his hands and shirt. At once he recalled what had taken place. Soon he rose to his feet and made for one of the bedrooms. He pushed at the door several times without being able to force it open. For a few minutes he stood there, hesitating.
No—he had not dreamed it. Everything had really occurred just as he recalled it. He had left the table with his bride and taken her to the bedroom, but just as he was closing the door, Demetrio staggered after them and made one leap toward them. Then War Paint dashed in after Demetrio and began to struggle with him. Demetrio, his eyes white-hot, his lips covered with long blond hairs, looked for the bride, in despair. But War Paint pushed him back vigorously.
"What the hell is the matter with you? What the hell are you trying to do?" he demanded, furious.
War Paint put her leg between his, twisted it suddenly, and Demetrio fell to the ground outside of the bedroom. He rose, raging.
"Help! Help! He's going to kill me!" she cried, seizing Demetrio's wrist and turning the gun aside. The bullet hit the floor. War Paint continued to shriek. Anastasio disarmed Demetrio from behind.
Demetrio, standing like a furious bull in the middle of the arena, cast fierce glances at all the bystanders, Luis Cervantes, Anastasio, Manteca, and the others.
"Goddamn you! You've taken my gun away! Christ! As if I needed any gun to beat the hell out of you."
Flinging out his arms, beating and pummeling, he felled everyone within reach. Down they rolled like tenpins. Then, after that, Luis Cervantes could remember nothing more. Perhaps his bride, terrified by all these brutes, had wisely vanished and hidden herself.
"Perhaps this bedroom communicates with the living room and I can go in through there," he thought, standing at the threshold. At the sound of his footsteps, War Paint woke up. She lay on the rug close to Demetrio at the foot of a couch filled with alfalfa and corn where the black horse had fed.
"What are you looking for? Oh, hell, I know what you want! Shame on you! Why, I had to lock up your sweetheart because I couldn't struggle any more against this damned Demetrio. Take the key, it's lying on that table, there!"
Luis Cervantes searched in vain all over the house.
"Come on, tell me all about your girl."
Nervously, Luis Cervantes continued to look for the key.
"Come on, don't be in such a hurry, I'll give it to you. Come along, tell me; I like to hear about these things, you know. That girl is your kind, she's not a country person like us."
"I've nothing to say. She's my girl and we're going to get married, that's all."
"Ho! Ho! Ho! You're going to marry her, eh? Trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs, eh? Why, you fool, any place you just manage to get to for the first time in your life, I've left a hundred miles behind me, see. I've cut my wisdom teeth. It was Meco and Manteca who took the girl from her home: I knew that all the time. You just gave them something so as to have her yourself, gave them a pair of cuff links ... or a miraculous picture of some Virgin.... Am I right? Sure, I am! There aren't so many people in the world who know what's what, but I reckon you'll meet up with a few before you die!"
War Paint got up to give him the key but she could not find it either. She was much surprised. Quickly, she ran to the bedroom door and peered through the keyhole, standing motionless until her eye grew accustomed to the darkness within. Without drawing away, she said: "You damned Blondie. Son of a bitch! Come here a minute, look!"
She went away laughing.
"Didn't I tell them all I'd never seen a smarter fellow in all my life!"
The following morning, War Paint watched for the moment when Blondie left the bedroom to feed his horses....
"Come on, Angel Face. Run home quick!"
The blue-eyed girl, with a face like a Madonna, stood naked save for her chemise and stockings. War Paint covered her with Manteca's lousy blanket, took her by the hand and led her to the street.
"God, I'm happy," War Paint cried. "I'm crazy ... about Blondie ... now."
Like neighing colts, playful when the rainy season begins, Demetrio's men galloped through the sierra.
"To Moyahua, boys. Let's go to Demetrio Macias' country!"
"To the country of Monico the cacique!"
The landscape grew clearer; the sun margined the diaphanous sky with a fringe of crimson. Like the bony shoulders of immense sleeping monsters, the chains of mountains rose in the distance. Crags there were like heads of colossal native idols; others like giants' faces, their grimaces awe-inspiring or grotesque, calling forth a smile or a shudder at a presentment of mystery.
Demetrio Macias rode at the head of his men; behind him the members of his staff: Colonel Anastasio Montanez, Lieutenant-Colonel Pancracio, Majors Luis Cervantes and Blondie. Still further behind came War Paint with Venancio, who paid her many compliments and recited the despairing verses of Antonio Plaza. As the sun's rays began to slip from the housetops, they made their entrance into Moyahua, four abreast, to the sound of the bugle. The roosters' chorus was deafening, dogs barked their alarm, but not a living soul stirred on the streets.
War Paint spurred her black horse and with one jump was abreast with Demetrio. They rode forward, elbow to elbow. She wore a silk dress and heavy gold earrings. Proudly her pale blue gown deepened her olive skin and the coppery spots on her face and arms. Riding astride, she had pulled her skirts up to her knees; her stockings showed, filthy and full of runs. She wore a gun at her side, a cartridge belt hung over the pommel of her saddle.
Demetrio was also dressed in his best clothes. His broad-brimmed hat was richly embroidered; his leather trousers were tight-fitting and adorned with silver buttons; his coat was embroidered with gold thread.
There was a sound of doors being beaten down and forced open. The soldiers had already scattered through the town, to gather together ammunition and saddles from everywhere.
"We're going to bid Monico good morning," Demetrio said gravely, dismounting and tossing his bridle to one of his men. "We're going to have breakfast with Don Monico, who's a particular friend of mine ...."
The general's staff smiled ... a sinister, malign smile....
Making their spurs ring against the pavement, they walked toward a large pretentious house, obviously that of a cacique.
"It's closed airtight," Anastasio Montanez said, pushing the door with all his might.
"That's all right. I'll open it," Pancracio answered, lowering his rifle and pointing it at the lock.
"No, no," Demetrio said, "knock first."
Three blows with the butt of the rifle. Three more. No answer. Pancracio disobeys orders. He fires, smashing the lock. The door opens. Behind, a confusion of skirts and children's bare legs rushing to and fro, pell-mell.
"I want wine. Hey, there: wine!" Demetrio cries in an imperious voice, pounding heavily on a table.
"Sit down, boys."
A lady peeps out, another, a third; from among black skirts, the heads of frightened children. One of the women, trembling, walks toward a cupboard and, taking out some glasses and a bottle, serves wine.
"What arms have you?" Demetrio demands harshly.
"Arms, arms...?" the lady answers, a taste of ashes on her tongue. "What arms do you expect us to have! We are respectable, lonely old ladies!"
"Lonely, eh! Where's Senor Monico?"
"Oh, he's not here, gentlemen, I assure you! We merely rent the house from him, you see. We only know him by name!"
Demetrio orders his men to search the house.
"No, please don't. We'll bring you whatever we have ourselves, but please for God's sake, don't do anything cruel. We're spinsters, lone women ... perfectly respectable...."
"Spinsters, hell! What about these kids here?" Pancracio interrupts brutally. "Did they spring from the earth?"
The women disappear hurriedly, to return with an old shotgun, covered with dust and cobwebs, and a pistol with rusty broken springs.
"All right, then, let's see the money."
"Money? Money? But what money do you think a couple of spinsters have? Spinsters alone in the world....?"
They glance up in supplication at the nearest soldier; but they are seized with horror. For they have just seen the Roman soldier who crucified Our Lord in the Via Crucis of the parish! They have seen Pancracio!
Demetrio repeats his order to search.
Once again the women disappear to return this time with a moth-eaten wallet containing a few Huerta bills.
Demetrio smiles and without further delay calls to his men to come in. Like hungry dogs who have sniffed their meat, the mob bursts in, trampling down the women who sought to bar the entrance with their bodies. Several faint, fall to the ground; others flee in panic. The children scream.
Pancracio is about to break the lock of a huge wardrobe when suddenly the doors open and out comes a man with a rifle in his hands.
"Senor Don Monico!" they all exclaim in surprise.
"Demetrio, please, don't harm me! Please don't harm me! Please don't hurt me! You know, Senor Don Demetrio, I'm your friend!"
Demetrio Macias smiles slyly. "Are friends," he asked, "usually welcomed gun in hand?"
Don Monico, in consternation, throws himself at Demetrio's feet, clasps his knees, kisses his shoes: "My wife! ... My children! ... Please, Senor Don Demetrio, my friend!"
Demetrio with taut hand puts his gun back in the holster.
A painful silhouette crosses his mind. He sees a woman with a child in her arms walking over the rocks of the sierra in the moonlight. A house in flames....
"Clear out. Everybody outside!" he orders darkly.
His staff obeys. Monico and the ladies kiss his hands, weeping with gratitude. The mob in the street, talking and laughing, stands waiting for the general's permission to ransack the cacique's house.
"I know where they've buried their money but I won't tell," says a youngster with a basket in his hands.
"Hm! I know the right place, mind you," says an old woman carrying a burlap sack to hold whatever the good Lord will provide. "It's on top of something ... there's a lot of trinkets nearby and then there's a small bag with mother-of-pearl around it. That's the thing to look for!"
"You ain't talking sense, woman," puts in a man. "They ain't such fools as to leave silver lying loose like that. I'm thinking they've got it buried in the well, in a leather bag."
The mob moves slowly; some carry ropes to tie about their bundles, others wooden trays. The women open out their aprons or shawls calculating their capacity. All give thanks to Divine Providence as they wait for their share of the booty.
When Demetrio announces that he will not allow looting and orders them to disband, the mob, disconsolate, obeys him, and soon scatters; but there is a dull rumor among the soldiers and no one moves from his place.
Annoyed, Demetrio repeats this order.
A young man, a recent recruit, his head turned by drink, laughs and walks boldly toward the door. But before he has reached the threshold, a shot lays him low. He falls like a bull pierced in the neck by the matador's sword. Motionless, his smoking gun in his hand, Demetrio waits for the soldiers to withdraw.
"Set fire to the house!" he orders Luis Cervantes when they reach their quarters.
With a curious eagerness Luis Cervantes does not transmit the order but undertakes the task in person.
Two hours later when the city square was black with smoke and enormous tongues of fire rose from Monico's house, no one could account for the strange behavior of the general.
They established themselves in a large gloomy house, which likewise belonged to the cacique of Moyahua. The previous occupants had already left strong evidences in the patio, which had been converted into a manure pile. The walls, once whitewashed, were now faded and cracked, revealing the bare unbaked adobe; the floor had been torn up by the hoofs of animals; the orchard was littered with rotted branches and dead leaves. From the entrance one stumbled over broken bits of chairs and other furniture covered with dirt.
By ten o'clock, Luis Cervantes yawned with boredom, said good night to Blondie and War Paint, who were downing endless drinks on a bench in the square, and made for the barracks. The drawing room was alone furnished. As he entered, Demetrio, lying on the floor with his eyes wide open, trying to count the beams, gazed at him.
"It's you, eh? What's new? Come on, sit down."
Luis Cervantes first went over to trim the candle, then drew up a chair without a back, a coarse rag doing the duty of a wicker bottom. The legs of the chair squeaked. War Paint's black horse snorted and whirled its crupper in wide circles. Luis Cervantes sank into his seat.
"General, I wish to make my report. Here you have ..."
"Look here, man, I didn't really want this done, you know. Moyahua is almost like my native town. They'll say this is why we've been fighting!" Demetrio said, looking at the bulging sack of silver Cervantes was passing to him. Cervantes left his seat to squat down by Demetrio's side.
He stretched a blanket over the floor and into it poured the ten-peso pieces, shining, burning gold.
"First of all, General, only you and I know about this.... Secondly, you know well enough that if the sun shines, you should open the window. It's shining in our faces now but what about tomorrow? You should always look ahead. A bullet, a bolting horse, even a wretched cold in the head, and then there are a widow and orphans left in absolute want! ... The Government? Ha! Ha! ... Just go see Carranza or Villa or any of the big chiefs and try and tell them about your family.... If they answer with a kick you know where, they'll say they're giving you a handful of jewels. And they're right; we did not rise up in arms to make some Carranza or Villa President of our Republic. No—we fought to defend the sacred rights of the people against the tyranny of some vile cacique. And so, just as Villa or Carranza aren't going to ask our consent to the payment they're getting for the services they're rendering the country, we for our part don't have to ask anybody's permission about anything either."
Demetrio half stood up, grasped a bottle that stood nearby, drained it, then spat out the liquor, swelling out his cheeks.
"By God, my boy, you've certainly got the gift of gab!"
Luis felt dizzy, faint. The spattered beer seemed to intensify the stench of the refuse on which they sat; a carpet of orange and banana peels, fleshlike slices of watermelon, moldy masses of mangoes and sugarcane, all mixed up with cornhusks from tamales and human offal.
Demetrio's calloused hands shuffled through the brilliant coins, counting and counting. Recovering from his nausea, Luis Cervantes pulled out a small box of Fallieres phosphate and poured forth rings, brooches, pendants, and countless valuable jewels.
"Look here, General, if this mess doesn't blow over (and it doesn't look as though it would), if the revolution keeps on, there's enough here already for us to live on abroad quite comfortably."
Demetrio shook his bead.
"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 have......."
"Well, General, we'll go and get her any day you like."
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, General! 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 senses."
"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 pining 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 melancholy 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 drunkards, 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 forehead, 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 illumined with joy.
"To Jalisco, boys!" cried Blondie, pounding on the counter.
"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 Pancracio, who was already saddling the horses.
"Camilla can't go!" said War Paint promptly.
"Who in hell asked for your opinion?" Demetrio retorted angrily.
"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 beginning to fall for him.... Would you believe it!" Camilla whispered back.
War Paint turned purple, her cheeks swelled. Without a word she went out to get her horse that Blondie was saddling.
A whirlwind of dust, scorching down the road, suddenly 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 guffaw.
"Hell, Your ornament is nothing but tin!"
"Why in hell are you hanging on to that poison?" Pancracio asked Blondie who appeared dragging a prisoner.
"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 followed Blondie on foot; his face was sunburnt, his eyes red; his forehead beaded with sweat, his wrists tightly bound together.
"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 telegraph 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 hardhearted!"
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 working still!"
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 immense 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 strenuously 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 crystal. A thin cow, a scrawny nag, and a burro drank noisily together.
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 complaint of his boss, the ranch, his bad luck, his dog's life.
"You certainly earn your pay all right, my lad," Demetrio 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 think?"
"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 expressed it.
Demetrio slept badly. He flung out of the house very early.
"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 toward strangers. But when he tried to conjure up the image of his son, his efforts were vain; he had forgotten....
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, Demetrio."
"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 everything.
"Don't pay no attention to that crazy baggage. It's all lies, lies!"
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 silhouettes 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 valley. 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 on."
"Yes, to the sierra!" many of the men shouted.
"To the sierra! To the sierra! Hurrah for the mountains!"
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 Cervantes 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 alone."
"No! I'll buy the lot: watches, rings, everything else. How much?"
Quail hesitated, turned slightly pale; then he cried spiritedly:
"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 said:
"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 suddenly shouted:
"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, utterly exhausted.
"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, sonny!"
He drew his sword out and struck the prisoner several times.
"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 Tepatitlan 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 of looting.
In the afternoon some of Demetrio's men lay stretched out on the church steps, scratching their bellies. Venancio, 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 Cervantes was about to throw him out with an insult. But Camilla intervened.
"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 likewise 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 utmost skill and caught Camilla's horse.
"Come on, Tenderfoot; here's a job for you," Pancracio 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, said hoarsely:
"Not from you! If I was dying, I wouldn't accept anything 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 the troop.
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 Cervantes, Demetrio, and anyone she happened to remember at the moment, with such power and originality that the soldiers listened in wonder to vituperation that transcended 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 calmly:
"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 concerned, 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 himself. "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 yourself, Demetrio!"
War Paint stepped forward, surrendered her dagger and, thrusting her breast forward, let her arms fall to her side.
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: