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The Underdogs


by

Mariano Azuela




Mariano Azuela, the first of the "novelists of the Revolution," was
born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico, in 1873. He studied medicine
in Guadalajara and returned to Lagos in 1909, where he began the
practice of his profession. He began his writing career early; in 1896
he published Impressions of a Student in a weekly of Mexico City. This
was followed by numerous sketches and short stories, and in 1911 by his
first novel, Andres Perez, maderista.

Like most of the young Liberals, he supported Francisco I. Madero's
uprising, which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, and in
1911 was made Director of Education of the State of Jalisco. After
Madero's assassination, he joined the army of Pancho Villa as doctor,
and his knowledge of the Revolution was acquired at firsthand. When the
counterrevolutionary forces of Victoriano Huerta were temporarily
triumphant, he emigrated to El Paso, Texas, where in 1915 he wrote The
Underdogs (Los de abajo), which did not receive general recognition
until 1924, when it was hailed as the novel of the Revolution.

But Azuela was fundamentally a moralist, and his disappointment with
the Revolution soon began to manifest itself. He had fought for a
better Mexico; but he saw that while the Revolution had corrected
certain injustices, it had given rise to others equally deplorable.
When he saw the self-servers and the unprincipled turning his hopes for
the redemption of the under-privileged of his country into a ladder to
serve their own ends, his disillusionment was deep and often bitter.
His later novels are marred at times by a savage sarcasm.

During his later years, and until his death in 1952, he lived in Mexico
City writing and practicing his profession among the poor.






The Underdogs


by

Mariano Azuela


A Novel of the Mexican Revolution


Translated by E. Munguia, Jr.

Original Title: LOS DE ABAJO




PART ONE


"How beautiful the revolution!
Even in its most barbarous aspect it is beautiful,"
Solis said with deep feeling.



I

"That's no animal, I tell you! Listen to the dog barking! It must be a
human being."

The woman stared into the darkness of the sierra.

"What if they're soldiers?" said a man, who sat Indian-fashion, eating,
a coarse earthenware plate in his right hand, three folded tortillas in
the other.

The woman made no answer, all her senses directed outside the hut. The
beat of horses' hoofs rang in the quarry nearby. The dog barked again,
louder and more angrily.

"Well, Demetrio, I think you had better hide, all the same."

Stolidly, the man finished eating; next he reached for a cantaro and
gulped down the water in it; then he stood up.

"Your rifle is under the mat," she whispered.

A tallow candle illumined the small room. In one corner stood a plow, a
yoke, a goad, and other agricultural implements. Ropes hung from the
roof, securing an old adobe mold, used as a bed; on it a child slept,
covered with gray rags.

Demetrio buckled his cartridge belt about his waist and picked up his
rifle. He was tall and well built, with a sanguine face and beardless
chin; he wore shirt and trousers of white cloth, a broad Mexican hat
and leather sandals.

With slow, measured step, he left the room, vanishing into the
impenetrable darkness of the night.

The dog, excited to the point of madness, had jumped over the corral
fence.

Suddenly a shot rang out. The dog moaned, then barked no more. Some men
on horseback rode up, shouting and sweating; two of them dismounted,
while the other hung back to watch the horses.

"Hey, there, woman: we want food! Give us eggs, milk, beans, anything
you've got! We're starving!"

"Curse the sierra! It would take the Devil himself not to lose his way!"

"Guess again, Sergeant! Even the Devil would go astray if he were as
drunk as you are."

The first speaker wore chevrons on his arm, the other red stripes on
his shoulders.

"Whose place is this, old woman? Or is it an empty house? God's truth,
which is it?"

"Of course it's not empty. How about the light and that child there?
Look here, confound it, we want to eat, and damn quick tool Are you
coming out or are we going to make you?"

"You swine! Both of you! You've gone and killed my dog, that's what
you've done! What harm did he ever do you? What did you have against
him?"

The woman reentered the house, dragging the dog behind her, very white
and fat, with lifeless eyes and flabby body.

"Look at those cheeks, Sergeant! Don't get riled, light of my life: I
swear I'll turn your home into a dovecot, see?"

"By God!" he said, breaking off into song:

"Don't look so haughty, dear,
Banish all fears,
Kiss me and melt to me,
I'll drink up your tears!"


His alcoholic tenor trailed off into the night.

"Tell me what they call this ranch, woman?" the sergeant asked.

"Limon," the woman replied curtly, carrying wood to the fire and
fanning the coals.

"So we're in Limon, eh, the famous Demetrio Macias' country, eh? Do you
hear that, Lieutenant? We're in Limon."

"Limon? What the hell do I care? If I'm bound for hell, Sergeant, I
might as well go there now. I don't mind, now that I've found as good a
remount as this! Look at the cheeks on the darling, look at them!
There's a pair of ripe red apples for a fellow to bite into!"

"I'll wager you know Macias the bandit, lady? I was in the pen with him
at Escobedo, once."

"Bring me a bottle of tequila, Sergeant: I've decided to spend the
night with this charming lady.... What's that? The colonel? ... Why in
God's name talk about the colonel now? He can go straight to hell, for
all I care. And if he doesn't like it, it's all right with me. Come on,
Sergeant, tell the corporal outside to unsaddle the horses and feed
them. I'll stay here all night. Here, my girl, you let the sergeant fry
the eggs and warm up the tortillas; you come here to me. See this
wallet full of nice new bills? They're all for you, darling. Sure, I
want you to have them. Figure it out for yourself. I'm drunk, see: I've
a bit of a load on and that's why I'm kind of hoarse, you might call
it. I left half my gullet down Guadalajara way, and I've been spitting
the other half out all the way up here. Oh well, who cares? But I want
you to have that money, see, dearie? Hey, Sergeant, where's my bottle?
Now, little girl, come here and pour yourself a drink. You won't, eh?
Aw, come on! Afraid of your - er - husband ... or whatever he is, huh?
Well, if he's skulking in some hole, you tell him to come out. What the
hell do I care? I'm not scared of rats, see!" Suddenly a white shadow
loomed on the threshold.

"Demetrio Macias!" the sergeant cried as he stepped back in terror.

The lieutenant stood up, silent, cold and motionless as a statue.

"Shoot them!" the woman croaked.

"Oh, come, you'll surely spare us! I didn't know you were there. I'll
always stand up for a brave man."

Demetrio stood his ground, looking them up and down, an insolent and
disdainful smile wrinkling his face.

"Yes, I not only respect brave men, but I like them. I'm proud and
happy to call them friends. Here's my hand on it: friend to friend."
Then, after a pause: "All right, Demetrio Macias, if you don't want to
shake hands, all right! But it's because you don't know me, that's why,
just because the first time you saw me I was doing this dog's job. But
look here, I ask you, what in God's name can a man do when he's poor
and has a wife to support and kids? ... Right you are, Sergeant, let's
go: I've nothing but respect for the home of what I call a brave man, a
real, honest, genuine man!"

When they had gone, the woman drew close to Demetrio.

"Holy Virgin, what agony! I suffered as though it was you they'd shot."

"You go to father's house, quick!" Demetrio ordered. She wanted to hold
him in her arms; she entreated, she wept. But he pushed away from her
gently and, in a sullen voice, said, "I've an idea the whole lot of
them are coming."

"Why didn't you kill 'em?"

"Their hour hasn't struck yet."

They went out together; she bore the child in her arms. At the door,
they separated, moving off in different directions.

The moon peopled the mountain with vague shadows. As he advanced at
every turn of his way Demetrio could see the poignant, sharp silhouette
of a woman pushing forward painfully, bearing a child in her arms.

When, after many hours of climbing, he gazed back, huge flames shot up
from the depths of the canyon by the river. It was his house,
blazing....



II

Everything was still swathed in shadows as Demetrio Macias began his
descent to the bottom of the ravine. Between rocks striped with huge
eroded cracks, and a squarely cut wall, with the river flowing below, a
narrow ledge along the steep incline served as a mountain trail.

"They'll surely find me now and track us down like dogs," he mused.
"It's a good thing they know nothing about the trails and paths up
here.... But if they got someone from Moyahua to guide them ..." He
left the sinister thought unfinished. "All the men from Limon or Santa
Rosa or the other nearby ranches are on our side: they wouldn't try to
trail us. That cacique who's chased and run me ragged over these hills,
is at Mohayua now; he'd give his eyeteeth to see me dangling from a
telegraph pole with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, purple and
swollen...."

At dawn, he approached the pit of the canyon. Here, he lay on the rocks
and fell asleep.

The river crept along, murmuring as the waters rose and fell in small
cascades. Birds sang lyrically from their hiding among the pitaya
trees. The monotonous, eternal drone of insects filled the rocky
solitude with mystery.

Demetrio awoke with a start. He waded the river, following its course
which ran counter to the canyon; he climbed the crags laboriously as an
ant, gripping root and rock with his hands, clutching every stone in
the trail with his bare feet.

When he reached the summit, he glanced down to see the sun steeping the
valley in a lake of gold. Near the canyon, enormous rocks loomed
protrudent, like fantastic Negro skulls. The pitaya trees rose tenuous,
tall, like the tapering, gnarled fingers of a giant; other trees of all
sorts bowed their crests toward the pit of the abyss. Amid the stark
rocks and dry branches, roses bloomed like a white offering to the sun
as smoothly, suavely, it unraveled its golden threads, one by one, from
rock to rock.

Demetrio stopped at the summit. Reaching backward, with his right arm
he drew his horn which hung at his back, held it up to his thick lips,
and, swelling his cheeks out, blew three loud blasts. From across the
hill close by, three sharp whistles answered his signal.

In the distance, from a conical heap of reeds and dry straws, man after
man emerged, one after the other, their legs and chests naked, lambent
and dark as old bronze. They rushed forward to greet Demetrio, and
stopped before him, askance.

"They've burnt my house," he said.

A murmur of oaths, imprecations, and threats rose among them.

Demetrio let their anger run its course. Then he drew a bottle from
under his shirt and took a deep swig; then he wiped the neck of the
bottle with the back of his hand and passed it around. It passed from
mouth to mouth; not a drop was left. The men passed their tongues
greedily over their lips to recapture the tang of the liquor.

"Glory be to God and by His Will," said Demetrio, "tonight or tomorrow
at the latest we'll meet the Federals. What do you say, boys, shall we
let them find their way about these trails?"

The ragged crew jumped to their feet, uttering shrill cries of joy;
then their jubilation turned sinister and they gave vent to threats,
oaths and imprecations.

"Of course, we can't tell how strong they are," said Demetrio as his
glance traveled over their faces in scrutiny.

"Do you remember Medina? Out there at Hostotipaquillo, he only had a
half a dozen men with knives that they sharpened on a grindstone. Well,
he held back the soldiers and the police, didn't he? And he beat them,
too."

"We're every bit as good as Medina's crowd!" said a tall,
broad-shouldered man with a black beard and bushy eyebrows.

"By God, if I don't own a Mauser and a lot of cartridges, if I can't
get a pair of trousers and shoes, then my name's not Anastasio
Montanez! Look here, Quail, you don't believe it, do you? You ask my
partner Demetrio if I haven't half a dozen bullets in me already.
Christ! Bullets are marbles to me! And I dare you to contradict me!"

"Viva Anastasio Montanez," shouted Manteca.

"All right, all right!" said Montanez. "Viva Demetrio Macias, our
chief, and long life to God in His heaven and to the Virgin Mary."

"Viva Demetrio Macias," they all shouted.

They gathered dry brush and wood, built a fire and placed chunks of
fresh meat upon the burning coals. As the blaze rose, they collected
about the fire, sat down Indian-fashion and inhaled the odor of the
meat as it twisted on the crackling fire. The rays of the sun, falling
about them, cast a golden radiance over the bloody hide of a calf,
lying on the ground nearby. The meat dangled from a rope fastened to a
huizache tree, to dry in the sun and wind.

"Well, men," Demetrio said, "you know we've only twenty rifles, besides
my thirty-thirty. If there are just a few of them, we'll shoot until
there's not a live man left. If there's a lot of 'em, we can give 'em a
good scare, anyhow."

He undid a rag belt about his waist, loosened a knot in it and offered
the contents to his companions. Salt. A murmur of approbation rose
among them as each took a few grains between the tips of his fingers.

They ate voraciously; then, glutted, lay down on the ground, facing the
sky. They sang monotonous, sad songs, uttering a strident shout after
each stanza.



III

In the brush and foliage of the sierra, Demetrio Macias and his
threescore men slept until the halloo of the horn, blown by Pancracio
from the crest of a peak, awakened them.

"Time, boys! Look around and see what's what!" Anastasio Montanez said,
examining his rifle springs. Yet he was previous; an hour or more
elapsed with no sound or stir save the song of the locust in the brush
or the frog stirring in his mudhole. At last, when the ultimate faint
rays of the moon were spent in the rosy dimness of the dawn, the
silhouette of a soldier loomed at the end of the trail. As they
strained their eyes, they could distinguish others behind him, ten,
twenty, a hundred. ... Then, suddenly, darkness swallowed them up. Only
when the sun rose, Demetrio's band realized that the canyon was alive
with men, midgets seated on miniature horses.

"Look at 'em, will you?" said Pancracio. "Pretty, ain't they? Come on,
boys, let's go and roll marbles with 'em."

Now the moving dwarf figures were lost in the dense chaparral, now they
reappeared, stark and black against the ocher. The voices of officers,
as they gave orders, and soldiers, marching at ease, were clearly
audible. Demetrio raised his hand; the locks of rifles clicked. "Fire!"
he cried tensely.

Twenty-one men shot as one; twenty-one soldiers fell off their horses.
Caught by surprise, the column halted, etched like bas-reliefs in stone
against the rocks.

Another volley and a score of soldiers hurtled down from rock to rock.

"Come out, bandits. Come out, you starved dogs!"

"To hell with you, you corn rustlers!"

"Kill the cattle thieves! Kill 'em!"


The soldiers shouted defiance to their enemies; the latter, giving
proof of a marksmanship which had already made them famous, were
content to keep under cover, quiet, mute.

"Look, Pancracio," said Meco, completely black save for his eyes and
teeth. "This is for that man who passes that tree. I'll get the son of
a ..."

"Take that! Right in the head. You saw it, didn't you, mate? Now, this
is for the fellow on the roan horse. Down you come, you shave-headed
bastard!"

"I'll give that lad on the trail's edge a shower of lead. If you don't
hit the river, I'm a liar! Now: look at him!"

"Oh, come on, Anastasio don't be cruel; lend me your rifle. Come along,
one shot, just one!"

Manteca and Quail, unarmed, begged for a gun as a boon, imploring
permission to fire at least a shot apiece. "Come out of your holes if
you've got any guts!"

"Show your faces, you lousy cowards!"

From peak to peak, the shouts rang as distinctly as though uttered
across a street. Suddenly, Quail stood up, naked, holding his trousers
to windward as though he were a bullfighter flaunting a red cape, and
the soldiers below the bull. A shower of shots peppered upon Demetrio's
men.

"God! That was like a hornet's nest buzzing overhead," said Anastasio
Montanez, lying flat on the ground without daring to wink an eye.

"Here, Quail, you son of a bitch, you stay where I told you," roared
Demetrio.

They crawled to take new positions. The soldiers, congratulating
themselves on their successes, ceased firing when another volley roused
them.

"More coming!" they shouted.

Some, panic-stricken, turned their horses back; others, abandoning
their mounts, began to climb up the mountain and seek shelter behind
the rocks. The officers had to shoot at them to enforce discipline.

"Down there, down there!" said Demetrio as he leveled his rifle at the
translucent thread of the river.

A soldier fell into the water; at each shot, invariably a soldier bit
the dust. Only Demetrio was shooting in that direction; for every
soldier killed, ten or twenty of them, intact, climbed afresh on the
other side.

"Get those coming up from under! Los de Abajo! Get the underdogs!" he
screamed.

Now his fellows were exchanging rifles, laughing and making wagers on
their marksmanship.

"My leather belt if I miss that head there, on the black horse!"

"Lend me your rifle, Meco."

"Twenty Mauser cartridges and a half yard of sausage if you let me
spill that lad riding the bay mare. All right! Watch me.... There! See
him jump! Like a bloody deer."

"Don't run, you half-breeds. Come along with you! Come and meet Father
Demetrio!"

Now it was Demetrio's men who screamed insults. Manteca, his smooth
face swollen in exertion, yelled his lungs out. Pancracio roared, the
veins and muscles in his neck dilated, his murderous eyes narrowed to
two evil slits.

Demetrio fired shot after shot, constantly warning his men of impending
danger, but they took no heed until they felt the bullets spattering
them from one side.

"Goddamn their souls, they've branded me!" Demetrio cried, his teeth
flashing.

Then, very swiftly, he slid down a gully and was lost....



IV

Two men were missing, Serapio the candymaker, and Antonio, who
played the cymbals in the Juchipila band. "Maybe they'll join us
further on," said Demetrio.

The return journey proved moody. Anastasio Montanez alone preserved his
equanimity, a kindly expression playing in his sleepy eyes and on his
bearded face. Pancracio's harsh, gorillalike profile retained its
repulsive immutability.

The soldiers had retreated; Demetrio began the search for the soldiers'
horses which had been hidden in the sierra.

Suddenly Quail, who had been walking ahead, shrieked. He had caught
sight of his companions swinging from the branches of a mesquite. There
could be no doubt of their identity; Serapio and Antonio they certainly
were. Anastasio Montanez prayed brokenly.

"Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom
come..."

"Amen," his men answered in low tones, their heads bowed, their hats
upon their breasts....

Then, hurriedly, they took the Juchipila canyon northward, without
halting to rest until nightfall.

Quail kept walking close to Anastasio unable to banish from his mind
the two who were hanged, their dislocated limp necks, their dangling
legs, their arms pendulous, and their bodies moving slowly in the wind.

On the morrow, Demetrio complained bitterly of his wound; he could no
longer ride on horseback. They were forced to carry him the rest of the
way on a makeshift stretcher of leaves and branches.

"He's bleeding frightfully," said Anastasio Montanez, tearing off one
of his shirt-sleeves and tying it tightly about Demetrio's thigh, a
little above the wound.

"That's good," said Venancio. "It'll keep him from bleeding and stop
the pain."

Venancio was a barber. In his native town, he pulled teeth and
fulfilled the office of medicine man. He was accorded an unimpeachable
authority because he had read The Wandering Jew and one or two other
books. They called him "Doctor"; and since he was conceited about his
knowledge, he employed very few words.

They took turns, carrying the stretcher in relays of four over the bare
stony mesa and up the steep passes.

At high noon, when the reflection of the sun on the calcareous soil
burned their shoulders and made the landscape dimly waver before their
eyes, the monotonous, rhythmical moan of the wounded rose in unison
with the ceaseless cry of the locusts. They stopped to rest at every
small hut they found hidden between the steep, jagged rocks.

"Thank God, a kind soul and tortillas full of beans and chili are never
lacking," Anastasio Montanez said with a triumphant belch.

The mountaineers would shake calloused hands with the travelers, saying:

"God's blessing on you! He will find a way to help you all, never fear.
We're going ourselves, starting tomorrow morning. We're dodging the
draft, with those damned Government people who've declared war to the
death on us, on all the poor. They come and steal our pigs, our
chickens and corn, they burn our homes and carry our women off, and if
they ever get hold of us they'll kill us like mad dogs, and we die
right there on the spot and that's the end of the story!"

At sunset, amid the flames dyeing the sky with vivid, variegated
colors, they descried a group of houses up in the heart of the blue
mountains. Demetrio ordered them to carry him there.

These proved to be a few wretched straw huts, dispersed all over the
river slopes, between rows of young sprouting corn and beans. They
lowered the stretcher and Demetrio, in a weak voice, asked for a glass
of water.

Groups of squalid Indians sat in the dark pits of the huts, men with
bony chests, disheveled, matted hair, and ruddy cheeks; behind them,
eyes shone up from floors of fresh reeds.

A child with a large belly and glossy dark skin came close to the
stretcher to inspect the wounded man. An old woman followed, and soon
all of them drew about Demetrio in a circle.

A girl sympathizing with him in his plight brought a jicara of bluish
water. With hands shaking, Demetrio took it up and drank greedily.

"Will you have some more?"

He raised his eyes and glanced at the girl, whose features were common
but whose voice had a note of kindness in it. Wiping his sweating brow
with the back of his palm and turning on one side, he gasped: "May God
reward you."

Then his whole body shook, making the leaves of the stretcher rustle.
Fever possessed him; he fainted.

"It's a damp night and that's terrible for the fever," said Remigia, an
old wrinkled barefooted woman, wearing a cloth rag for a blouse.

She invited them to move Demetrio into her hut.

Pancracio, Anastasio Montanez, and Quail lay down beside the stretcher
like faithful dogs, watchful of their master's wishes. The rest
scattered about in search of food.

Remigia offered them all she had, chili and tortillas.

"Imagine! I had eggs, chickens, even a goat and her kid, but those damn
soldiers wiped me out clean."

Then, making a trumpet of her hands, she drew near Anastasio and
murmured in his ear:

"Imagine, they even carried away Senora Nieves' little girl!"



V

Suddenly awakening, Quail opened his eyes and stood up.

"Montanez, did you hear? A shot, Montanez! Hey, Montanez, get up!"

He shook him vigorously until Montanez ceased snoring and in turn woke
up.

"What in the name of ... Now you're at it again, damn it. I tell you
there aren't ghosts any more," Anastasio muttered out of a half-sleep.

"I heard a shot, Montanez!"

"Go back to sleep, Quail, or I'll bust your nose."

"Hell, Anastasio I tell you it's no nightmare. I've forgotten those
fellows they hung, honest. It's a shot, I tell you. I heard it all
right."

"A shot, you say? All right, then, hand me my gun."

Anastasio Montanez rubbed his eyes, stretched out his arms and legs,
and stood up lazily.

They left the hut. The sky was solid with stars; the moon rose like a


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