Yes, failure! For he had never learned to appreciate exactly the difference between fulminating sentences of death upon bandits in the columns of a small country newspaper and actually setting out in search of them, and tracking them to their lairs, gun in hand. During his first day’s march as volunteer lieutenant, he had begun to suspect the error of his ways—a brutal sixty miles’ journey it was, that left his hips and legs one mass of raw soreness and soldered all his bones together. A week later, after his first skirmish against the rebels, he under-stood every rule of the game. Luis Cervantes would have taken up a crucifix and solemnly sworn that as soon as the soldiers, gun in hand, stood ready to shoot, some pro-foundly eloquent voice had spoken behind them, saying, “Run for your lives.” It was all crystal clear. Even his noble-spirited horse, accustomed to battle, sought to sweep back on its hind legs and gallop furiously away, to stop only at a safe distance from the sound of firing. The sun was setting, the mountain became peopled with vague and restless shadows, darkness scaled the ram-parts of the mountain hastily. What could be more log-ical then, than to seek refuge behind the rocks and at-tempt to sleep, granting mind and body a sorely needed rest?
But the soldier’s logic is the logic of absurdity. On the morrow, for example, his colonel awakened him rudely out of his sleep, cuffing and belaboring him unmerci-fully, and, after having bashed in his face, deprived him of his place of vantage. The rest of the officers, moreover, burst into hilarious mirth and holding their sides with laughter begged the colonel to pardon the deserter. The colonel, therefore, instead of sentencing him to be shot, kicked his buttocks roundly for him and assigned him to kitchen police.
This signal insult was destined to bear poisonous fruit. Luis Cervantes determined to play turncoat; in-deed, mentally, he had already changed sides. Did not the sufferings of the underdogs, of the disinherited masses, move him to the core? Henceforth he espoused the cause of Demos, of the subjugated, the beaten and baffled, who implore justice, and justice alone. He be-came intimate with the humblest private. More, even, he shed tears of compassion over a dead mule which fell, load and all, after a terribly long journey.
From then on, Luis Cervantes’ prestige with the sol-diers increased. Some actually dared to make confes-sions. One among them, conspicuous for his sobriety and silence, told him: “I’m a carpenter by trade, you know. I had a mother, an old woman nailed to her chair for ten years by rheumatism. In the middle of the night, they pulled me out of my house; three damn policemen; I woke up a soldier twenty-five miles away from my hometown. A month ago our company passed by there again. My mother was already under the sod! . . . So there’s nothing left for me in this wide world; no one misses me now, you see. But, by God, I’m damned if I’ll use these cartridges they make us carry, against the enemy. If a miracle happens (I pray for it every night, you know, and I guess our Lady of Guadalupe can do it all right), then I’ll join Villa’s men; and I swear by the holy soul of my old mother, that I’ll make every one of these Government people pay, by God I will.”