“You’re not peaceful people, you’re deserters. Where do you come from?” Demetrio said, eyeing them with keen scrutiny.
The prisoners grew confused; they looked at each other hesitatingly, unable to give a prompt answer.
“They’re Carranzistas,” one of the soldiers said.
“Carranzistas hell!” one of them said proudly. “I’d rather be a pig.”
“The truth is we’re deserters,” another said. “After the defeat we deserted from General Villa’s troops this side of Celaya.”
“General Villa defeated? Ha! Ha! That’s a good joke.”
The soldiers laughed. But Demetrio’s brow was wrinkled as though a black shadow had passed over his eyes.
“There ain’t a son of a bitch on earth who can beat General Villa!” said a bronzed veteran with a scar clear across the face.
Without a change of expression, one of the deserters stared persistently at him and said:
“I know who you are. When we took Torreon you were with General Urbina. In Zacatecas you were with General Natera and then you shifted to the Jalisco troops. Am I lying?” These words met with a sudden and definite effect. The prisoners gave a detailed account of the tremendous defeat of Villa at Celaya. Demetrio’s men listened in silence, stupefied.
Before resuming their march, they built a fire on which to roast some bull meat. Anastasio Montanez, searching for food among the huizache trees, descried the close-cropped neck of Valderrama’s horse in the distance among the rocks.
“Hey! Come here, you fool, after all there ain’t been no gravy!” he shouted.
Whenever anything was said about shooting someone, Valderrama, the romantic poet, would disappear for a whole day.
Hearing Anastasio’s voice, Valderrama was convinced that the prisoners had been set at liberty. A few mo-ments later, he was joined by Venancio and Demetrio.
“Heard the news?” Venancio asked gravely.
“It’s very serious. A terrible mess! Villa was beaten at Celaya by Obregon and Carranza is winning all along the line! We’re done for!”
Valderrama’s gesture was disdainful and solemn as an emperor’s. “Villa? Obregon? Carranza? What’s the difference? I love the revolution like a volcano in erup-tion; I love the volcano because it’s a volcano, the revolu-tion because it’s the revolution! What do I care about the stones left above or below after the cataclysm? What are they to me?”
In the glare of the midday sun the reflection of a white tequila bottle glittered on his forehead; and, jubi-lant, he ran toward the bearer of such a marvelous gift.
“I like this crazy fool,” Demetrio said with a smile. “He says things sometimes that make you think.”
They resumed their march; their uncertainty translated into a lugubrious silence. Slowly, inevitably, the catastro-phe must come; it was even now being realized. Villa defeated was a fallen god; when gods cease to be omnipotent, they are nothing.