Presently they reached the city square and stopped in front of an octagonal, rough, massive church, reminis-cent of the colonial period. At one time the square must have been a garden, judging from the bare stunted orange trees planted between iron and wooden benches. The sonorous, joyful bells rang again. From within the church, the honeyed voices of a female chorus rose melancholy and grave. To the strains of a guitar, the young girls of the town sang the “Mysteries.”
“What’s the fiesta, lady?” Venancio asked of an old woman who was running toward the church.
“The Sacred Heart of Jesus!” answered the pious woman, panting.
They remembered that one year ago they had captured Zacatecas. They grew sadder still.
Juchipila, like the other towns they had passed through on their way from Tepic, by way of Jalisco, Aguasca-lientes and Zacatecas, was in ruins. The black trail of the incendiaries showed in the roofless houses, in the burnt arcades. Almost all the houses were closed, yet, here and there, those still open offered, in ironic contrast, portals gaunt and bare as the white skeletons of horses scattered over the roads. The terrible pangs of hunger seemed to speak from every face; hunger on every dusty cheek, in their dusty countenances; in the hectic flame of their eyes, which, when they met a soldier, blazed with hatred. In vain the soldiers scoured the streets in search of food, biting their lips in anger. A single lunch-room was open; at once they filled it. No beans, no tor-tillas, only chili and tomato sauce. In vain the officers showed their pocketbooks stuffed with bills or used threats:
“Yea, you’ve got papers all right! That’s all you’ve brought! Try and eat them, will you?” said the owner, an insolent old shrew with an enormous scar on her cheek, who told them she had already lain with a dead man, “to cure her from ever feeling frightened again.”
Despite the melancholy and desolation of the town, while the women sang in the church, birds sang in the foliage, and the thrushes piped their lyrical strain on the withered branches of the orange trees.
Demetrio Macias’ wife, mad with joy, rushed along the trail to meet him, leading a child by the hand. An absence of almost two years!
They embraced each other and stood speechless. She wept, sobbed. Demetrio stared in astonishment at his wife who seemed to have aged ten or twenty years. Then he looked at the child who gazed up at him in sur-prise. His heart leaped to his mouth as he saw in the child’s features his own steel features and fiery eyes ex-actly reproduced. He wanted to hold him in his arms, but the frightened child took refuge in his mother’s skirts.
“It’s your own father, baby! It’s your daddy!”
The child hid his face within the folds of his mother’s skirt, still hostile.