BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde


Insurgent Mexico

by John Reed

Excerpt:

APEDDLER from Parral came into town with a mule-load of macuche,—you smoke macuche when you can't get tobacco,—and we strolled down with the rest of the population to get the news. This was in Magistral, a Durango mountain village three days' ride from the railroad. Somebody bought a little macuche, the rest of us borrowed from him, and we sent a boy for some corn-shucks. Everybody lit up, squatting around the peddler three deep; for it was weeks since the town had heard of the Revolution. He was full of the most alarming rumors: that the Federals had broken out of Torreon and were headed this way, burning ranches and murdering pacificos; that the United States troops had crossed the Rio Grande; that Huerta had resigned; that Huerta was coming north to take charge of the Federal troops in person; that Pascual Orozco had been shot at Ojinaga; that Pascual Orozco was coming south with ten thousand colorados. He retailed these reports with a wealth of dramatic gesture, stamping around until his heavy brown-and-gold sombrero wabbled on his head, tossing his faded blue blanket over his shoulder, firing imaginary rifles and drawing imaginary swords, while his audience murmured: "Ma!" and "Adio!" But the most interesting rumor was that General Urbina would leave for the front in two days.

-A hostile Arab named Antonio Swayfeta happened to be driving to Parral in a two-wheeled gig the next morning, and allowed me to go with him as far as Las Nieves, where the General lives. By afternoon we had climbed out of the mountains to the great upland plain of Northern Durango, and were jogging down the mile-long waves of yellow prairie, stretching away so far that the grazing cattle dwindled into dots and finally disappeared at the base of the wrinkled purple mountains that seemed close enough to hit with a thrown stone. The Arab's hostility had thawed, and he poured out his life's story, not one word of which I could understand. But the drift of it, I gathered, was largely commercial. He had once been to El Paso and regarded it as the world's most beautiful city. But business was better in Mexico. They say that there are few Jews in Mexico because they cannot stand the competition of the Arabs.

We passed only one human being all that day—a ragged old man astride a burro, wrapped in a red-andblack checked serape, though without trousers, and hugging the broken stock of a rifle. Spitting, he volunteered that he was a soldier; that after three years of deliberation he had finally decided to join the Revolution and fight for Libertad. But at his first battle a cannon had been fired, the first he had ever heard; he had immediately started for his home in El Oro, where he intended to descend into a gold-mine and stay there until the war was over. . . ,

We fell silent, Antonio and I. Occasionally he addressed the mule in faultless Castilian. Once he .informed me that that mule was "all heart" (pura corazon). The sun hung for a moment on the crest of the red porphyry mountains, and dropped behind them; the turquoise cup of sky held an orange powder of clouds. Then all the rolling leagues of desert glowed and came near in the soft light. Ahead suddenly reared the solid fortress of a big rancho, such as one comes on once a day in that vast land,—a mighty square of blank walls, with loop-holed towers at the corners, and an iron-studded gate. It stood grim and forbidding upon a little bare hill, like any castle, its adobe corrals around it; and below, in what had been a dry arroyo all day, the sunken river came to the surface in a pool, and disappeared again in the sand. Thin lines of smoke from within rose straight into the high last sunshine. From the river to the gate moved the tiny black figures of women with water-jars on their heads: and two wild horsemen galloped some cattle toward the corrals. Now the western mountains were blue velvet, and the pale sky a blood-stained canopy of watered silk. But by the time we reached the great gate of the rancho, above was only a shower of stars.

Antonio called for Don Jesus. It is always safe to call for Don Jesus at a rancho, for that is invariably the administrador's name. He finally appeared, a magnificently tall man in tight trousers, purple silk undershirt, and a gray sombrero heavily loaded with silver braid; and invited us in. The inside of the wall consisted of houses, running all the way around. Along the walls and over the doors hung festoons of jerked meat, and strings of peppers, and drying clothes. Three young girls crossed the square in single file, balancing dUas of water on their heads, shouting to each other in the raucous voices of Mexican women. At one house a woman crouched, nursing her baby; next door another kneeled to the interminable labor of grinding corn-meal in a stone trough. The menfolk squatted before little corn-husk fires, bundled in their faded serapes, smoking their hojas as they watched the women work. As we unharnessed they rose and gathered around, with soft-voiced "Bueno noches," curious and friendly. Where did we come from? Where going? What did we have of news? Had the Maderistas taken Ojinaga yet? Was it true that Orozco was coming to kill the pacificos? Did we know Panfilo Silveyra? He was a sergento, one of Urbina's men. He came from that house, was the cousin of this man. Ah, there was too much war!

Antonio departed to bargain for corn for the mule. "A tanito—just a little corn," he whined. "Surely Don Jesus wouldn't charge him anything. . . . Just so much corn as a mule could eat ... !" At one of the houses I negotiated for dinner. The woman spread out both her hands. "We are all so poor now," she said. "A little water, some beans—tortillas. ... It is all we eat in this house. . . ." Milk? No. Eggs? No. Meat? No. Coffee? Valgame Dios, no! I ventured that with this money they might be purchased at one of the other houses. "Quien sabe?" replied she dreamily. At this moment arrived the husband and upbraided her for her lack of hospitality. "My house is at your orders," he said magnificently, and begged a cigarette. Then he squatted down while she brought forward the two family chairs and bade us seat ourselves. The room was of good proportions, with a dirt floor and a ceiling of heavy beams, the adobe showing through. Walls and ceiling were whitewashed, and, to the naked eye, spotlessly clean. In one corner was a big iron bed, and in the other a Singer sewing machine, as in every other house I saw in Mexico. There was also a spindle-legged table, upon which stood a picture-postcard of Our Lady of Guadelupe, with a candle burning before it. Above this, on the wall, hung an indecent illustration clipped from the pages of Le Rire, in a silver-gilt frame—evidently an object of the highest veneration.

Arrived now various uncles, cousins, and compadres, wondering casually if we dragged any cigarros. At her husband's command, the woman brought a live coal in her fingers. We smoked. It grew late. There developed a lively argument as to who would go and buy provisions for our dinner. Finally they compromised on the woman; and soon Antonio and I sat in the kitchen, while she crouched upon the altar-like adobe platform in the corner, cooking over the open fire. The smoke enveloped up, pouring out the door. Occasionally a pig or a few hens would wander in from the outside, or a sheep would make a dash for the tortilla meal, until the angry voice of the master of the house reminded the woman that she was not doing five or six things at once. And she would rise wearily and belabor the animal with a flaming brand.


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