Chapter 7: In Pesita's Camp
Copyright© 2015 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
PESITA was a short, stocky man with a large, dark mustache. He attired himself after his own ideas of what should constitute the uniform of a general--ideas more or less influenced and modified by the chance and caprice of fortune.
At the moment that Billy, Bridge, and Miguel were dragged into his presence his torso was enwrapped in a once resplendent coat covered with yards of gold braid. Upon his shoulders were brass epaulets such as are connected only in one's mind with the ancient chorus ladies of the light operas of fifteen or twenty years ago. Upon his legs were some rusty and ragged overalls. His feet were bare.
He scowled ferociously at the prisoners while his lieutenant narrated the thrilling facts of their capture--thrilling by embellishment.
"You are Americanos?" he asked of Bridge and Billy.
Both agreed that they were. Then Pesita turned toward Miguel.
"Where is Villa?" he asked.
"How should I know, my general?" parried Miguel. "Who am I--a poor man with a tiny rancho--to know of the movements of the great ones of the earth? I did not even know where was the great General Pesita until now I am brought into his gracious presence, to throw myself at his feet and implore that I be permitted to serve him in even the meanest of capacities."
Pesita appeared not to hear what Miguel had said. He turned his shoulder toward the man, and addressed Billy in broken English.
"You were on your way to El Orobo Rancho, eh? Are you acquainted there?" he asked.
Billy replied that they were not--merely looking for employment upon an American-owned ranch or in an American mine.
"Why did you leave your own country?" asked Pesita. "What do you want here in Mexico?"
"Well, ol' top," replied Billy, "you see de birds was flyin' south an' winter was in de air, an a fat-head dick from Chi was on me trail--so I ducks."
"Ducks?" queried Pesita, mystified. "Ah, the ducks--they fly south, I see."
"Naw, you poor simp--I blows," explained Billy.
"Ah, yes," agreed Pesita, not wishing to admit any ignorance of plain American even before a despised gringo. "But the large-faced dick--what might that be? I have spend much time in the States, but I do not know that."
"I said 'fat-head dick'--dat's a fly cop," Billy elucidated.
"It is he then that is the bird." Pesita beamed at this evidence of his own sagacity. "He fly."
"Flannagan ain't no bird--Flannagan's a dub."
Bridge came to the rescue.
"My erudite friend means," he explained, "that the police chased him out of the United States of America."
Pesita raised his eyebrows. All was now clear to him.
"But why did he not say so?" he asked.
"He tried to," said Bridge. "He did his best."
"Quit yer kiddin'," admonished Billy.
A bright light suddenly burst upon Pesita. He turned upon Bridge.
"Your friend is not then an American?" he asked. "I guessed it. That is why I could not understand him. He speaks the language of the gringo less well even than I. From what country is he?"
Billy Byrne would have asserted with some show of asperity that he was nothing if not American; but Bridge was quick to see a possible loophole for escape for his friend in Pesita's belief that Billy was no gringo, and warned the latter to silence by a quick motion of his head.
"He's from 'Gran' Avenoo, '" he said. "It is not exactly in Germany; but there are a great many Germans there. My friend is a native, so he don't speak German or English either--they have a language of their own in 'Gran' Avenoo'."
"I see," said Pesita--"a German colony. I like the Germans--they furnish me with much ammunition and rifles. They are my very good friends. Take Miguel and the gringo away"--this to the soldiers who had brought the prisoners to him--"I will speak further with this man from Granavenoo."
When the others had passed out of hearing Pesita addressed Billy.
"I am sorry, senor," he said, "that you have been put to so much inconvenience. My men could not know that you were not a gringo; but I can make it all right. I will make it all right. You are a big man. The gringos have chased you from their country as they chased me. I hate them. You hate them. But enough of them. You have no business in Mexico except to seek work. I give you work. You are big. You are strong. You are like a bull. You stay with me, senor, and I make you captain. I need men what can talk some English and look like gringo. You do fine. We make much money--you and I. We make it all time while we fight to liberate my poor Mexico. When Mexico liberate we fight some more to liberate her again. The Germans they give me much money to liberate Mexico, and--there are other ways of getting much money when one is riding around through rich country with soldiers liberating his poor, bleeding country. Sabe?"
"Yep, I guess I savvy," said Billy, "an' it listens all right to me's far's you've gone. My pal in on it?"
"You make my frien' a captain, too?"
Pesita held up his hands and rolled his eyes in holy horror. Take a gringo into his band? It was unthinkable.
"He shot," he cried. "I swear to kill all gringo. I become savior of my country. I rid her of all Americanos."
"Nix on the captain stuff fer me, then," said Billy, firmly. "That guy's a right one. If any big stiff thinks he can croak little ol' Bridge while Billy Byrne's aroun' he's got anudder t'ink comin'. Why, me an' him's just like brudders."
"You like this gringo?" asked Pesita.
"You bet," cried Billy.
Pesita thought for several minutes. In his mind was a scheme which required the help of just such an individual as this stranger--someone who was utterly unknown in the surrounding country and whose presence in a town could not by any stretch of the imagination be connected in any way with the bandit, Pesita.
"I tell you," he said. "I let your friend go. I send him under safe escort to El Orobo Rancho. Maybe he help us there after a while. If you stay I let him go. Otherwise I shoot you both with Miguel."
"Wot you got it in for Mig fer?" asked Billy. "He's a harmless sort o' guy."
"He Villista. Villista with gringos run Mexico--gringos and the church. Just like Huerta would have done it if they'd given him a chance, only Huerta more for church than for gringos."
"Aw, let the poor boob go," urged Billy, "an' I'll come along wit you. Why he's got a wife an' kids--you wouldn't want to leave them without no one to look after them in this God-forsaken country!"
Pesita grinned indulgently.
"Very well, Senor Captain," he said, bowing low. "I let Miguel and your honorable friend go. I send safe escort with them."
"Bully fer you, ol' pot!" exclaimed Billy, and Pesita smiled delightedly in the belief that some complimentary title had been applied to him in the language of "Granavenoo." "I'll go an' tell 'em," said Billy.
"Yes," said Pesita, "and say to them that they will start early in the morning."
As Billy turned and walked in the direction that the soldiers had led Bridge and Miguel, Pesita beckoned to a soldier who leaned upon his gun at a short distance from his "general"--a barefooted, slovenly attempt at a headquarters orderly.
"Send Captain Rozales to me," directed Pesita.
The soldier shuffled away to where a little circle of men in wide-brimmed, metal-encrusted hats squatted in the shade of a tree, chatting, laughing, and rolling cigarettes. He saluted one of these and delivered his message, whereupon the tall, gaunt Captain Rozales arose and came over to Pesita.
"The big one who was brought in today is not a gringo," said Pesita, by way of opening the conversation. "He is from Granavenoo. He can be of great service to us, for he is very friendly with the Germans--yet he looks like a gringo and could pass for one. We can utilize him. Also he is very large and appears to be equally strong. He should make a good fighter and we have none too many. I have made him a captain."
Rozales grinned. Already among Pesita's following of a hundred men there were fifteen captains.
"Where is Granavenoo?" asked Rozales.
"You mean to say, my dear captain," exclaimed Pesita, "that a man of your education does not know where Granavenoo is? I am surprised. Why, it is a German colony."
"Yes, of course. I recall it well now. For the moment it had slipped my mind. My grandfather who was a great traveler was there many times. I have heard him speak of it often."
"But I did not summon you that we might discuss European geography," interrupted Pesita. "I sent for you to tell you that the stranger would not consent to serve me unless I liberated his friend, the gringo, and that sneaking spy of a Miguel. I was forced to yield, for we can use the stranger. So I have promised, my dear captain, that I shall send them upon their road with a safe escort in the morning, and you shall command the guard. Upon your life respect my promise, Rozales; but if some of Villa's cutthroats should fall upon you, and in the battle, while you were trying to defend the gringo and Miguel, both should be slain by the bullets of the Villistas--ah, but it would be deplorable, Rozales, but it would not be your fault. Who, indeed, could blame you who had fought well and risked your men and yourself in the performance of your sacred duty? Rozales, should such a thing occur what could I do in token of my great pleasure other than make you a colonel?"
"I shall defend them with my life, my general," cried Rozales, bowing low.
"Good!" cried Pesita. "That is all."
Rozales started back toward the ring of smokers.
"Ah, Captain!" cried Pesita. "Another thing. Will you make it known to the other officers that the stranger from Granavenoo is a captain and that it is my wish that he be well treated, but not told so much as might injure him, or his usefulness, about our sacred work of liberating poor, bleeding unhappy Mexico."
Again Rozales bowed and departed. This time he was not recalled.
Billy found Bridge and Miguel squatting on the ground with two dirty-faced peons standing guard over them. The latter were some little distance away. They made no objection when Billy approached the prisoners though they had looked in mild surprise when they saw him crossing toward them without a guard.
Billy sat down beside Bridge, and broke into a laugh.
"What's the joke?" asked Bridge. "Are we going to be hanged instead of being shot?"
"We ain't goin' to be either," said Billy, "an' I'm a captain. Whaddaya know about that?"
He explained all that had taken place between himself and Pesita while Bridge and Miguel listened attentively to his every word.