John Reed Internet Archive
First Published: April 1914 in The Masses
Transcribed: Sally Ryan January, 2001
I met Mac down in Mexico—Chihuahua City—last New Year’s Eve. He was a breath from home—an American in the raw. I remember that as we sallied out of the Hotel for a Tom-and-Jerry at Chee Lee’s, the cracked bells in the ancient cathedral were ringing wildly for midnight mass. Above us were the hot desert stars. All over the city, from the cuartels where Villa’s army was quartered, from distant outposts on the naked hills, from the sentries in the streets, came the sound of exultant shots. A drunken officer passed us, and, mistaking the fiesta, yelled “Christ is born!” At the next corner down a group of soldiers, wrapped to their eyes in serapes, sat around a fire chanting the interminable ballad of the “Morning Song to Francisco Villa.” Each singer had to make up a new verse about the exploits of the Great Captain. ...
At the great doors of the church, through the shady paths of the Plaza, visible and vanishing again at the mouths of dark streets, the silent, sinister figures of black-robed women gathered to wash away their sins. And from the cathedral itself, a pale red light streamed out—and strange Indian voices singing a chant that I had heard only in Spain.
“Let’s go in and see the service,” I said. “It must be interesting.”
“Hell, no,” said Mac, in a slightly strained voice. “I don’t want to butt in on a man’s religion.”
“Are you a Catholic?”
“No,” he replied. “I don’t guess I’m anything. I haven’t been to a church for years.”
“Bully for you,” I cried. “So you’re not superstitious either!”
Mac looked at me with some distaste. “I’m not a religious man,” and here he spat. “But I don’t go around knocking God: There’s too much risk in it.”
“Risk of what?”
“Why when you die—you know....” Now he was disgusted, and angry.
In Chee Lee’s we met up with two more Americans. They were the kind that preface all remarks by “I’ve been in this country seven years, and I know the people down to the ground!"
“Mexican women,” said one, “are the rottenest on earth. Why they never wash more than twice a year. And as for Virtue—it simply doesn’t exist! They don’t get married even. They just take anybody they happen to like. Mexican women are all —, that’s all there is to it!”
“I got a nice little Indian girl down in Torreon,” began the other man. “Say, it’s a crime. Why she don’t even care if I marry her or not! I—”
“That’s the way with ‘em,” broke in the other. “Loose! That’s what they are. I’ve been in this country seven years.”
“And do you know,” the other man shook his finger severely at me, “you can tell all that to a Mexican Greaser and he’ll just laugh at you! That’s the kind of dirty skunks they are!”
“They’ve got no Pride,” said Mac, gloomily.
“Imagine,” began the first compatriot. “Imagine what would happen if you spoke like that about a woman to an AMERICAN!”
Mac banged his fist on the table. “The American Woman, God bless her!” he said. “If any man dared to dirty the fair name of the American Woman to me, I think I’d kill him.” He glared around the table, and, as none of us besmirched the reputation of the Femininity of the Great Republic, he proceeded. “She is a Pure Ideal, and we’ve got to keep her so. I’d like to hear anybody talk rotten about a woman in my hearing!”
We drank our Tom-and-Jerries in the solemn righteousness of a Convention of Galahads.
“Say Mac,” the second man said abruptly. “Do you remember them two little girls you and I had in Kansas City that winter?”
“Do I?” glowed Mac. “And remember the awful fix you thought you were in?”
“Will I ever forget it!”
The first man spoke. “Well,” said he. “You can crack up your pretty senoritas all you want to. But for me, give me a clean little American girl.” ...
Mac was over six feet tall—a brute of a man, in the magnificent insolence of youth. He was only twenty-five, but he had been many places and done many things. Railroad Foreman, Plantation Overseer in Georgia, Boss Mechanic in a Mexican Mine, Cow-Puncher, and Texas Deputy-Sheriff. He came originally from Vermont. Along about the second Tom-and-Jerry, he lifted the veil of his past.
“When I came down to Burlington to work in the Lumber Mill, I was only a kid about sixteen. My brother had been working there already a year, and he took me up to board at the same house as him. He was four years older than me—a big guy, too; but a little soft.... Always kept bulling around about how wrong it was to fight, and that kind of stuff. Never would hit me—even when he got hot at me; because he said I was smaller.
“Well, there was a girl in the house, that my brother had been carrying on with for a long time. Now I’ve got the cussedest damn disposition,” laughed Mac. “Always did have. Nothing would do me but I should get that girl away from my brother. Pretty soon I did it, too; and when he had to go to town, we certainly just glued ourselves together.... Well, gentlemen, do you know what that devil of a girl did! One time when my brother was kissing her, she suddenly says ‘Why you kiss just like Mac does!’ “
“He came to find me. All his ideas about not fighting were gone, of course—not worth a damn anyway with a real man. He was so white around the gills that I hardly knew him—eyes shooting fire like a volcano. He says,"— — you, what have you been doing with my girl?” He was a great big fellow, and for a minute I was a little scared. But then I remembered how soft he was, and I was game. ‘If you can’t hold her,’ I says, ‘leave her go!’
“It was a bad fight. He was out to kill me. I tried to kill him, too. A big red cloud came over me, and I went raging, tearing mad. See this ear?” Mac indicated the stump of the member alluded to. “He did that. I got him in one eye, though, so he never saw again. We soon quit using fists; we scratched, and choked, and bit, and kicked. They say my brother let out a roar like a bull every few minutes, but I just opened my mouth and screamed all the time.... Pretty soon I landed a kick in — a place where it hurt, and he fell like he was dead.” ... Mac finished his Tom-and-Jerry.
Somebody ordered another. Mac went on.
“A little while after that I came away South, and my brother joined the Northwest Mounted Police. You remember that Indian who murdered the fellow out in Victoria in ‘06? Well, my brother was sent out after him, and got shot in the lung. I happened to be up home visiting the folks—only time I ever went back—when my brother came home to die.... But he got well. I remember the day I went away he was just out of his bed. He walked down to the station with me, begging me to speak just one word to him. He held out his hand for me to shake, but I just turned on him and says “You son of a —!” A little later he started back to his job, but he died on the way....”
“Gar!” said the first man. “Northwestern Mounted Police! That must be a job. A good rifle and a good horse and no closed season on Indians ! That’s what I call Sport!”
“Speaking of Sport,” said Mac. “The greatest sport in the world is hunting niggers. After I left Burlington, you remember, I drifted down South. I was out to see the world from top to bottom, and I had just found out I could scrap. God! The fights I used to get into.... Well anyway, I landed up on a cotton plantation down in Georgia, near a place called Dixville; and they happened to be shy of an overseer, so I stuck.
“I remember the night perfectly, because I was sitting in my cabin writing home to my sister. She and I always hit it off, but we couldn’t seem to get along with the rest of the family. Last year she got into a scrape with a drummer—and if I ever catch that— Well, as I say, I was sitting there writing by the light of a little oil lamp. It was a sticky, hot night, the window screen was just a squirming mass of bugs. It made me itch all over just to see ‘em crawling around. All of a sudden, I pricked up my ears, and the hair began to stand right up on my head. It was dogs—bloodhounds—coming lickety-split in the dark. I don’t know whether you fellows ever heard a hound bay when he’s after a human.... Any hound baying at night is about the lonesomest, doomingest sound in the world. But this was worse than that. It made you feel like you were standing in the dark, waiting for somebody to strangle you to death—and you couldn’t get away!
“For about a minute all I heard was the dogs, and then somebody, or some Thing, fell over my fence, and heavy feet running went right past my window, and a sound of breathing. You know how a stubborn horse breathes when they’re choking him around the neck with a rope? That way.
“I was out on my porch in one jump, just in time to see the dogs scramble over my fence. Then somebody I couldn’t see yelled out, so hoarse he couldn’t hardly speak, ‘Where’d he go?’
“’Past the house and out back!’ says I, and started to run. There was about twelve of us. I never did find out what that nigger did, and I guess most of the others didn’t either. We didn’t care. We ran like crazy men, through the cotton field, and the woods swampy from floods, swam the river, dove over fences, in a way that would tire out a man in a hundred yards. And we never felt it. The spit kept dripping out of my mouth, that was the only thing that bothered me. It was full moon, and every once in a while when we came out into an open place somebody would yell ‘There he goes!’ and we’d think the dogs had made a mistake, and take after a shadow. Always the dogs ahead, baying like bells. Say, did you ever hear a bloodhound when he’s after a human? It’s like a bugle! I broke my shins on twenty fences, and I banged my head on all the trees in Georgia, but I never felt it....”
Mac smacked his lips and drank.
“Of course,” he said, “when we got up to him, the dogs had just about torn that coon to pieces.”
He shook his head in shining reminiscence.
“Did you finish your letter to your sister?” I asked.
“Sure,” Said Mac, shortly....
“I wouldn’t like to live down here in Mexico,” Mac volunteered. “The people haven’t got any Heart. I like people to be friendly, like Americans.”