In reality, her errand was but a pretext for asking questions and passing the time of day in gossip, so she turned her eyes to the corner where the patient lay and, winking, sought information as to his health.
Remigia lowered her eyes to indicate that Demetrio was sleeping.
“Oh, I didn’t see you when I came in. And you’re here too, Panchita? Well, how are you?” “Good morning to you, Fortunata. How are you?”
“All right. But Maria Antonia’s got the curse today and her belly’s aching something fierce.”
She sat Indian-fashion, with bent knees, huddling hip to hip against Panchita.
“I’ve got no laurel leaves, honey,” Remigia answered, pausing a moment in her work to push a mop of hair back from over her sweaty forehead. Then, plunging her two hands into a mass of corn, she removed a hand-ful of it dripping with muddy yellowish water. “I’ve none at all; you’d better go to Dolores, she’s always got herbs, you know.”
“But Dolores went to Cofradia last night. I don’t know, but they say they came to fetch her to help Uncle Matias’ girl who’s big with child.”
“You don’t say, Panchita?”
The three old women came together forming an ani-mated group, and speaking in low tones, began to gossip with great gusto.
“Certainly, I swear it, by God up there in heaven.”
“Well, well, I was the first one to say that Marcelina was big with child, wasn’t I? But of course no one would believe me.”
“Poor girl. It’s going to be terrible if the kid is her uncle’s, you know!”
“Of course it’s not her uncle: Nazario had nothing to do with it, I know. It was them damned soldiers, that’s who done it.”
“God, what a bloody mess! Another unhappy woman!”
The cackle of the old hens finally awakened Demetrio. They kept silent for a moment; then Panchita, taking out of the bosom of her blouse a young pigeon which opened its beak in suffocation, said:
“To tell you the truth, I brought this medicine for the gentleman here, but they say he’s got a doctor, so I suppose—”
“That makes no difference, Panchita, that’s no medi-cine anyhow, it’s simply something to rub on his body.”
“Forgive this poor gift from a poor woman, senor,” said the wrinkled old woman, drawing close to Demetrio, “but there’s nothing like it in the world for hemorrhages and suchlike.”
Demetrio nodded hasty approval. They had already placed a loaf of bread soaked in alcohol on his stomach; although when this was removed he began to be cooler, he felt that he was still feverish inside.
“Come on, Remigia, you do it, you certainly know how,” the women said.
Out of a reed sheath, Remigia pulled a long and curved knife which served to cut cactus fruit. She took the pigeon in one hand, turned it over, its breast up-ward, and with the skill of a surgeon, ripped it in two with a single thrust.