“One good thing about it is that I’ve collected all my back pay,” Quail said, exhibiting some gold watches and rings stolen from the priest’s house.
“It’s fun fighting this way,” Manteca cried, spicing every other word with an oath. “You know why the hell you’re risking your hide.”
In the same hand with which he held the reins, he clutched a shining ornament that he had torn from one of the holy statues.
After Quail, an expert in such matters, had examined Manteca’s treasure covetously, he uttered a solemn guffaw.
“Hell, Your ornament is nothing but tin!”
“Why in hell are you hanging on to that poison?” Pancracio asked Blondie who appeared dragging a pris-oner.
“Do you want to know why? Because it’s a long time since I’ve had a good look at a man’s face when a rope tightens around his neck!”
The fat prisoner breathed with difficulty as he fol-lowed Blondie on foot; his face was sunburnt, his eyes red; his forehead beaded with sweat, his wrists tightly bound together.
“Here, Anastasio, lend me your lasso. Mine’s not strong enough; this bird will bust it. No, by God, I’ve changed my mind, friend Federal: think I’ll kill you on the spot, because you are pulling too hard. Look, all the mesquites are still a long way off and there are no tele-graph poles to hang you to!”
Blondie pulled his gun out, pressed the muzzle against the prisoner’s chest and brought his finger against the trigger slowly . . . slowly. . . . The prisoner turned pale as a corpse; his face lengthened; his eyelids were fixed in a glassy stare. He breathed in agony, his whole body shook as with ague. Blondie kept his gun in the same position for a moment long as all eternity. His eyes shone queerly. An expression of supreme pleasure lit up his fat puffy face.
“No, friend Federal,” he drawled, putting back his gun into the holster; “I’m not going to kill you just yet. . . . I’ll make you my orderly. You’ll see that I’m not so hardhearted!”
Slyly he winked at his companions. The prisoner had turned into an animal; he gulped, panting, dry-mouthed. Camilla, who had witnessed the scene, spurred her horse and caught up with Demetrio.
“What a brute that Blondie is: you ought to see what he did to a wretched prisoner,” she said. Then she told Demetrio what had occurred. The latter wrinkled his brow but made no answer.
War Paint called Camilla aside.
“Hey you . . . what are you gobbling about? Blondie’s my man, understand? From now on, you know how things are: whatever you’ve got against him you’ve got against me too! I’m warning you.”
Camilla, frightened, hurried back to Demetrio’s side.
The men camped in a meadow, near three small lone houses standing in a row, their white walls cutting the purple fringe of the horizon. Demetrio and Camilla rode toward them. Inside the corral a man, clad in shirt and trousers of cheap white cloth, sat greedily puffing at a cornhusk cigarette. Another man sitting beside him on a flat cut stone was shelling corn. Kicking the air with one dry, withered leg, the extremity of which was like a goat’s hoof, he frightened the chickens away.