“Don’t you think it advisable to go to Aguascalientes first, General?” Luis Cervantes asked.
“Our funds are melting slowly.”
“Nonsense . . . forty thousand pesos in eight days!”
“Well, you see, just this week we recruited over five hundred new men; all the money’s gone in advance loans and gratuities,” Luis Cervantes answered in a low voice.
“No! We’ll go straight to the sierra. We’ll see later on.”
“Yes, to the sierra!” many of the men shouted.
“To the sierra! To the sierra! Hurrah for the moun-tains!”
The plains seemed to torture them; they spoke with enthusiasm, almost with delirium, of the sierra. They thought of the mountains as of a most desirable mistress long since unvisited.
Dawn broke behind a cloud of fine reddish dust; the sun rose an immense curtain of fiery purple. Luis Cer-vantes pulled his reins and waited for Quail. “What’s the last word on our deal, Quail?”
“I told you, Tenderfoot: two hundred for the watch alone.”
“No! I’ll buy the lot: watches, rings, everything else. How much?”
Quail hesitated, turned slightly pale; then he cried spiritedly:
“Two thousand in bills, for the whole business!”
Luis Cervantes gave himself away. His eyes shone with such an obvious greed that Quail recanted and said:
“Oh, I was just fooling you. I won’t sell nothing! Just the watch, see? And that’s only because I owe Pancracio two hundred. He beat me at cards last night!”
Luis Cervantes pulled out four crisp “double-face” bills of Villa’s issue and placed them in Quail’s hands.
“I’d like to buy the lot. . . . Besides, nobody will offer you more than that!”
As the sun began to beat down upon them, Manteca suddenly shouted:
“Ho, Blondie, your orderly says he doesn’t care to go on living. He says he’s too damned tired to walk.”
The prisoner had fallen in the middle of the road, ut-terly exhausted.
“Well, well!” Blondie shouted, retracing his steps. “So little mama’s boy is tired, eh? Poor little fellow. I’ll buy a glass case and keep you in a corner of my house just as if you were the Virgin Mary’s own little son. You’ve got to reach home first, see? So I’ll help you a little, sonny!”
He drew his sword out and struck the prisoner several times.
“Let’s have a look at your rope, Pancracio,” he said. There was a strange gleam in his eyes. Quail observed that the prisoner no longer moved arm or leg. Blondie burst into a loud guffaw: “The Goddamned fool. Just as I was learning him to do without food, too!”
“Well, mate, we’re almost to Guadalajara,” Venancio said, glancing over the smiling row of houses in Tepatit-lan nestling against the hillside.
They entered joyously. From every window rosy cheeks, dark luminous eyes observed them. The schools were quickly converted into barracks; Demetrio found lodging in the chapel of an abandoned church.