The soldiers scattered about as usual pretending to seek arms and horses, but in reality for the sole purpose of looting.
In the afternoon some of Demetrio’s men lay stretched out on the church steps, scratching their bellies. Venan-cio, his chest and shoulders bare, was gravely occupied in killing the fleas in his shirt. A man drew near the wall and sought permission to speak to the commander. The soldiers raised their heads; but no one answered.
“I’m a widower, gentlemen. I’ve got nine children and I barely make a living with the sweat of my brow. Don’t be hard on a poor widower!”
“Don’t you worry about women, Uncle,” said Meco, who was rubbing his feet with tallow, “we’ve got War Paint here with us; you can have her for nothing.”
The man smiled bitterly.
“She’s only got one fault,” Pancracio observed, stretched out on the ground, staring at the blue sky, “she goes mad over any man she sees.”
They laughed loudly; but Venancio with utmost gravity pointed to the chapel door. The stranger entered timidly and confided his troubles to Demetrio. The soldiers had cleaned him out; they had not left a single grain of corn.
“Why did you let them?” Demetrio asked indolently.
The man persisted, lamenting and weeping. Luis Cer-vantes was about to throw him out with an insult. But Camilla intervened.
“Come on, Demetrio, don’t be harsh, give him an order to get his corn back.”
Luis Cervantes was obliged to obey; he scrawled a few lines to which Demetrio appended an illegible scratch.
“May God repay you, my child! God will lead you to heaven that you may enjoy his glory. Ten bushels of corn are barely enough for this year’s food!” the man cried, weeping for gratitude. Then he took the paper, kissed everybody’s hand, and withdrew.
They had almost reached Cuquio, when Anastasio Montanez rode up to Demetrio: “Listen, Compadre, I almost forgot to tell you. . . . You ought to have seen the wonderful joke that man Blondie played. You know what he did with the old man who came to complain about the corn we’d taken away for horses? Well, the old man took the paper and went to the barracks. ’Right you are, brother, come in,’ said Blondie, ’come in, come in here; to give you back what’s yours is only the right thing to do. How many bushels did we steal? Ten? Sure it wasn’t more than ten? . . . That’s right, about fifteen, eh? Or was it twenty, perhaps? . . . Try and remember, friend. . . . Of course you’re a poor man, aren’t you, and you’ve a lot of kids to raise. . . . Yes, twenty it was. All right, now! It’s not ten or fifteen or twenty I’m going to give you. You’re going to count for yourself. . . . One, two, three . . . and when you’ve had enough you just tell me and I’ll stop.’ And Blondie pulled out his sword and beat him till he cried for mercy.”