The smell of these viands whetted the appetites of Demetrio and his men. They forced their way into a small inn, where a disheveled old hag served, on earthen-ware plates, some pork with bones swimming in a clear chili stew and three tough burnt tortillas. They paid two pesos apiece; as they left Pancracio assured his comrades he was hungrier than when he entered.
“Now,” said Demetrio, “we’ll go and consult with General Natera!”
They made for the northern leader’s billet.
A noisy, excited crowd stopped them at a street cross-ing. A man, lost in the multitude, was mouthing words in the monotonous, unctuous tones of a prayer. They came up close enough to see him distinctly; he wore a shirt and trousers of cheap white cloth and was repeat-ing:
“All good Catholics should read this prayer to Christ Our Lord upon the Cross with due devotion. Thus they will be immune from storms and pestilence, famine, and war.”
“This man’s no fool,” said Demetrio smiling.
The man waved a sheaf of printed handbills in his hand and cried:
“A quarter of a peso is all you have to pay for this prayer to Christ Our Lord upon the Cross. A quarter . . .”
Then he would duck for a moment, to reappear with a snake’s tooth, a sea star, or the skeleton of a fish. In the same predicant tone, he lauded the medical virtues and the mystical powers of every article he sold.
Quail, who had no faith in Venancio, requested the man to pull a tooth out. Blondie purchased a black seed from a certain fruit which protected the possessor from lightning or any other catastrophe. Anastasio Montanez purchased a prayer to Christ Our Lord upon the Cross, and, folding it carefully, stuck it into his shirt with a pious gesture.
“As sure as there’s a God in heaven,” Natera said, “this mess hasn’t blown over yet. Now it’s Villa fighting Carranza.”
Without answering him, his eyes fixed in a stare, Demetrio demanded a further explanation.
“It means,” Natera said, “that the Convention won’t recognize Carranza as First Chief of the Constitutionalist Army. It’s going to elect a Provisional President of the Republic. Do you understand me, General?”
Demetrio nodded assent.
“What’s your opinion, General?” asked Natera.
Demetrio shrugged his shoulders:
“It seems to me that the meat of the matter is that we’ve got to go on fighting, eh? All right! Let’s go to it! I’m game to the end, you know.”
“Good, but on what side?”
Demetrio, nonplussed, scratched his head:
“Look here, don’t ask me any more questions. I never went to school, you know. . . . You gave me the eagle I wear on my hat, didn’t you? All right then; you just tell me: ‘Demetrio, do this or do that,’ and that’s all there’s to it!”