“God’s blessing on you! He will find a way to help you all, never fear. We’re going ourselves, starting tomorrow morning. We’re dodging the draft, with those damned Government people who’ve declared war to the death on us, on all the poor. They come and steal our pigs, our chickens and corn, they burn our homes and carry our women off, and if they ever get hold of us they’ll kill us like mad dogs, and we die right there on the spot and that’s the end of the story!”
At sunset, amid the flames dyeing the sky with vivid, variegated colors, they descried a group of houses up in the heart of the blue mountains. Demetrio ordered them to carry him there.
These proved to be a few wretched straw huts, dis-persed all over the river slopes, between rows of young sprouting corn and beans. They lowered the stretcher and Demetrio, in a weak voice, asked for a glass of water.
Groups of squalid Indians sat in the dark pits of the huts, men with bony chests, disheveled, matted hair, and ruddy cheeks; behind them, eyes shone up from floors of fresh reeds.
A child with a large belly and glossy dark skin came close to the stretcher to inspect the wounded man. An old woman followed, and soon all of them drew about Demetrio in a circle.
A girl sympathizing with him in his plight brought a jicara of bluish water. With hands shaking, Demetrio took it up and drank greedily.
“Will you have some more?”
He raised his eyes and glanced at the girl, whose features were common but whose voice had a note of kindness in it. Wiping his sweating brow with the back of his palm and turning on one side, he gasped: “May God reward you.”
Then his whole body shook, making the leaves of the stretcher rustle. Fever possessed him; he fainted.
“It’s a damp night and that’s terrible for the fever,” said Remigia, an old wrinkled barefooted woman, wear-ing a cloth rag for a blouse.
She invited them to move Demetrio into her hut.
Pancracio, Anastasio Montanez, and Quail lay down beside the stretcher like faithful dogs, watchful of their master’s wishes. The rest scattered about in search of food.
Remigia offered them all she had, chili and tortillas.
“Imagine! I had eggs, chickens, even a goat and her kid, but those damn soldiers wiped me out clean.”
Then, making a trumpet of her hands, she drew near Anastasio and murmured in his ear:
“Imagine, they even carried away Senora Nieves’ little girl!”
Suddenly awakening, Quail opened his eyes and stood up.
“Montanez, did you hear? A shot, Montanez! Hey, Montanez, get up!”
He shook him vigorously until Montanez ceased snoring and in turn woke up.
“What in the name of . . . Now you’re at it again, damn it. I tell you there aren’t ghosts any more,” An-astasio muttered out of a half-sleep. “I heard a shot, Montanez!” “Go back to sleep, Quail, or I’ll bust your nose.”