Big Joe Portagee had stayed awake, a tribute to the fascination of the corporal's story. He went to the apple box and looked in. "You going to be a general," he said. And then, "look! This baby is moving funny." The friends crowded around. The spasm had already started. The little feet kicked down and then drew up. The hands clawed about helplessly, and then the baby scrabbled and shuddered.
"A doctor," Danny cried. "We must have a doctor." But he and everyone knew it was no use. Approaching death wears a cloak no one ever mistakes. While they watched, the baby stiffened and the struggle ended. The mouth dropped open, and the baby was dead. In kindness Danny covered the apple box with a piece of blanket. The corporal stood very straight and stared before him, so shocked that he could not speak nor think.
Jesus Maria laid a hand on his shoulder and led him to a chair. "You are so young," he said. "You will have many more babies."
The corporal moaned, "Now he is dead. Now he will never be a generál with that sash and that sword."
There were tears in the eyes of the friends. In the corner all the dogs whined miserably. The Pirate buried his big head in the fur of Señor Alec Thompson.
In a soft tone, almost a benediction, Pilon said, "Now you yourself must kill the capitán. We honor you for a noble plan of revenge, but that is over and you must take you own vengeance, and we will help you, if we can."
The corporal turned dull eyes to him. "Revenge?" he asked. "Kill the capitán? What do you mean?"
"Why, it was plain what your plan was," Pilon said. "This baby would grow up, and he would be a generál; and in time he would find that capitán, and he would kill him slowly. It was a good plan. The long waiting, and then the stroke. We, your friends, honor you for it."
The corporal was looking bewilderedly at Pilon. "What is this?" he demanded. "I have nothing to do with this capitán. He is the capitán."
The friends sat forward.
Pilon cried, "Then what was this plan to make the baby a generál? Why was that?"
The corporal was a little embarrassed then. "It is the duty of a father to do well by his child. I wanted Manuel to have more good things than I had."
"Is that all?" Danny Cried.
"Well," said the corporal, "my wife was so pretty, and she was not any puta, either. She was a good woman, and that capitán took her. He had little epaulets, and a little sash, and his sword was only of a silver color. Consider," said the corporal, and he spread out his hands, "if that capitán, with the little epaulets and the little sash, could take my wife, imagine what a generál with a big sash and a gold sword could take!"
There was a long silence while Danny and Pilon and Pablo and Jesus Maria and the Pirate and Big Joe Portagee digested the principle. And when it was digested, they waited for Danny to speak.
"It is to be pitied," said Danny at last, "that so few parents have the well-being of their children at heart. Now we are more sorry than ever that the baby is one, for with such a father, what a happy life he has missed."
All the friends nodded solemnly.
"What will you do now?" asked Jesus Maria, the discoverer.
"I will go back to Mexico," said the corporal. "I am a soldier in my heart. It may be, if I keep oiling my rifle, I myself may be an officer some day. Who can tell?"