THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK TWO:  BOOK of the CAMPAÑA

 

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

 

          Two days following, one Luis Gomez, a muleteer from the vicinity of Comitan in Chiapas State presently at the front line of the campaign in Chankik, awoke to find his rotted tethers bitten through and four mules gone. He cursed, but felt secure enough in his ability to track the beasts to linger over breakfast, as he had been driving mules for half his twenty years. He rolled and smoked a cigarette and went to the well of Chankik to wash the dirt out of his hair.

          And, so, the sun was rising when Luis began his search. From the crushed plants of the monte, he reasoned that the mules had followed a thin path southwest from Chankik, barely the ghost of a trail. He had borrowed a pistol, even though the rebel capital was to the southeast, and he'd learned to travel through the monte without the clumsy thrashing that betrayed the presence of city-trained soldiers and officers. He wore the white clothes of a chiclero and the wind was at his face. Rarely, even, did a bird give notice of his coming.

          In this dry season, with perhaps two weeks remaining to the coming of rain, Luis passed nearly dried cenotes; gulches covered with dead leaves and growing shoots which, in the summer, would be filled with foul, green water and mosquitoes. Black butterflies swarmed; above, a flock of screeching parrots dived from tree to tree. Once his exposed toe, protruding from a worn sandal, poked what seemed to be a dead fish but, as this place was far from the sea, the corpse proved that of a lizard with its feet and hands eaten away by ants, teeth curled into a horrible sneer. Luis slowed his pace. More than once during the campaña, he had passed the body of a wounded rebel who had crawled into the monte to die. And where dead indians were found, living ones would also be.

          He was certain that the mules were near because of their fresh droppings on the trail, hot and ocher-colored beneath blankets of excited flies. The path twisted and bent, as if formed by the writhings of a startled viper and, as much as he prided himself on his ability to judge direction, Luis realized he'd lost all knowledge of his situation except that, by the position of the sun, he had been walking for nearly three hours. Finally, he heard the sound of large creatures rooting and grunting in the distance. Holding the revolver aloft in the event that the sounds were of indians, he flailed through the brush to the left of the trail and confronted his mules, three of them, nibbling contentedly upon a banquet of tasty ramon leaves. They seemed indifferent to Luis and he scratched the chin of the nearest to dissolve the frustration he felt. Only one mule remained uncollected but, in Bravo's army, the drivers were held accountable for their animals and his sergeant was a terrible man.

          The mules seemed pleased enough to remain where they were, and Luis tethered them loosely before returning to the trail, anxious to have done with this adventure. It was fully fifteen minutes before the changing patterns of light and shadow indicated a clearing ahead. "Mulo!" he called and, in calling a second time, "Mulo?" his voice dropped almost to a whisper. A heavy silence shrouded this place, the silence sometimes perceived upon the battlefield, the morning after a great slaughter. He stepped off the path, ignoring the clutching and tearing vines, and edged through the monte to the clearing.

          There, he saw a field of round huts sprinkled upon the earth like mushrooms. Not a thing moved in this village except his one mule, swishing the flies away with broad strokes of its tail as it grazed. Beyond the huts were crumbling Spanish buildings, the rude outline of a plaza and, towering above the whole, a Roman Catholic church.

          "Santa Cruz!" Luis swore, backing through the monte, forgetting entirely the animal that had drawn him into the Maya capital. Reaching the trail, he began running as if the assembled devils of both his Spanish and native ancestors were at his heels. The three mules glanced curiously upwards at the comical sight of their driver fleeing past with an expression of terror, but, when nothing followed, they returned to their meal.

 

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