THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK TWO:  BOOK of the CAMPAÑA

 

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

 

 

          On the day José Macias received notice of his promotion to Captain, he lost the sweet bread which, with coffee, composed his breakfast. Idly considering the new rank, and its possible effect upon his family and friends... and on Elena in Campeche... he had let his hand drop until roused by a tug at his fingertips.

          He took another mouthful of the coffee and shook the rest towards the thief - a dog of many breeds and more colors - who jumped backwards in offence and trotted away between the tents. Rising, the Captain glanced back at the tent he shared with five other officers; two of whom he now would match, three he'd exceed in rank. In their year of occupation he had often considered hiring some indians or, if it must come to that, renting a few prisoners to build him a hut of his own. But the thoughts had never matured to deeds. Santa Cruz del Bravo, for all the care the General had lavished on it, was detestable to José for the reason that Elena was not there, above all the many, many others. His application for transfer was being held up in Mexico City and, if it did not succeed, he would resign when his term of enlistment expired. What reason was there to sink roots into the dust of this territory... nothing of value lived for long in Santa Cruz.

          It was a Sunday. Only Indians were obliged to patronize the cathedral, which they did with a zeal that baffled those who spent the rest of the week trying to wring honest labor from them and, turning his eyes from the massive old church, José directed his boots, still soiled with mud from the previous afternoon's downpour, to the path that passed beneath the young trees General Bravo had ordered planted in the summer of his victory.

          To reach Dr. Rosario's gate or, rather, the flaps to his administrative tent, one was obliged to pass through a canvas gorbel; the hospital tents strung one behind the other like beads. Within, hammocks were slung in rows from wooden poles; so varied were the maladies of those who lay there that it was common for a soldier recovering from a machete blow to catch pneumonia and, in the course of recovery from that, the fever... which released few from its deadly grip. Rosario himself went unaffected by the bad airs permeating the hospital; perhaps due to the aguardiente he fortified himself with before his morning and evening rounds. After checking who was dead and who still lived, distributing such medicines as he possessed or, if supplies were tardy, a few words of good cheer (and maybe a cup of strong water to his favorites), he would retreat to his administrative tent, which possessed an examination table and, also, a desk for him to put his feet up on while sipping more aguardiente and conversing with his visitors, if any, or dozing if there were none.

          Today, however, the new Captain found this desk occupied by a dead man, an indian who had fallen while helping repair the drafty roof of the cathedral. He had lingered for a few days before succumbing to gangrene that flourished in his shattered limbs and the examination table was already occupied by a prisoner from Matamoros, far to the north, who had failed to survive his encounter with one of the territory's numerous snakes. "Yes," said Rosario, "I thought of cutting off the man's legs but, if he'd lived, what use is there in Santa Cruz del Bravo for another crippled beggar? Better to leave the matter in the hands of God, and God has called the wretch home, undoubtedly to a better place than this. Only a moment longer..."

          The doctor directed two of the Mexican prisoners assigned to him to carry out the corpses for burial in a trench in the monte that had grown alarmingly during the Mexican occupation. "That's the pity with these fellows, they have no one here to say a prayer over their remains and Padre Juliano considers it beneath his dignity." By this, Rosario marked the dead man as one of the tame indios mancos who had fled the sublevados, so they alleged, returning to Santa Cruz to eke out a few centavos serving Mexican officers or performing those tasks beneath the dignity, even, of a Mexican convict. Bravo, suspecting there were spies among them, had prohibited all indians from working on his railroad or construction projects, but violations of this proscription were plentiful and, occasionally, fatal.

          "The last thing he told me was to settle his account with San Martin," the doctor shrugged. "That's how these indians are, their witch doctors have demons for the days on which they're born and give them all the name of saints, so they can pretend faithfulness by adopting the demon's name. Perhaps the Padre's old spook will mutter a few prayers for him on credit," he added, waggling a bottle. "Come, share a copita with me."

          Dr. Rosario sprinkled a few drops of aguardiente over the table and wiped it with his sleeve to wash away whatever disease the dead indian might have left behind, propped his feet up on the man's last resting place and beckoned José to do the same. "Personally, if I were so unfortunate as to be born a Mayan, I'd just as soon he never found the location of my grave. Their hell's worse than ours... a cold and gloomy place, and that old man's good wishes would be just the recommendation that their Devil needs."

          "Well, the Cruzob prisoners he blessed ought to be enjoying the cold," José replied. The immediate pacification of the monte following Bravo's entry had turned up a number of the fleeing rebels and many more of their young, their old and sick had been put to the sword on the twenty fourth of the previous May. Miguel Chankik had been in attendance bowing and grinning, commending their souls to God, a perfectly loathsome, yet useful, specimen of the servile indian. In recognition of his service to Padre Juliano, General Bravo had even presented him with an old American fedora, in which the witch doctor appeared to take great pride. "And as for the rest of them, doesn't it seem our old General is going soft? This war's not over yet, far from it. Who knows how many spies the sublevados have here? I wouldn't have allowed a single one of them to come back. Not one! What can they do but grow that stunted corn they have, hang around begging or asking for work that don Porfirio's prisoners will do for nothing? Then, they wander out into the monte and shoot a few of us."

          "Well what would you do?" the doctor said. "Shoot them all?"

          "I would," José retorted. "Well at least the men and all the boys over the age of eight or nine. The women, well…  Anyway, this General's a fool... look what he's done to this place!" And he tapped the desk, still smelling of aguardiente, at each point he made.

 

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