THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

          José crossed the plaza to the territorial office situated in the building closest to the cathedral.  From the opposite direction came Colonel Huerta, carrying a box whose edges dripped melting wax. "We have our railroad, Macias," he said cheerfully, then looked down. "But look at this. All of the candles I ordered brought in so that we might read the Romans by night when this damnable electricity fails!" Like Bravo, he preferred authors of the Classic era. "The idiots left them out in the sun next to the road. So now I'll have nothing to do but get drunk, eh?" He gave José a dig with the box and carried it into the offices. In actuality, no such wastage would occur; the human tide of prisoners had washed many skilled men, including candlemakers, to this desolate post.

          Perhaps a dozen officers were grouped in the General's offices, which were in this long, one-story building of limestone, built by Mexican occupiers forty years earlier. Liberal applications of carbolic and whitewash had not entirely banished the evidences of its intervening use, by the sublevados, as a stable and chicken coop; nonetheless it was at least ten degrees cooler than Rosario's tent. And in place of hammocks there were wooden chairs; Huerta set the box of ruined candles beneath his, took a flask from the pocket of his civilian's linen coat and waggled it towards José. The Captain smiled, but made a motion of declination, which was when General Bravo spoke.

          "Ruben?" he called and the telegraph operator stepped forward with a handwritten message, saluted and left them.

          Bravo peered at his officers. "The following was received via Peto at thirteen hundred hours and, since it is short, I shall read it in its entirety.

          "Confirmed as of this day your plans to Decauville railway to Ascension Bay, stop. Eighty thousand pesos designated for construction and twelve hundred men to be assigned to its construction, arriving via Progreso, stop. The hopes of Mexico rest with you in this work of pacification; signed, Gral. Porfirio Diaz."

          "Splendid!" Huerta cried, rising to embrace the General. Following his example, the senior officers crowded to offer their hand, thumped one another on the back and deported themselves much as boisterous cadets would until Bravo rapped the table for order.

          "The President has shown us his confidence," he said, "and now it is our duty to repay his expectations by applying ourselves to this second stage of pacification, as we did to the campaign. As well you know, our enemies have not altogether disappeared... they are merely dispersed, and will remain a threat to the Territory so long as one remains living. For this reason, we must build cities and, to maintain cities, we require the railroad."

          Within one week of the occupation, plans had been drawn for railway connections not only back upon the route of the campaign to Peto, the terminus of the Merida line, but forward into the monte... to Xcalak, Bacalar and Puerto Morelos. Three weeks later, Bravo himself drove the first spike of the most audacious project, which would link the capital with Ascension Bay, fifty kilometers to the east. This was the redoubt of the scattered Cruzob and, almost at once, Mexican lives were taken in skirmish in the hamlet of Santo Ka where the indians displayed their new and disturbing possession - artillery cannon.

          "They've obtained them from the despicable British," Huerta had advised. "That fits! The Queen is arming the sublevados because they've never given up their dream of making the Caribbean an English lake. What we should do is march down through Bacalar to root John Bull out... and the Guatemalans too, Vega and the rest of those British-loving navy men with them."

          But Bravo, protesting that his hands were full, had suspended his plans until Porfirio Diaz would see the way to send any men and more funds for railroad construction, leaving Huerta to bury himself in his cognac bottle and the coast pretty much to the sailors and the sublevados.

          "Now," the General declared, "I shall assign those tasks which must begin at once." He produced a crude map of the territory, which had been drawn upon cloth and fastened to boards the height of a man. On it were the captured villages of the campaign leading to the new capital, Santa Cruz del Bravo. Between the capital and the outline of the coast was an expanse of white.

          "The port of the territory will be here," said Bravo, making his mark on the north side of Ascension Bay. "Here is to be found the deepest water, which shall allow the entry of the largest ships imaginable. The southern end of the Bay, though nearer, is too shallow for our purposes. But what is the turning of a little more earth if in the interests of the Republic?"

          "Especially," suggested Colonel Huerta, "when those who turn the earth are those who have committed crimes against progress." Bravo frowned at the interruption, for the colonel clearly had been communing with his cognac flask oracle before this interjection.

          "Hard work is the greatest builder of character that the good Lord has ever devised," Huerta saw fit to add. "It replenishes the well of honest character in thieves and the fiber of patriotism in rebels. Indeed, General, these men should be thankful for the extra ten kilometers that this location shall add to their labors. It is only that much more an opportunity to purge them of their criminal natures."

          "Thank you for your sentiments," General Bravo interrupted with a slightly baffled expression. He stepped away from the map, as if having forgotten its purpose, glared down at the ranks of the seated officers, and then continued.

          "The construction of the railroad will continue under our Ingenario's supervision," he said, gesturing towards one Gabriel Nuñez, the military engineer from the capital whose heavily pomaded hair and moustaches had earned him the sobriquet "El Grueso" among the laborers. A pompous man with a frank affection for French manners and culture, Nuñez nodded importantly as José suppressed an inclination to groan if not to laugh outright. But for all his pretensions, the General trusted him. "Colonel Carpintero and Major Echeverria will direct the supervision of the laborers including those who will arrive from Progreso, and they shall additionally have whatever assistance from my personal staff that they may require."

          Bravo did not elaborate upon this point but the men at the table understood he who was being spoken of... the Jackal.

          "Colonels Blanquet and Huerta shall resume the labor of pacification among the Maya dwelling in the territory between here and the Bay. Reporting directly to them will be Majors Alvarez, Santurce, Fuso and Montez, Captains Sosa and Infantel and Teniente Macias... I stand corrected, Captain Macias," he added dryly. "Now... Colonel?"

          Aureliano Blanquet had motioned for attention. "Sir, it is reported that the General of the sublevados in this region possesses not one but two cannon pieces."

          "Fortifications shall be constructed. Another question... Ingenario?"

          "Yes, General," began Nuñez. "It is my desire that the hours of work commence an hour earlier and continue one hour later in the evening, with a longer rest period at midday. Having myself supervised projects in both the tropic and temperate zones of the Republic; I may, and do, affirm that a greater quantity of labor may be obtained on this schedule. In this part of the world, as I have seen both in Merida and on the Pacific coast also, construction often continues until midnight during the summer months. Of course those workers don't have indians shooting at them, but so long as the sun is our ally, I believe the increase in productivity would offset any losses that the Cruzob might inflict."

          "You are free to do as you see fit," Bravo declared before the Ingenario could further justify himself, for Nuñez was a bibliophile capable of hours of discourse on any topic - producing voluminous accounts of his past exploits, overwhelming opposition with details. Better, José thought, to subject the prisoners to nighttime fire than the tedious discourse of the Ingenario. "Are there any more questions? If so, you will direct them to Ingenario Nuñez and Colonel Huerta respectively. We are concluded, but I wish at this time to extend my personal congratulations to Captain Macias, whose promotion orders arrived from the capital this morning.

          José stood and bowed. "I shall repay the expectations of my superiors with dead rebeldos," he promised to the polite applause and assent of his peers. Bravo dismissed them.

          Outside, the band rehearsed for the afternoon's concert. As he walked across the plaza, José breathed the fragrance of the orange groves the Maya had planted, which had excited the appetites of the Mexican occupiers. The hope, however, had proven a false one... the oranges were sour.

 

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