THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

          Miguel Chankik awoke before dawn on the morning of the fruitless summit of the Generals. For a few nights, in the first days of the occupation, he had tied his hammock to the altar, anchoring his dreams, as he explained to Padre Juliano, to Pedro Piedra, saint of stone. The Padre, horrified, had chased the old indian from this perch and reported the blasphemy to the General, but Ignacio Bravo had many things on his mind at this time, and merely laughed at what he called another harmless superstition. So Juliano made a compromise, and Chankik was allowed to make a nest, of sorts, in a corner of the cathedral, with the priest shaking his head at the naiveté of the Maya.

          Soon there was more to vex him, much more. The stupid old indian, fascinated as it seemed by fire, kept the candles lit both night and day and caused constant shortages and no end of expense. When the Padre blew them out, his sacristan would stare with a stupid, injured expression, as if Juliano had snuffed out another suffering Christian soul straining for admittance to Gloria. And, yet, the old man performed his humble duties with such apparent devotion that the priest could seldom bring himself to beat Chankik and, when doing so, always felt uneasy afterwards.

          By the time of Vega's arrival, forty families of indians had returned to Santa Cruz del Bravo, bringing, with them, a larger number of widows and orphans, all of whom asserted that the Cruzob had been bad, bad men... violent and impious by nature, men who had paid for their sins by the coin of the blood-vomit or Mexican lead. They kept quietly to their corner of the city working occasionally as laborers of the last resort, searching for chicle trees or tending their milpas, growing the corn and beans for sale at the General's store at whatever price the Turk deigned to offer. On Sundays they attended mass and their children filled the school, and Padre Juliano admitted to himself that they were more respectfully behaved than the children of Mexican soldiers were. And so by degrees, and certainly not by his own intention, Padre Juliano found himself becoming their intercessor and their ear among the dzulob. If General Bravo had cultivated the Padre, he would have known more of the disease that had fallen so many sublevados, explaining somewhat the diminishing ferocity of their resistance.

          Within weeks of evacuation from Chan Santa Cruz the indians, rebels or not, began falling ill with the sickness that they called the "blood vomit", which the priest suspected to be smallpox and which Dr. Rosario would have confirmed had Padre Juliano had thought to ask him. Many of the soldiers, and even more prisoners, had also succumbed to the disease but the indians, having less natural resistance to the microbes or... as their curanderos determined... perhaps owing to the vengeance of a wrathful Juan de la Cruz who resented their faithlessness in abandoning the Holy City, suffered most of all. Strange indians had come to the city, first to Chankik, then the Padre, finally to Dr. Rosario, who listened to Juliano's explanation that the men were chicleros, but seldom believed it. At least the fellows carried no weapons and most of them had zapote gum to trade; the Turk lowered the price he paid three times, but the stuff still piled up in the back of the store. The chicleros, trading off their wares for butter, beads and tin cups, always paid for medicines Rosario provided and left small donations for the Church. If General Bravo noticed their presence, their participation in the commerce of his city satisfied them and Huerta, alone, complained without effect and brooded over his cognac.

          "The reason that the rebels aren't out in the monte is that they're all here, disguised," the Colonel would grunt to Captain Macias, whose new rank brought with it an obligation to listen to Huerta's complaints. José ordered the incoming Maya stopped and searched, but never found weapons other than machetes, which, of course, were necessary to cut the slashes in the zapote trees from which the gum-sap dribbled. "Some night when we're asleep in our hammocks," Huerta warned, "some night appointed by their infernal calendar, they'll slash our throats from ear to ear and back again." And with this premonition the Colonel would shake his head in disgust and refill his glass. But Bravo gave no order restricting the commerce of the indians and, since Huerta did not envision enough of a threat to stop the drinking that added to the potency of his slumbers, José accommodated himself to the presence of people whom he believed to be waiting for an opportunity to murder him, with only the consolation that he would have the satisfaction, after the treachery finally arrived, of telling his comrades in the afterlife that he had told them so!

 

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