THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

 

          The Captain was enjoying Bravo's offer of a cigar with his coffee when the subject turned to money... a favorite of the General, since there no longer seemed to be sublevados willing to engage his forces in anything of more substance than ambush and retreat. Money and the railroad to Ascension Bay... these were two of the three topics that preyed on the thoughts of Bravo, modesty preventing his sharing the third with any other.

          "Were you aware," he told the Captain, "that the outposts in the western portion of the territory and in eastern Yucatan report that fourteen thousand chicleros have crossed over to Yucatan in the past year?"

          "Fourteen thousand?" José wondered.

          "Of course the figure's only an estimate, and you know how soldiers exaggerate," Bravo admitted. "Still, it would not be far from the truth were I to say that half the sublevados... for in the monte a chiclero and rebel are the same... have left?"

          "Perhaps it is that they respect your methods, General."

          Bravo smiled. "Do you realize, then, how many zapote trees in the territory have no one to attend them? How much of their milk merely falls to the dirt, to be carried off by ants, I suppose, if ants chew gum?" At this moment came an interruption; angry, excited cries outside the door, barking dogs and a sound of running feet to melt the old General's smile. "See what is happening," José was ordered.

          The Captain peeked out the door guardedly. There had been no gunshots, but their absence was no guarantee of safety. Despite the fines and whippings imposed on the company for public brawling, barely a night passed without incident and two soldiers, within the past month, had been put into the ground by the hands and knives of their colleagues.

          Of the prisoners who had died in this manner, nobody even bothered to count.

          Spotting a uniform, José called out. "Corporal! What news?"

          The corporal, seeing that the order came from Bravo's offices, cursed and lumbered up the three steps to the door. "A bunch of miserable dogs," he swore, "they've dug up Alvarez. Well, it was his own damn fault for telling the padre he wanted to be buried by the cannon. I suppose that they've been driven off by now."

          "Sergeants who cheat at cards have to expect these things," José declared and shut the door.

          "What was it?" inquired the General.

          "Nothing. A dispute among dogs." The sound of barking, further away than before, reached José's ears as he took his seat. Bravo's lip curled in disgust. Next to flies and Indians, he hated dogs more than any other living creature, especially the starving mongrels that crept into Santa Cruz by night, waiting for moonrise and the lights to be turned out for the chance to steal something to eat. Dogs and indians! Bravo spat a cloud of gray smoke out from his cigar and leaned back in his chair.

          José reached for his cognac, only to set the glass down in disgust. A line of happily drowned ants, perhaps a score of them, had climbed across the table and up the glass in the few moments it had taken to determine the fate of the unfortunate Alvarez. A few still wriggled feebly in the liquor. He turned away from their intoxicated struggling and took another puff of the cigar.

          "When my railroad is completed," Bravo mused, "Santa Cruz del Bravo will become a city fine and large as Merida. It's no dream, this. Some important men from the capital will be coming soon, and some Yankees besides. They carry letters from don Porfirio and from President Roosevelt himself. They believe in the territory and they have big plans, let me tell you, for development here."

          The general took a sip from his own untenanted copita and puffed at his cigar, blowing the smoke casually, now that there were no dogs or indians about to disturb his plans. "He's the very image of an old wolf," José thought as a trickle of cognac dribbled from Bravo's lip, "an old white wolf with murder in his heart and blood over his muzzle." Visions of Anibal on the night of fin del Siglo, and Diablo, returning from his feast on the road to Central, passed before José's eyes once more, and the General's features shrank back, their vulpine likeness increasing.

          "I'd tell you one more thing," Bravo wheedled, speaking to the young Captain as to a favorite son... a thing not improbable, for his own sons were vain and undistinguished, cruel but venal shadows of a father who favored them with the choicest of assignments, even as he abused them with public sarcasm. "All those big shots from the capital... they will have to deal with me! And I do not intend to remain a mere territorial commander, by no means! If they want to do their business here, I'll expect their help."

          "Help for what?" José asked.

          "Quintana Roo will be a state. Then, I'll be its Governor."

          José nodded his agreement. Never rouse a wolf from its dreams, even an old one which, still, has its teeth.

          "A Governor!" the General repeated dreamily, as if José had not understood. "A territorial commander serves without election or term at the mercy of the President. Not that I do not have the utmost confidence in the judgement of don Porfirio, but... there is the uncertainty of anything while I attend to my duties here and others conspire against me in Mexico City." His brows knotted as he lowered his cigar. "One day you are the commander and then, the arrival of a telegram and you are nothing. Another old soldier, waiting to be pensioned off, dying in an old hotel room, somewhere..."

          He appealed to the captain now, biting at the ends of his mustache in vexation at the prospect which he had raised. "I've worked hard at this place," he said, staring across the table at José... as if to goad him into disagreement. "Haven't I? Before I came, this land abounded with half-naked savages and British hardwood smugglers and pirates; one and the same to my way of thinking. A Governor, you see, answers to the people of the state... the citizens, of course, as well as to his President. You would vote for me, of course?"

          The hint of question stilled José's brief whim to make light of the matter. "Of course," he replied.

          "Don Porfirio is a generous man," Bravo sighed. "And so a thought may cross his mind, he may well acquire an inclination to reward one of his many friends who serve him with faith and loyalty in the capital as I do here, at a distance. Regardless of the courtier's qualifications... or even a lack of them! If a Territorial Commander doesn't work out, the man can be replaced and, because it is a political appointment, no shame will stick to the President."

          The General leaned towards José, his eyes narrowing with contempt at the spectre of a civilian Commander. "No shame! There are former territorial governors of lower California enough to fill our stinking dzonot; a few months' tenure here, a year there, and it becomes part of their credentials towards a nice job in the capital, under Limantour, perhaps. You're looking well, Governor Rojas, so nice to see you too, Governor Arroyo!" He spat the titles out like oaths. "They may even fool themselves into believing that they are governors in reality... and who will advise them otherwise, at least to their face? But these old ears, Captain, they hear what people speak even when Ignacio Bravo is not present, even when I am thousands of kilometers distant. Nothing escapes my attention... nothing!"

          José nodded in reply through a face which had become a mask, though one not nearly so white as he'd worn in Merida. Nothing? Something strained against its fetters... the Captain's eagle? "I would give you the chance to prove so, you old fool," he thought, as the thrashing of wings within began to subside, "but at my own time and upon a field of my own choosing."

          "I intend to stay here," Bravo said. "I'll prove to them that I'm not just a General, but a Governor as well." He smiled. "Quintana Roo will have its population, even if that population is the scum of Don Porfirio's prisons, at first. Work and discipline... would there have been a Rome without them? The pyramids of Egypt or, for that matter, of the Republic?

          "I will make my claim upon those Mexico cannot abide, and they will dwell here..." the General pounded the table, "... at my discretion."

          "Assuredly," José agreed. "Only where do you propose to put so many of these prisoners? You cannot leave these kinds of men out in the open, they will gather no matter what work you give them or what punishments are proscribed and, at the first opportunity, we'll be overwhelmed. Their place of confinement must be physically impregnable, so that there will be no chance that the power of their arms, if not their minds, may be turned against you... against us all."

          "I have considered this," the General acknowledged and something in his voice disquieted José. "There is a place as you have described - the church! Padre Juliano's sermons draw only a few indian women and, though he'll grieve for a while, his flock can just as well be serviced under a palm roof. Remember, the Holy Spirit is within," Bravo pointed out.

          "I fear this Padre will be devastated," predicted the Captain.

          "Then let him be consoled by God, for did not his messenger Juan de la Cruz... I meant Jesucristo, naturally... renounce material splendor and assert His Kingdom was not of this world? Did he not preach under the stars, among camels and vagabonds? Don't worry, I'll provide the old priest another room to store his saints and holy paintings. We are of the here and now, and now I have need of strong walls," Bravo added.

 

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