THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

          Captain José Macias, his trunk bulging with books and medals, boarded the narrow Decauville car at seven thirty on the following morning, headed for Vigia Chico, where he was to meet the next steamer bound from Belize City to Cozumel, then rounding Cabo Catoce to Progreso. Half an hour after his departure, Teniente Andujar entered General Bravo's office, prepared to embark upon a mission of more sanguinary nature.

          The Jackal admitted him, showing the Teniente a seat before the General's desk. Bravo was grim. "They should have left well enough alone," he said, almost to himself. "It's anarchy, that's what it is." He looked to Andujar as if expecting a reply."

          "Begging your pardon, General..."

          "Of course, of course," said Bravo. "The indians have no concept of government as we, Lieutenant. Everywhere they have their chiefs and generals; these rise up like the mushrooms beneath a rotted log. It is the antithesis of civilization... every man a king, yet nobody in charge! I tell you, if the sublevados had a man like President Diaz, we would have been in plenty of trouble.

          He settled back in his chair. "What has happened is that the Cruzob from Chumpom and thereabouts have traveled south and ambushed the bunch around Bacalar. The indians, not our people," Bravo made clear. "The southern chiefs have had it. They're ready to lay their guns down, but this eastern bunch caught most of the leaders of the Bacalar indians at a place called Chichanha and wiped them out. Don't look so puzzled, I had my eyes down there. But since some madman put them out, even I can't be sure what's happening.

          "So, we will find out," he said, regarding Andujar with the simplest of expressions that left no question regarding the identity of the nebulous "we". "No matter how bad a time it is... and it couldn't be worse for reason I cannot go into, Teniente, I have to know what we're going up against. And with Captain Macias gone and Valero about to leave, the only man whom I can spare is Oveido."

          Despite himself, Andujar frowned. Bravo waved off the indiscretion with a wince of his own. "I know perfectly well that Oveido is not the equal of Valero or Macias but, after all, his family is influential. We know the way that things are done, don't we? What I'm counting on you for is to keep him out of trouble and to stand at attention when he is given credit for the victory. Later we'll settle our accounts," he promised.

          "As you wish, General," answered Andujar, showing less and less enthusiasm for the deed ahead.

          "The indians have destroyed a telegraph station twenty five kilometers northeast of Bacalar. The operator and his guard presumably are dead. The station to its north has been reinforced. Those to the south are under the protection, such as you may call it, of General Vega."

          Bravo paused at the disagreeable name. General José Maria Vega had remained a thorn in his side, even after the designation of Santa Cruz as the territorial capital and construction of the railroad to Vigia Chico. His agents in Mexico City persisted in lobbying for the canal that would benefit Payo Obispo. Furthermore, the customs house served as a pretext for his cultivation of the British and the indians. It had taken Cruzob from the north to re-ignite the war in Vega's territory south of Lake Nohbec.

          The relative peace in the north of the territory Bravo attributed to the firmness of his rule, the absolute tranquility of the south, however, could not stem from anything less than bribery and intrigue.

          "My rival will undoubtedly attempt to cover up this situation on his own. If I know Vega, his first step will be to try and buy the sublevados off, and this mistake will give you time to cover the distance to Bacalar. Vega is accustomed to those pitiful, corrupt Maya who lurk along his border with no greater thought than to make a few pesos or a British pound by smuggling. The northern indians... our devils, Major... they're of superior disposition, in a way. Eventually, Vega will be forced to fight. But by that time, I trust that you'll have the situation in hand, so I may send agreeable words back to President Diaz."

          Bravo placed his hands on his desk, confronting the Teniente eye to eye.

          "There are three things, under any circumstance, you must not allow to happen. I shall also give these orders to Captain Oveido, yet... as his memory is not all it should be... I anticipate your having to remind the Captain of his obligation should he choose to forget what has been told him."

          "Within the provisions of command, General, I shall do so."

          Bravo raised an eyebrow. "If you have to bend a rule," he said, "I'll understand. I think the men will help you, most of them, they know Oveido," he added distastefully and leaned back. "Your objective is simplicity itself... gather information about the Cruzob around Bacalar, re-open the telegraph and re-establish the outpost at... what was the name of that place?" Bravo riffled through a pile of papers, then thought the better of his actions. "I'll give you a map later. Now, the first thing to remember is that you are not to fly off to Chichanha or anywhere else in the south, but to keep to the Bacalar road."

          "And the sublevados?" Andujar inquired.

          "Let Vega worry about them," Bravo retorted. "You and Oveido have your orders. If attacked, of course, you must respond, but I don't want any long, futile pursuit. Time is of the essence. The second thing," he said, "is that our reinforcements will take and hold that station. Sergeant Carrasco will be promoted to garrison commander, and a replacement telegraph operator will be also sent. Further, I am adding nine men to your company, bringing it to twenty four. Before this most recent incident, Lieutenant, such a garrison would be secure with six men. I am sending four more, not only in response to the danger, but for the following purpose...

          "That station, you see, is at the southernmost end of my influence in the territory. If General Vega is true to his nature, he will post his own men at the station." Andujar grunted, realizing the implications of the plan.

          "I do not intend to lose that station, Teniente." Bravo leaned forward. "If seven of Vega's men are there, we will supply eight. And, if Vega leaves nine, I am prepared to post all ten. My rival will never abandon his schemes of revenge... he'll nibble, like a rat, at any positions I leave exposed until he has gained control of the territory by stealth, control which Don Porfirio has rightly delegated to me by law. And this brings me to the final matter. To be brief, I do not wish your men should, in any way, associate with those under General Vega's command."

          A puzzled expression crossed the face of Andujar. "Vega has spies," Bravo explained, "he takes advantage of the confidences that the unsuspecting place in him and in his officers. Don't be fooled, Major, and be sure that Oveido isn't either. They're a rather charming lot, but there is nothing that they wouldn't stoop to in the interest of recapturing control of this territory!"

The meeting concluded, Andujar returned to the hut he shared with five others of his rank. "Such a queer place this is," he though as he began to pack for the journey. "These generals are more afraid of each other than of the indians!"

 

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