THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

 

          And then there came one riotous Sunday in Santa Cruz del Bravo. Two boats had docked at Vigia Chico within a day of each another; the first being from the north, from Vera Cruz, with a stop at Progreso, bringing supplies from all over the Republic and beyond its borders... British cloth, German artillery, even French champagne for official receptions. The other vessel had come from Payo Obispo, bringing part of the loot that could not be carried overland by the southern battalions, one of which had entered the territorial capital only the previous Wednesday. Another would arrive within the week. As quickly as could be managed the Decauville was unloaded... a box of ammunition, half a dozen goats, a case of quinine... then sent back to Vigia Chico for another load.

          Osvaldo Andujar sat at a table in the sun, a ledger book before him with pen and inkbottle. His recovery had not proceeded quickly enough to permit the evacuation he had written to José Macias of, and it was now his hope that, when the supply boats were finally unloaded, he could make the journey to Vigia Chico and return to Mexico. In the meantime, he had pestered Dr. Rosario for some useful task to occupy himself and the doctor had prevailed upon Bravo to assign the crippled Lieutenant to join the clerks recording those transactions that resulted now from the absorption of the southern bases into those of the north.

          He still felt pain, sometimes, beyond the place where his feet once existed; this was sharper on cloudy, humid days, upon which he resorted to the morphine bottle and remained in his hammock with such thoughts of loss and remembrance as came to him. José had posted a letter from Progreso, the port from which he had departed for New Orleans; the retired Captain planning to visit the fair in St. Louis, then to travel east to New York, from which city he would board an ocean liner to London. He had written of a stay of as long as a year in Europe, mentioning, obliquely, the prospect of some errand for an American corporation and adding "The niece of Governor Molina, whom I have described to you many times, is a student in the ancient Italian city of Florence, and it is my desire to intercept her before the attentions of some Romeo inadvertently cause the sort of tragedy known to Shakespeare, as well as the Classic dramatists." Andujar had smiled over the letter but it also pained him... José's easy words of travel and romance could not fail to wound a man whose own future seemed so desolate.

          Well, the recording of goods was something to do, and Andujar looked up, observing Bravo's wanderings through the chaos of boxes and barrels, calling to the Lieutenant's mind the roamings of a pig through a deserted hut. From time to time the General called on the unloading gang to quicken their labors, eyes darting to intercept instances of pilferage which, nonetheless, could not help but be epidemic. Now the General turned to Andujar and the row of the other clerks, holding up an American machine of unknown origin which had arrived from Payo Obispo. "Do you see how General Vega squandered the funds of the Republic upon all manner of incomprehensibilities," he scolded, hurling the object into another crate, which held similar items whose use remained hidden. Directing the supervising sergeant to forget about it, he said "I'll have someone sort these out later."

          Bravo now approached Andujar as the last of the cargo upon the little train was unloaded and the Decauville turned around to sent back to Vigia Chico. Motioning him to put down his pen and ink, the General declared: "What a boon it is to find men capable of responsibility. Look at these fellows!" he gestured towards the soldiers and prisoners alike. "Can you honestly tell me that they wouldn't rather lie up in the hospital for weeks on end, especially when hard work is at hand?" The General spat into the dust. "In any event, Teniente, all of this will soon be nothing of your concern. We're going to Vigia Chico, you and I, each to our appointments. It's well that you could be here long enough," he added, "for our victory to be recognized, to have known that your sacrifice was not in vain."

          "What a strange thing to say," Andujar thought, though without comment to the retreating General... for Rosario had told him of Bravo's orders which the doctor, of course, had disobeyed. "He's never been so pleased since the first day of our entry into this miserable place. Mexico has lost a strategic battle and a key ally, the forces in the territory are in retreat and Bravo speaks of his victory as if it were General Vega, not the sublevados who were still laying siege to Quintana Roo." The legless man shook his head at the paradoxes the territory presented, then recorded the arrival of a crate of powdered eggs.

          The Decauville came and went and came again over the next few days and, on its final departure before the sailing of the ships, General Bravo and his entourage, and Lieutenant Andujar boarded early in the morning for the journey. It was about six hours to the coast, not including a stop for lunch at Central, which afforded the Mexicans an opportunity to dine on tinned beef and to stretch their legs… those who had legs to stretch. "Here, General," said Andujar, remaining in the narrow coach, "is one of the few good things to have come of this matter; I can sit for hours without growing cramped or tired."

          "I shall consider your methods," Bravo replied, brushing away a spider that had dropped itself from his hat. "This place is infested with these miserable creatures. And in another month or so, the grasshoppers will be at their thickest."

          A Major of the General's party, the third-ranking officer on the excursion, dared breach Bravo's etymological reveries by reminding him of the ponton still afloat in the bay off Payo Obispo. "I doubt whether it has kept a single indian cutthroat or British smuggler from their work," the General replied. "The south has been under our Navy's thumb too long, now they're going to get a taste of what the Army can do."

          The Major was from Mexico City and easily disturbed. "What if the British complain?"

          "Let them," Bravo said simply. "Those English, they are like my own bad son Tomás who, at least, has the principles to order the Jackal not to beat his prisoners before he kills them. That Governor in Belize raises a horrified commotion at the way we treat our contract laborers and the indians, but their own conduct in Jamaica is just as bad, or worse.

          "Oh I have no quarrel with the Jamaican governor, nor his methods," Bravo clarified. "He knows as well as I that in order to get work out of uncivilized people, be they Negro, indian or any other... like those Chinos up north... you have to show them both the peso and the whip. It's the damned hypocrisy of this man Arbuckle that disgusts me."

          "How is that?" Andujar asked.

          "This... this governor..." and the general paused for he had to spit again, "he arrives from London where the streets are paved with gold, or at least they are lined with the banks in which gold is piled to the ceilings and the sun never shines through English windows for the gold which obscures them. And he comes to Belize with the preposterous affirmation of ignorance of how all that wealth came to London. I tell you gentlemen, a time could come when I would simply end the matter by placing my pistol against his scalp."

          The occasion was one that called for a smile, but Bravo had none.

          "At any rate, he'll cooperate, or he will learn for himself what it is to be in the midst of a real Indian War." Only now did the General permit himself a smirk.

          Andujar nodded his agreement, brushing a spider from his hair to mask his expression that the General was quite mad - proposing war without consent of the exalted President Diaz. The territory bred lunacy... it seemed a giant spider's web and we, the legless man concluded, are its flies. Some lose their limbs, others their lives... others, still, are sucked hollow and, thought the Lieutenant, filled with something that gives them the appearance of men when they are not.

 

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