THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR 

 

          "Peace!" declared Herr Katzenlöden, speaking in English, which was the second language to all whose native tongues were Flemish, Spanish or German. And he regarded José for what seemed a long, even offensive duration, until the young visitor to St. Louis was obliged to reply.

          "And?" José asked, considering... less... the meal of grain and sausage wrapped in cabbage leaves and... more... the diplomat's disposition...

          "And what of it?"

          José lay down his fork. "Are you asking myself, a soldier, for an opinion on the proceedings of this conference, here?" he inquired, with a malicious smirk that, perhaps, augured the cadence of small, distant wings, audible only to himself.

          Herr Katzenlöden smiled, affably. "Who better to observe and judge the causes and the consequences of violence than the professional. Oh," he added, dismissively, "I realize that you cannot be aware of all of the intricacies of the debates... this affair of the Boers or what is taking place between the Russians and Japan..."

          "I am aware of certain bad feelings, but not their details," José added, taking a small bite of some subtly spiced dumpling, chewing slowly.

          "Mysterious Asia, so they say, endeavors to become rather less so," said the German businessman. "In a corner of the world ruled by secret societies, there is one rather less secretive group, the Black Dragons, who feel rather as we do in Europe... confined, shackled and harried on all sides by enemies of lesser stature, by which I mean the Mediterranean cultures of the west and south, and the Slavs to our east. Even Herr Wallen, here, is in accord with this."

          "One may not know that much of Belgium, for it is a small place..." remarked Pieter Wallen, "...and quite unnatural, a brokered nation between its French-speaking citizens and those who, like myself, are inclined to unity with the Northern peoples."

          "These Black Dragons, at any rate, see rather the same opportunities in Russian decadence as we do," Herr Katzenlöden opined. "I am not unaware of the prospect that our own march to the east must inevitably conflict with theirs, to the west, but this is a situation for our children to face, or our children's children. Some of these Japanese have notable aspects of the Caucasian race, especially on the northern islands, where..."

          "And what," José chose to ask, "has this to do with gum?"

          Herr Katzenlöden was a large man, with a large man's demonstration of amusement; that he resembled certain of the American caricaturist Thomas Nast's Father Christmas occurred to José, though his semblance of jollity could not detract from the seriousness of purpose he perceived in the Berliner's eye.

          "Nothing!" the businessman replied, "...and everything!" He quaffed from a schooner of Pilsener and waved a hand about to encompass the whole of the Exposition. "There are some who hold that the whole of the world... its variety of races, cultures, religions and peoples, will be melted down into a common slag by the small miracles of progress. By gum! By gum and shoelaces and the nickelodeon... by ice skating in July and the jumping and leaping contests that pass themselves off as descendents of the Greek Olympiad, by air-conditioning! Quite a few of these infest the Festival Hall, and who is to speak ill of them? Not I... it is a loser's proposition to speak unkindly of peace and material prosperity, of tolerance and progress as is evidenced by the women's suffrage movement, temperance and the automobile..."

          "Did you know that there are over one hundred species of motorcars at the Palace of Transportation?" interjected Pieter Wallen. "One for every clan of the earth, no matter how ridiculous or degraded, even the French and the Kaffirs! Why it might as well be called the Palace of Temptation!" he jibed.

          "You and I," coaxed Herr Katzenlöden, making a gesture as if to include José in their little fold, "we understand that there is more to this world than magic whirlpools and belly dancers, comely as the latter may be. All of the peoples of the world... the advanced, but also the declining... seek room in which to expand, to breathe, to grow. Such has been the genius of the Americans. Where, my Mexican amigo, do you believe these energetic Americans will go next, now that they have reached their Pacific?"

          José turned towards Pieter Wallen.

          "Have you related, to this gentleman, certain sentiments that are to be heard on the peninsula?"

          "Perhaps," replied the Belgian, smiling like a plump, contented cat.

          "And, still, you work for the Americans..."

          "Wrigley pays me a satisfactory wage to market the trifles they import from such hot places of this world as your state," Wallen allowed. "And if I enter into contracts with others that have designs upon the overseas markets where Wrigley cannot go for reason of the governments there, well that is my concern. Who has ever said that those who take the longer view on affairs of nations and their peoples are not also allowed to make a living thereby... some Communists and such, peoples of the abyss..."

          "And it is not only gum that we speak of... the Kaiser has as much need for rope as do the Americans and British. More, actually, because there are more of them we are fated to hang, sooner or later. As Pieter tells me, the Americans already spurned your appeals during the troubles of half a century ago, isn't that right?"

          "Yes..." replied José, cautiously.

          "Perhaps if the southern states had won their war, Yucatan might have been in a better position to align itself with an engine of progress, but we know how that turned out!" Herr Katzenlöden veritably sighed, then speared a morsel off his plate, talking and chewing with his mouth open, a sight that caused José to avert his glance... inspiring the Berliner to believe that he had tapped into a vein of national shame, a fuel which might be tapped and brought to the surface to be burned, the better to turn the flywheels of the pan-German agenda.

          "Who arms and abets the revolted savages of Quintana Roo? The English! Who holds Mexico under its thumb as surely as Mexico holds the Yucatan under its own thumb? The English-speaking Americans. Who keeps Porfirio Diaz on his pedestal... yes, disagree if you must, but the foundation of Mexico is rotten, howsoever that which will replace it is apt to be much worse!... again, it is the wizards of London and Wall Street; caviling parasites who will work to the ill of your ever regaining prosperity and dignity. There is a saying, Seńor, attributed to the Romans, or perhaps even to the Greeks... 'No man is friend to another, but the enemy of his enemy becomes his friend.' Isn't that so?"

          "The situation of Yucatan, with or without its territorial properties, has always been difficult," was the extent to which José would commit himself to an opinion.

          "Didn't I tell you that this was a remarkable fellow?" Pieter Wallen told Herr Katzenlöden. "It's a shame what they do to their best men in Mexico... José, tell our friend about what happened to that General, the one who put those savages in their place. An indian, no less!"

          "He never received his promotion," José corrected.

          Within a month of his greatest victories, a substitute commander had been sent to oversee these captured villages and Victoriano Huerta was brought back to Santa Cruz del Bravo a hero. He was returned to the capital, bearing a most appreciative letter from the territorial commander, but was again passed over for promotion and, cursing the Ministry of War... though not Porfirio Diaz himself... the angry little Colonel had transferred to the geographical bureau and taken up work as a civil engineer and glorified mapmaker.

          "The very essence of decadence!" Herr Katzenlöden declared when José finished his relation of Huerta's sad end... which, to be sure, differed only in detail from that which had attached to José Maria Vega. "Any capable Mexican is certain to be denied his rights... for reasons of politics," the Berliner fairly spat, spraying José with a fine mist of sour cabbage, knockwurst, bratwurst or one of those other such wursts prepared by the large German colony of St. Louis for the Exposition.

          Politely declining Herr Katzenlöden's invitation to a private party, at which certain off-duty Cairo dancers would be in attendance, he nonetheless agreed to meet with him again on the following afternoon, having had time to give thought to his prospects for the future and, also, for the peace delegate (whose commitment to peace was rather less than unwavering) to send and receive instructions from Berlin.

          Somewhat after the noon hour... between sessions of the interminable conference... Herr Katzenlöden met José on that amusement strip called the "Pike" and bid him enter one of its displays... "The Here-After". Above them hovered a great plaster angel with, however, a censorious frown... within, the masques of Paradise were no less ear-shattering than were those of Hell. "Just the place for a confidential discussion," advised Katzenlöden and José strained to hear. "My superiors in Berlin are patient men," he commenced, "but, also, open to opportunities where they may arise... be they in Europe, America or Mexico. During this interim period, which may be of some years' duration, we require certain men of commerce who, during the performance of their natural and public duties, are willing to pass along such information as comes into their possession. A service for which... quite naturally... they will be compensated."

          "Pieter Wallen has invited me to Chicago," José replied, "and, while he cannot accompany me to that city, he has made arrangements for me to discuss with operatives of the Wrigley Company such trade arrangements as include not only chicle but sisal and other products of the peninsula."

          "By all means... accept any offer of employment or agency, so long as the terms are reasonable. Like Herr Wallen, you'll find it no sin to work for several masters, and what can Wrigley do... so long as you do not compromise them with any other American chicle company? I foresee this century to be one where the influence of corporations grows as that of nations declines... only some nations, we hope... and the man who spreads his talents round shall be admired for his initiative. That goes without saying for the business sector... for that other, we shall presume a little more, may I say... discretion? Yes!" the Berliner chuckled, shying instinctively from a sulfurous explosion detonated by a devil... or a St. Louisan in devil's mask and raiments. “We shall do business and, when the time comes, something more intimate."

          And, despite his ambition and the desire to situate himself outside of his home state... be it independent or not... José recoiled at the man's touch, adjusting in his mind old and well-formed concepts of Continental dignity.

          "Who is to say what is waiting, ahead of us?" Katzenlöden panted, grunting like a hog and, as José inhaled, sweating like one. "Coming, as they say here, down the Pike!"

          The morning of the seventh of July, however, brought news of a different sort. José was still abed at eight, having finally consented to a private gathering of the Cairo exhibitionists... at which much beer had been consumed... when the dour innkeeper knocked and, before he could pull on his clothes, turned the key, entered and handed José a telegram from Rigoberto in Merida.

          José dressed quickly and proceeded to the Palace of Manufacturers, finding Pieter Wallen engaged with a gentleman who wished to distribute gum in the sparsely populated wilds of Southern California. "Pardon my haste," he began, "but I will not be able to go to Chicago... let alone the Continent... nor accept any offers of employment for the time being. Please seek out Herr Katzenlöden and convey, to him, my regrets, for I have to leave immediately," José explained. "I have received notice that my father has suffered a grievous accident. A horse stumbled and fell upon, breaking his back and leg. I have already notified my brother that I will return to New Orleans and take the first steamer south."

 

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