THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

 

          Don Antonio Macias' fall had nearly taken his life, leaving the doctors in Merida disputing whether he could even walk again, let alone manage an enterprise the size of Idznacab, after the immediate danger of infection had passed. Yet he was deaf to their entreaties that he travel to Mexico City or abroad for surgery... even from his bed his concern with the management of the estanción bordered on the obsession. Only when his eldest son... glowering from the interrupted vacation in St. Louis and ruined European excursion... ordered the household staff not to indulge his father's wishes, and flogged one of the grooms mercilessly for preparing a carretera to return the patron to Idznacab, did don Antonio relax his grip on his affairs.

          José, grasping quickly the responsibilities at hand, nonetheless struggled through his first season as a hacendado, accepting the counsel of his father... whom he visited in Merida every Friday night, returning Monday mornings with Don Antonio's blessings and his orders. One week after assuming effective management of the estanción, he posted a letter of apologies to Herr Katzenlöden's offices on the Potsdamer-Strasse in Berlin and another, longer tome, detailing the circumstances and his position to Elena at the address in Italy which she had given him. Thereafter he never failed to write at least once each week. No reply arrived - at first he credited this to the lethargy of the world postal system, having learned in Santa Cruz that notices posted even to Merida, only three hundred kilometers distant, could take months to arrive.

          José was toughened by his work at Idznacab, returning to that condition of alertness and fitness he had developed during his first year in the army. Rising before dawn, he would ride until the sun was high, inspecting the henequen and the smaller lands reserved for corn and grazing. To Armando Feliz and the overseers he sometimes seemed a comic figure, charging through the fields of spiky henequen like a General into battle, but as the young lord of Idznacab had sharp ears and a quick temper, such views remained unvoiced.

          By other means, José flaunted his past. "Look at that saddle," one of the mayordomo's creatures would whisper.

          "That's nothing," said another, an older man. "Some officers have theirs embossed in gold! It is not unknown that the saddle of a Colonel or a General may be valued at ten thousand pesos."

          "Then our Don José must be a pauper."

          "Yes, a pauper such as you or I could be only in our dreams."

          These men did not know and their immediate superior, Armando Feliz, only suspected from what José told him, but forces outside his control were gathering against Idznacab and, indeed, the whole of the Yucatan. When the henequen was finally collected and delivered to Progreso that October of 1904, José was astonished to find that the buyers were offering ten percent less than they had the previous year. At first he thought it a mean-spirited attempt to take advantage of a young, inexperienced henequero but, speaking to his father, and having been introduced to a number of don Antonio's associates, he learned that it was the market which had caught up with all of the henequen planters in Yucatan. Although some, through drought, bankruptcy or fire had failed to bring in a crop, there was far more of the raw materiel for rope than necks of the world to be hanged, so the prices had fallen and, worse, were expected to fall another ten percent over the following year.

          What was the basis for these circumstances? Finally swallowing his pride, he presented himself at the Governmental Palace, enduring patiently the humiliation of being told to wait while Olegario Molina consulted with a crony from the capital. Finally the Governor admitted him, shaking his head with sadness and wonder as José poured out his story.

          "The same is happening all over the state," Molina explained. "What fools we were, to think that we could charge what we pleased as long as we wished! This prosperity of ours was accidental, it was never meant to be or, rather, was the unintended result of the misfortunes of others." And he bade the young man sit while he explained how the American war with Spain had devastated the henequen industry in the Philippines, which was only now beginning to recover. "They underpriced us years ago and they are doing it again," he said, "they pay their help what in our money would be less than half a peso a day."

          "How can they get away with that?"

          Molina opened his hand. "Perhaps the Filipinos require less to eat than our own peons or, more likely, it is that their planters and their government are less generous than our own. There is worse to come," he added and explained that, while the Yankees were obtaining their sisal from the Philippines, the Europeans were, themselves, investing in plantations in the north of Africa. The Yucatecan hacendados would again be taken by surprise. Unwanted sisal would pile up in the warehouses at Progreso. "That is why your brother's mission to the Europeans is of such importance," the Governor said, "for, if they begin to think we take their business for granted, we'll lose their respect. You and I have dined well off the outgrowth of the Philippine Wars, but we cannot reasonably expect such conflict in Europe, can we?"

          José admitted to Molina that they could not, politely declined the Governor's offer of credit through one of the banks his family controlled, then returned to his father's house to break this news before proceeding, directly, to Idznacab.

 

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