THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FOUR: THE BOOK of SCIENCE
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
By Monday the family would not be alone in its poverty. José, with a letter reluctantly drafted by don Antonio, had ordered the mayordomo Armando Feliz to cut the wages of the peons, from two pesos to one and one half per day. This news was received with incredulity. The previous subtraction of half a peso had been received with a fatalistic shrug, such increases and decreases in pay based on the surplus or shortage of labor were common. But, for more than fifty years, all of don Antonio's rule at Idznacab and that of Doña Julia's family before him, two pesos was the lowest prevailing wage.
"Listen," the mayordomo said, for José had ridden back to the house, leaving him to explain this most unpopular course of action. "It is the nature of the economic world that, when there is too much of any object prices fall, and thus the costs of its production also must be cut."
"There are too many beans at the Tienda," a man next to Esteban Chan muttered, "but their cost never falls." Esteban nodded, though hoping he would not be seen and that the man would shut up. None of the laborers dared speak up against this cut in their pay. To have done so would have earned them only a beating... and perhaps not from Armando Feliz, but from the new young master, a strange, violent and devilishly strong man who had, more than once, accosted the mayordomo in the early morning, taken the whip in his own hand and laid into whatever luckless fellow happened to have been singled out with such inhuman fury that Armando had been compelled to restrain him from killing the man. Once, José Macias, unable to restrain himself, drove the mayordomo himself down to his knees with blows from first the whip and then his hands. The mazehualob turned away... for while the humiliation of the mayordomo was something each had long secretly hoped for, the palpability of demonic forces that no cage of skin could contain left each of them... the Chinos and the Yaquis too... with an overpowering fear, not only for themselves, even their families, but that the world order itself stood in peril at the hands of this arrogant and vital dzul.
Now, Armando Feliz said that which the law and courtesy required him to do. "If any man among you believes that a better offer can be had elsewhere in the state, I am prepared to negotiate a transfer of your debts." He had pointed out to young José Macias that the tiende de raya did not hold men's bodies to the soil of any one estanción, only their debts. Even the Yaquis could go to work for the Peon family, or Barzon or even one of the estanciónes managed by relatives and cronies of Governor Molina.
"If someone else wants to pay these wretches more than they're worth," José had told him, "let them do so. All of the estanciónes will lower their wages eventually, just you watch! And those who don't will fail... the Governor's assured me... and you'll have your pick of their best workers when they crawl back to Idznacab upon their bellies."
The mayordomo had not dared argue with José, for in addition to his temper, the young man had a letter of concurrence from his father. And it was known, besides, that Rigoberto, who had grown up riding and hunting at the estanción, and was a powerful lawyer in Merida, was in Rome itself... awaiting orders to proceed to the new Heavenly Father, Pius X, and have the names of disobedient persons placed in his Book of the Damned.
Armando Feliz knew the power of a ledger!
Of course the mayordomo could have made the gesture of lowering prices at the tienda de raya but he was not foolish enough to make the misfortune of both those above himself and those below his own. "Those who desire to leave are to provide a month's notice, during which time it they will be paid at a rate of only one peso daily," he said, having secured Don José's consent for this codicil which appeared nowhere in the laws of either Yucatan or the Republic. "It is only fair that those who leave us receive less, for their attention will not be on their work. As to the transfer of debt, this will entail my meeting with the mayordomos of other estanciónes and, for this service, the cost will be an additional ten percent of any sum outstanding or ten pesos, whichever is the greater."
The bewildered peons were left to themselves to finish their breakfasts and try to make sense of what Armando Feliz had told them. For his part, the mayordomo trusted in José's assurance that illiterate laborers would have neither the knowledge, the inclination nor the funds to move and, moreover, the rest of the estanciónes would also begin to cut their wages. Already the Peon family was offering only one peso and eighty centavos and Feliz could only hope that it would sink further. If it did not and indians began to leave, Idznacab was the less at risk... for the season of greatest need for labor had just been concluded and substitutes could be found before the spring planting. And he would receive his ten percent from those who left, whether or not they later changed their minds and came back.
"And if necessary, as a last resort," José mentioned, "the price of Yaquis has fallen over half. They're asking only four hundred the head now, who can tell what they'll accept tomorrow?"
"But your father always said..." the mayordomo began and then bit his tongue, for the stare that implied forthcoming derangement had begun to cloud Don José's eyes.
"Until my father returns, I am in charge!" the Captain said, as if to one of his men in the Territory. "Get these loafers back to work!"
"Back to work!" Armando Feliz ordered. The peons, now yawning and stretching, began to shuffle aimlessly, glancing from one to another. The mayordomo's hand tightened on his whip while he searched the throng for any sign of resistance in the eyes of a would-be leader who could be singled out. But there was nobody to make an example of... the resistance had been spontaneous and unorganized and Feliz pretended not to have observed anything amiss. "Well it is the slower season anyway," he said to himself, seeing that José had lost interest, "and I have done my job. The patrons must have known that it would happen so it's really not my problem."
And while he was at it, he decided upon another cup of coffee, for the young hacendado had informed him that his own wage was to be cut also.
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