THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN

 

          José had written faithfully during the busy season, leaving his letters to Europe with the postal authorities in Merida every Monday morning before returning to Idznacab. Rigoberto had sent correspondences detailing his travels across a great arc of the European commercial centers; Barcelona and Rome (which postmark had been employed to terrify Armando Feliz), then north through Vienna to stormy Berlin. Elena, however, never replied. It was as if the great ocean to the east between them had swallowed her whole, with never a thought of spitting her back again as, at last, did Jonah's whale disgorge that unfortunate son of Amittai. Finally, with the days growing short towards the approach of All Souls' Day, with the harvesting of henequen done, and the crop sold at the reduced price... and with the family finances stabilized, if not improved, José had time to take matters into his own hand.

          Had he wished, he could have gone directly to Governor Molina, who had assured the young man that his administrative palace, commercial offices and Merida home were always at the disposal of the distinguished Don Antonio and his decorated son. But, as he had initiated his courtship secretly, he had decided that he would continue on this course, for while the praises of the Governor remained faint in his ears, Molina was a man of easy words; there was no question but that a Colonel would be a stronger suitor than a retired Captain and... at this unhappy time... that almost anybody would have been preferable to a henequero.

          Posting a notice of his intent a week before making the journey, José boarded a train to Campeche on a gray, cold morning in late November to meet the trusted Doña Joséfa. He went alone, this mission being far too important to be contaminated by the antics of the Caballeros, of whom he had seen little since taking upon himself the responsibility for the estanción.

          Joséfa expected him but had little news, and less of it was to his liking. The Villareal family had returned to Campeche in September, but Elena remained abroad, enrolling in an institute for arts and sciences. The family had tightly guarded the name, address and even location of the school, but Joséfa was given to understand that it was in France, rather than Italy. The crone Viola had been sent to accompany her as guardian, so José's only satisfaction was that no Frenchman... unless one extremely capable beyond his years... would have the opportunity to test his wiles upon her.

          Gaining, from Joséfa, the promise that she would inform him on the occasion that any news was received, José returned to Merida, hoping only that the Christmas season might bring Elena back to him or, at the least, disclose some word of her fortune. Posting immediately a letter to Rigoberto, in the care of the Mexican legation in Paris, José begged his brother to seek out and console Señorita Villareal and then, attiring himself in the uncomfortable formal dress favored by the montes... for he had already observed how the novelty of a uniform quickly fades upon retirement, unless the wearer holds the rank of General, or maybe Colonel... he haunted those social functions of the winter season at which a glimpse of the Campecheño Senator might be obtained. Frequently in the shadow of Roberto Urzaiz... for Don Antonio, although now able to walk short distances with the help of a cane, seldom ventured from the library of the Merida house... José began to acquire the reputation of disturbed, broding young man... to the extent that even the Hermano Mayor reproached him gently without giving offensive specifics upon the nature of the trouble that followed him.

          For it was not any one action, nor even a series of traits that could be laid upon José's character but rather a seeming duality, a division of his personality into halves, neither pleasant. One was sober, doggedly industrious... protective of his father and his business to an extent that some of the eligible ladies of the state began referring to him as "that old man". Hopeful, but fearful, of a word from Governor Molina, ill-matched with the young professional class that his brother now represented, he could usually be found in the company either of a few of his father's old friends such as Andre Barzon, or of those of the Caballeros who had aged the worst... sitting attentively at the fringes of gatherings, speaking rarely, absorbing the repetitious tales and grudges as a blotter soaks up spilled wine. Urzaiz made a few attempts to introduce him to the comely daughters of some of the state's leading families... an importer of business equipment, a brewer, a Professor at the University... but, although unfailingly polite, José discouraged these with a finality that drew them into corners, comparing their views on the aloof young hacendado.

          The other side seldom came to the fore, and never in circumstances where word might be carried back to the montes. José's imp had not been satiated by his resignation from the army and departure from the territory, but remained a coiled force he loosed sometimes, in situations under his control, that it not gather strength and overpower him under conditions that would result in the ruin of his reputation. And, yet, such was the fatality of his spirit that he chose Campeche as the location in which the dark side of José Macias would manifest... the very city that swarmed with the family and friends of his beloved Elena.

          His preferred arena of release, prior to the turning of 1904 was political thuggery, all too common during the December national elections but an odd choice of avocation for one so well born, so mature. Never interested in politics until brought up to attention by the henequen slump, José followed the path of the least resistance... persons disparate as Rigoberto, Urzaiz and most of the Caballeros; Andre Barzon and, in the Territory, Colonel Huerta all touted the former War Minister Bernardo Reyes, the blond, dandyish Governor of Nueva Leon. But the skirmishes in the streets of Merida and Campeche were minor compared to the pitched battles between the Reyistas and Corralistas in the north; and even these had largely subsided before José developed his interest in the political street gangs.

          The first night of the trouble began a few days after the expected re-election of Diaz against a motley rabble of bullfighters, evangelists and disgruntled lawyers; installation of the disgraceful Corral being a certainty, the wrathful attentions of the Caballeros turned to Merida's tiny Liberal Party and its nerve center, the offices of "El Peninsular" published by an insolent poet, José Maria Pino Suarez.

          "Why my Imal can lay the place to waste in fifteen minutes!" boasted Jorge Cordova during one of his infrequent excursions from Campeche.

          "My Sergeant Trona," replied their host, Urzaiz, "can clear the place out in ten!"

          "Prove it!" the Caballeros clamored, but rather than allow the dispute in his sanctuary with its myriad, fragile antiquities, the Hermano Mayor urged the hunting party out into the street taking, first, a number of dark handkerchiefs from a bureau.

          "The police don't give a fig for the Liberals, but it might cause some awkwardness were men as ourselves observed at a dust-up as this," Roberto said, distributing disguises to the montes.

          José, however, declined.

          "Thank you, but I've brought my own." And wondering at the premonition that prompted an apparently irrational act, José drew the shimmering white skull-mask from his coat, and whether it was its influence or simply that José's eagle had been too long pent up, it was the retired Captain who caused the greatest carnage - astonishing even the brutal Imal and Trona at the zeal which with he fell upon the Liberals, scattering them like bugs, crunching bones with such abandon that Roberto Urzaiz directed him, lest murder ensue, to the task of disposing of a printing press of some three hundred kilograms. Imal and Trona straining at one end, the Captain alone on the other, the device was hoisted and hurled from its second-story window, crashing to the street in a shower of glass and typefaces.

          And then, with 1905 at hand, the elections over and Idznacab requiring less attention, José and such Campecheño acquaintances of the Caballeros such as Cordova and Pedro Vilario... who introduced him to a second cousin of Elena, Tomas Bartol Duran, a man whom not even the protection of his relative, the Governor of Yucatan, could raise up to respectability... entered into a winter of dissolution. José, who drank little in Merida and abstained entirely from the enticements of women, submerged himself in these and other vices that the small but world-wise port could offer... always after presenting himself properly at the door of Tia Joséfa to extract what news had passed over the sea from Elena who remained, from what little could be told, at her studies in a convent-like institution outside Paris. "Don't expect any word from her," he was told, "they open all the mail there and anything in the least improper is read and destroyed."

          "And am I considered improper?" José asked over the lunch that he had bought Joséfa, as he often did, besides always providing her with small gifts... vanities... in appreciation of her continued interest for, as it seemed, the more depraved the Captain's excursions into vice and violence, the brighter blazed the torch of his charm.

          "The Villareal family has obviously left instructions that all communication with young men is to be forbidden," said Joséfa, her voice dropping nearly to a whisper. "Elena's father, you understand, is a tormented, deeply unhappy man. It is what he perceives in himself that causes him to imagine what indignities may be visited upon his daughter."

          José thanked Joséfa, and secured from her promises to notify him at once should any change occur in Elena's position. Thereafter he gave himself over wholly to his vices but no solace could he find in the taverns of Campeche nor with the ever changing protégés of Madam Ruana.

          Worse, the imp now returned with him to Yucatan where, fearing that its aspect would disturb the rest and the dignity of Don Antonio and Doña Julia, José stopped only long enough to bundle his clothes and saddle a horse he punished fearfully... riding, through the night, out of the white city twinkling with holiday decorations to the estanción, which he achieved an hour before dawn. Finding the laborers beginning to assemble, he obstructed Armando Feliz, who was in the act of bending an unsmiling man over the gate in preparation for a flogging.

          "What has this man done?" he asked the mayordomo, and was informed that the culprit, who owed not only his debts and his father's but his grandparents' as well, had tried to run away to Merida but had, mistakenly, caught a ride on a wagon driven by a merchant of that city who was acquainted with Armando Feliz and, in fact, supplied him with many of the articles of the tienda de raya. "So this fellow was delivered over to police, and it cost me a half a day in running up to the city to retrieve the pendejo and bring him back! That alone is worth twenty arrobas."

          The mayordomo, sensing the excited nature of José Macias, carefully omitted the fact that the trip had afforded him time in the cantinas and brothels of the city, activities much preferable to standing watch over the unwilling laborers of Idznacab.

          "I'll take this," José said and, grasping the mayordomo's whip, he lifted the head of the runaway. "Well," he said, speaking in the Mayan tongue he had perfected in the monte of Quintana Roo, "do you have anything to say for yourself? Confess!... tohcab!... to save your miserable pixan!"

          "At one and one half peso, no honest man can pay such debts as I have, nor will any remain here. I'm just the first," the runaway warned, insolently. "No one can stay under such hopeless conditions as these."

          "You'll be the first and the last," José said, and smashed the haft of Armando's whip into the miscreant's face, breaking his nose and several teeth. Ignoring the outcry from the horrified peons, he bestrode the man's back and began to lay on with the whip, his fury mounting as he contemplated the failures he'd suffered. Twenty arrobas he delivered, thirty, and his arm never wavered the once, for he now perceived, in the runaway, the ghostly presence of Elena's father and all the Molina family, the montes of both Campeche and Yucatan who smiled at him and extended praises that... José knew... were only intended to cover their contempt. Another dozen blows; the man now sagged unconscious with great bleeding strips of flesh peeling from his back like wallpaper, gobbets of skin and gouts of blood flying with every sweep of the whip. And now José saw the face of his brother, Rigoberto, the envy of all society! What apologies he must have made for such an awkward younger brother, and the thought of this drove back the pain in his shoulder. He could see white now, the white of bones from which the flesh had been entirely stripped away, and Armando Felix hesitantly moving as if to step forward, then stopping himself. It was this hesitant motion he saw out of the corner of his eye that disgusted him into letting his hand fall one last time and then no more, there could be no question of man's fate when José tossed the whip at the mayordomo's feet. "Tie him to the fence and leave him there until Saturday," he said, now turning to face the shamed peons. "There will be no more talk of running away." He stretched his arm and flexed his fingers which had grown cold and curled as talons and now moved only with difficulty as he felt the grip of the eagle, rapidly departing, becoming smaller and smaller high in the Yucatecan sky. "See that nobody moves him," he added to the still trembling mayordomo, mounting hurriedly and bowing his head so that the shame on his cheeks could not be seen before he spurred his weary horse back to the great house.

          "You've heard the patron," said Armando Felix, "no one gets out of here. Back to work!" And he waited until the men had left without their orders, knowing only that they must appear to do some task, before the mayordomo summoned up the courage to approach the whip that José had left him.

 

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