THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT  

 

          But, in spite of José's warning, five more laborers vanished from Idznacab between the turning of the year and the first planting. Three of these effected their escape entirely, vanishing either into the monte or the underworld of Merida... whose outskirts were becoming a barrio of refugees – making their livings as petty thieves, casual laborers, vendors and prostitutes. The other two, both Yaquis, were apprehended and disposed of in the same manner as the first, both on a Tuesday morning after José's return from Campeche. All that Armando Feliz had been able to effect was that the men were beaten to death in private after having been held since the occasion of their capture.

          Don Antonio had recovered much of the use of his leg and was able to walk, although he had grown accustomed to the use of a cane. From Urzaiz, José bought his father a stout, dark walking stick, carved in Haiti and capped with a knob of silver that pleased the old hacendado as much for its potential as a weapon as for the support it gave. By the summer of 1905, he was even able to visit his estanción for a week at a time, although leaving the supervision of the work to José and busying himself with the increasingly distressful managing of finances.

          The weather was superb, auguring fine crops of corn, cattle fodder and henequen but, as Governor Molina had predicted, the price of that last named and most important continued to fall and the family's position, despite the cutting of wages, was no better at the end of the season as it had been at its beginning... and that only because Don Antonio and Julia gave up their customary single month abroad during the fiery weeks of July and early August that mark the first month of the Mayan year. As the price of Yucatan's "green gold" on the Progreso docks had fallen from thirty three to twenty seven cents in only two years, the family, at least, had Don Antonio's lameness as excuse for remaining in Merida over the summer, where so many other of the henequeros were having to devise means of explanation to their colleagues that their sudden lack of interest in the traditional pleasures of Alpine resorts or Spanish beaches was due to anything other than strained finances. With the henequen gathered and sold and cooler weather coming with the autumn season, however, José learned of the beginnings of a movement to bring President Diaz to the peninsula in the early part of the next year.

          Rigoberto, finding the Continent agreeable... undoubtedly knowing, also, that the situation of Merida attorneys would further decline with the fortunes of clients who, increasingly, turned their creative powers towards avoidance of their bills... viewed the President's coming as a necessary evil, a last chance to retrieve the prosperity which had fallen away over these last two years. "Yucatan will not grow without outside investment, both from Mexico and from the foreign interests," he said. "But despite our long peace, and the success of General Bravo in pacifying Quintana Roo, Europe still views the Peninsula as a dangerous and unhealthy place. Never has President Diaz put his foot down here, and, even if he should, there is no guarantee that the investments he has directed away from us should, as if by magical direction, follow his carriage. Not by all of the wiles of Governor Molina and the co-operation of those families of the state who have been at one another's throat for generations will Don Porfirio be convinced that we still are not a place of conspiracies, sickness and indian attack," he wrote his brother.

          On a second front, the news was better. "Being these last two months in Paris... save one journey of three days' duration to Brussels... I have located Señorita Villareal and commenced the arduous process of romance. Not of the Señorita, I assure you, but of her formidable guardian, with whom you are acquainted. We have reached that stage of taking Sunday dinners together, the three of us, and I shall only hope you do not fault me if your beloved returns somewhat heavier than before, owing to the culinary delights of Paris. Elena is certainly Parisian in temperament, not provincial, as are most ladies of Campeche and Merida... if I may use a term that is in error, for the people of Provence belie their reputation as sluggards and dolts. The whole continent... excepting the Balkans and, of course, the hopelessness that is Old Russia... is a world other than the Yucatan, let alone all the rest of Mexico. And so, however costly it will be, I must reluctantly express my consent at bringing Diaz to Merida... no matter how we may grieve at the disaster-in-waiting that is his Vice President.

          "Remember," Rigoberto concluded, "only at the height of the Caste War did Yucatecans cease fighting among themselves and make a common stand against their enemies," he added. "Economic war is not so visible as the other sort, nor can it be waged alone. There is a time when a powerful, allied force must be summoned and here, as in 1848, the good will of the Republic must be secured, or we will be left in as precarious a state as when the sublevados first took up arms. The danger, unfortunately, is that we will be bankrupted putting on a show for Diaz while the old fox is directing his campaign for progress towards Sonora, or certain other Northern states. The attitude of Cientificos towards all the South is take... take... take and leave nothing unstolen and, so long as he shares in the plunder, Governor Molina has no objection to this."

          José more or less agreed with Rigoberto's bitter sentiments, but did not much care for the issue one way or the other... or the chances that the old separatist families would welcome the Mexican Diaz into their city... until something he heard the next time he made one of his furtive journeys to Campeche placed him in the camp of the Porfirstas. "The Villareal family will bring Elena home for the President's visit," Tia Joséfa informed the young man, who had all but despaired of any upturn in his romantic fortunes. "The Molina plan to deliver the President to Merida is advancing and, in fact, the issue is spreading to Campeche as well. I trust it is progressing well, for Tomas Villareal would not bring his daughter back to barbaric Mexico were there not the prospect of some lively festivities. Of that you can be sure when Diaz comes."

          José, too, held no doubt that the President would be royally received, even if it required spending the last peso in the state and mortgaging the cathedral of Merida to a British bank besides. So buoyed by the news that the imp left him utterly alone through the holidays, he returned to Merida a convert and a patriot to the cause of the Presidential visit... for patriots, no less than insurgents, often have been forged from selfish motives.

          Through the rainy but festive month of December and the beginnings of 1906, he remained entirely in Merida, frequenting the political societies that catered to the pro-Diaz interests (whether Reyista or Corralista), to both the amazement and disgust of Roberto Urzaiz who, while grudgingly accepting the necessity of the Presidential visit and looking forward to those debaucheries that surely would accompany it, remained a staunch advocate of all things Yucatecan and a foe of all things Mexican save the law, the army and the peso.

          The patriotic faction, numbering the Governor, his adherents and, with a few exceptions, the comercios, or businessmen, of the cities of Merida and Campeche, had gained the upper hand over their opponents, the surviving and aging montes with their European bank accounts and fine old homes, together with the landed gentlemen all across the peninsula. These were weakened and somewhat divided by the fall in the price of henequen which... Molina's supporters were quick to assure them... was a consequence of disunity and something that could be stanched by a word from President Diaz... as if that grand old fellow could raise a hand and cause the African Sahara to flood and the fields of the Philippines to raise volcanoes like a plague of boils. Most, accordingly, went along with Rigoberto in finally accepting Molina's cause of action, a few... like Andre Barzon... stormed out of the session at which the decision to invite President Diaz was voted upon.

          Their last hope of barring Yucatan to the full weight of the Porfirian heel was turned against them in a spectacular fashion, for when the separatist press vehemently reported the rancor of the vote and all but proclaimed that a state of rebellion existed in Yucatan... hinting that the President's own life would be in danger should he choose to come... the manhood of Don Porfirio was called into the issue. His response was as swift and as predictable as that of a gentleman with his fiancée on his arm, whose hat is pulled off outside a cantina. Accepting, gratefully, the invitation of the Governors of Campeche and Yucatan, Porfirio Diaz decreed the first week of February 1906 as the occasion of his visit.

          This announcement incited a general bedlam such had not occurred since the separatist campaign and the Caste War following.

          One immediate effect, duly reported to a satisfied José Macias by his ally in Campeche, was the imminent conclusion of Elena Villarreal's French education and her return by steamer. Their European business concluding with spectacular success, Rigoberto, his Olegarista comrades and a half dozen dignitaries from the ropeworks of France, Italy, the Low Countries and Spain noticed their return on that same vessel.

          Another consequence, less visible at the first, was the migration of thousands from the estanciónes and dusty villages of all the state to Merida. Those bound by debt to the estanciónes were conscripted by the wagonload to renovate the city homes of their employers. Free villagers, having harvested their corn, drifted into the city, begging for work in and about the public plazas, and usually finding it either from wealthy Meridians or Governor Molina. Even some runaways were clandestinely welcomed - the customary accommodation between the montes to return each others' slaves ignored in the desperation of preparations. A dusting, polishing and painting such as the city had not seen in a half a century commenced. Finally came another migration of less useful aspect, debt-fugitives whose suspicion either of the montes or of honest work drove them to crime, so many opportunities for which had sprung up. Since most of these new arrivals were, by no means, experts in the fields of larceny and murder, the Penitenceria Juarez filled so rapidly that an agent of Governor Molina secretly began shipping prisoners to Santa Cruz del Bravo at the sub-Yaqui cost of sixty-five pesos (to which the still-wily General added his own premium before sending the bills on to Mexico).

          Esteban Chan was one of those moved to the city to prepare the Macias house for the Presidential visit. Armando Feliz, remembering those who had proven responsible workers almost six years before, had numbered him among these, not blaming him for that other indian who had run off. What had been that man's name? Armando thought for a moment to look for it in his book, but he was too busy. As an enticement to those men who must be separated from their families Don Antonio... over the strong objections of his son... had declared a bonus for those who would go to Merida - two pesos. Their former wage! This bonus so excited the peons who had accepted their lower wage for more than a year now... eating less, drinking little and sometimes getting by with acts of petty pilferage, that the mayordomo had to sit on his horse by the carretera and point out those who were to go to Merida, and those left behind.

          In the Governor's palace, Olegario Molina worked late into the nights. Following the example of Diaz, he declared an amnesty for all bandits in the state, on the condition that they inform on their comrades and join either the police force of Merida or the Rurales. They would be permitted to keep their horses and guns... not such a concession, understandably, for both were usually in far better a condition than those supplied by the authorities.

          And... regretfully... he raised the taxes again, and ordered new impositions.

          Private citizens had spent only modestly over the holidays, waiting in preparation to open their purses to the last peso to prove their worthiness before Don Porfirio. One spent sixty thousand pesos to bestow his garden with colored lights, in the hope that the Presidential party would pass. Champagne enough to float the ponton "Chetumal" was stored up in the cellars of the montes and every hooved, finned or feathered beast within a hundred kilometers of either Merida or Campeche ventured forth at risk to its life.

          The Governor's own ball and reception was scheduled for the first Thursday in February, clearing that date of any competitive functions. President Diaz was to follow a parade route up the Paseo de Montejo, where he would be treated to a barbecue, a fireworks display and a re-enactment of the ancient Maya ball-court game... an especially daring spectacle in that, although some notion of the game could be discerned from studies of the excavated playing field at Chichen Itza, near Valladolid, or from accounts written in up in the works of certain Spanish friars and explorers, neither the Governor nor his deputies for the occasion had the slightest idea as to how it was played. No matter! Thousands of pesos, even some of Molina's own, would be sunk into the construction of simulated Mayan pyramids and temples on his grounds; in turn, the montes commissioned parade floats based on historical, religious or patriotic themes. A massacre of roses, orchids and camellias was undertaken as far south and west as the state of Chiapas.

          While Don Antonio could ride for short distances, he consented to be seated beside the driver of one of the carreteras ferrying provisions from Idznacab. By the twenty eighth of January thirty wagons bearing cattle, hogs and poultry, corn and flowers, a piano, a billiards table and a gramophone for playing music had been assembled. Whiskey, fish and indian fieldworkers conscripted into domestic service rumbled from Idznacab to Merida, scarcely raising the attention of those along the way who had observed the passage of a dozen such caravans that week.

          At the outskirts of Merida, the Idznacab procession was delayed by the number of the so-called "chinos" in the road. The streets swarmed with them. Even with the fall in the price of henequen and the known labor surplus, brokers still docked at Progreso with their human cargo, only to find that the price of Korean laborers had fallen to half their cost of transportation. One despairing captain spent the money remaining in his pockets on aguardiente, then stumbled back to his vessel, unlocked the door to steerage and proceeded to his cabin, where he hanged himself. His passengers, unexpectedly released, wandered south thirty kilometers towards Merida, hungry and confused, speaking not a word of Maya or Spanish. Finally they were greeted by... a flock of goats so numerous their owners could not herd them, a broken down fotingo containing eight prostitutes from Cuba with their finery and baggage, come to seek employment for the duration of the Presidential visit, and, atop a carretera that had broken both wheel and axle on the pitiful suburban road, a paper bell ten meters high with pink and green and yellow ribbons... destined for a display being prepared by the tireless Caballeros.

          So filled, by now, was the new Juarez Penitentiary, as the Macias entourage passed by, that some of its prisoners deemed unfit for transfer to the Territory were manumitted into work gangs at the service of any of the montes who would pay their keeper. Others, too dangerous to release, were taken forthwith to the gallows, which had been moved outside the gates of the prison so as to make more room for inmates to sleep. Upon it dangled an indian not an hour dead, convicted... as a placard besides the dead man proclaimed... of stealing a liter of corn. In one of the carreteras, Esteban Chan hugged his stomach like a man poisoned by bad water. Beneath his shirt a hooded, trussed-up parrot writhed and protested with muffled squawks; he hoped to sell the bird to one of the fine visitors somewhere in Merida. Almost every other indian carried something beneath his shirt - a chicken, a bottle of balche, a saint's image carved in wood during the long winter nights of Idznacab. Dreams of easy riches filled the heads of these peons... rudely interrupted by the sight of the dangling man, then gradually taking shape anew as the procession closed in on the Macias home.

          José had taken command of preparations, applying every facet of his military training. His was an elemental plot, differing little from that of men far wealthier and far more experienced in the intricacies of political courtship than himself. President Diaz would spend four days and four nights in Yucatan. Monday evening, don Porfirio would address the State Legislature and their guests... a formal occasion, followed by dinner and the official reception. Thursday was the parade and Governor's ball. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the President would be visiting selected enterprises of Merida and its environs and meeting with its business leaders by day, leaving the evenings to the montes who had opened their houses in the hope of a Presidential visit.

          Wednesday evening, José determined, would be the more suitable of the two nights on which the chief executive could be expected to drop in upon several of the many local gatherings. Mingling with his father's associates in their customary haunts such as Alberto's, José had determined that the larger number of these functions and the more elaborate would be held on Tuesday. Those of the gentility who were depending on making a good impression at the Governor's ball would hold Wednesday as a day both of recovery and preparation; an interval between activities for a change of clothes, a bath, perhaps even an hour or two of sleep. Only the young and the ambitious could be expected to throw themselves into the festivities four days in a row, and José counted few of these as serious competitors.

          For Tuesday and for Wednesday, the Diaz party would be a señorita to ardently wooed... hardly virginal, as the Porfirian entourage could be expected to visit six or seven sites on each of the two nights but, at least, a demanding courtesan. About thirty homes would be opened Tuesday, twenty more on Wednesday and perhaps half a dozen of the wealthiest would keep their lights burning and the band playing both evenings. The President's ministers would assess the merits of each function and report... José had already delivered his card to the local Ministries of Economics, Education and, in his uniform, the War Office, where he was granted a quarter hour's audience with the elderly military commander for the state. On the advice of this worthy votary of Mars, he secured the services of an eight member military orchestra for a fee and a generous commission, and learned the useful information that Ingenario and former Colonel Victoriano Huerta would accompany the President and that the Governor and Commander of the territory of Quintana Roo would also be present. "There was some expectation old Bravo would make a move to invite the President down to the Territory," this General noted. "Of course Don Porfirio would have had to decline... he's spending far too much time out here as it is and, of course, all of our safety problems would be multiplied by a hundred. Still, you'd have expected him at least to make the gesture, if only to receive the President's regrets. Instead, we haven't heard a peep from him. What do you think, Captain?"

          José considered this a moment before replying, "I do not think General Bravo wished to make a request that might cause embarrassment to the President for his having to decline it." The Commander, a man of the same generation as both Bravo and Porfirio Diaz, raised an eyebrow. He knew, as did José, that the President... and, more specifically, those from the War Ministry in Mexico City... would be poking their noses about Yucatan and Campeche, looking into the record books, counting noses and artillery, determining the means and the efficacy of how the Republic's money was being spent. He was taking a few measures himself to be sure that Yucatan, at least, would be viewed favorably in this respect.

          "Well I assume I can inform the Ministry that your function will be well attended by the military, which is most appreciative of your short, but noble career," the General said. José had never fully explicated the reason for his resignation and Don Antonio's subsequent injury had created the perfectly natural illusion that his duty to his family outweighed the demands of his career... an honorable and irreproachable decision. "I, at least, will be most certainly present."

          Nonetheless, the ultimate decision as to who would be favored would rest in the hands of Porfirio Diaz, a man not easily influenced by caprice. Yet, if his standards were the resolute, their execution remained a puzzle that the montes all sought to solve during that last week in January; certainly the President would be most favorable to those loyal to the Cientifico principles as espoused by Molina, but there was also the possibility that... as a famous and shrewd conciliator... the President might also seek out at least some of the opposition tendency, the better to flatter them with at least a perception of willingness to hear views not always identical to his own, to gauge their motives, even to seize on an opportunity to convert or modify an opponent in the cause of reason. And what would be the influence of the only Yucatecan among the scientific ministry, Don Justo Sierra - the Minister of Education?

          José meditated upon these and other, similar matters as he supervised the transformation of the old house, and while attending to the innumerable errands that the función entailed. For example, upon arrival at the offices of a printer whom he'd placed an order for the invitation cards, he had been told that a dozen such orders waited and... biding his temper... agreed to pay the printer a premium for having the work done that night. A baker and florist were similarly romanced. "All of the gain of Idznacab for this whole year is gone and, by the time Diaz sets foot in Mexico, all next year's profit will have vanished too," the young henequero ruefully reflected. Fortunately, Don Antonio had made no protest at the cost; in fact he had urged José to spare no expense in making the función memorable. "Who knows how many decades will pass before a President of Mexico again is seen in Merida?" he said, waving his Haitian cane.

          (The answer was that another President would come sooner than either José or Don Antonio believed... two Presidents, in fact... but these were circumstances no man in his right mind could have predicted in 1906.)

 

RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”

 

RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE