THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER FORTY

 

          Justo Sierra Mendez was the son of the famous O'Reilly, the Yucatecan educator who, with Finance Minister Limantour, composed the economic and ethical principals of Scientific government, which inspired the rule of Porfirio Diaz. The "Cientificos", in turn, acknowledged the French philosopher Comte as their model and his positivistic doctrine had been, in no way, tainted by the unfortunate adventures of Napoleon III and Maximilian. Men of reason were expected to forgive and to forget those lingering recriminations caused by petty nationalism, and Yucatan welcomed the great man's son as a conciliator, one whose presence would, alone, have been a cause for inauguration of the great month.

          A round of fiestas... small ones, it is true... and the erection of a statue on the Paseo de Montejo whetted public appetites for the President's coming. And when young Justo's visit to "the representative and patriotic Yucatecan village of Nopal" arrived, José availed himself of his father's invitation, for he was new to society and had determined the wisdom in first observing its masters of the game before joining them in competition. Besides, the tour would be of somewhat more interest than another afternoon of peering at unhappy peons as they cleared brush during the slack season of Idznacab... although perhaps not as amusing as the morning's bullfight.

          "You know," José overheard the Governor tell Mendez, "the indians about these part believe bullfighters to be in league with their archdevil Cizin, who commands his legions whom the Maya call dzulob. It is said that bullfighters sell their souls to gain the skill which enables them to perform their task without misfortune."

          "Then this one made a poor bargain," Mendez exclaimed as the inept toreador missed his kill, breaking his sword off on a rib and fleeing to cover while another blade was found and the ring was littered with garbage, straw hats and seat-pillows. "We can only hope that the Devil got as little in return."

          With the bad bullfight finally ended, Governor Molina-Solis led a procession to the representative and patriotic hamlet eight kilometers outside of Merida. Following Molina came his officials, half a hundred of the interested montes... including José Macias and Roberto Urzaiz, but not Don Antonio, who contended that his leg still troubled him... among their number, alongside, a dozen journalists (including one from New Orleans, one from London and at least three from the capital whose writings had brought them to within a finger's breadth of Bravo's prison colony). One of these, in fact, was to become better acquainted with the peninsula by the end of the year and his description of the village of Nopal, correct in every instance... but perhaps a bit too flattering in its whole... probably played no little part in this occurrence. But all of this lay months ahead; the skies were clear of the cover that sometimes is blown in by the cold winds of winter, the train amply stocked with food and drink and the distance from the tracks to the village short enough to walk, although carriages had been sent to wait to pick up the important guests and any other who could not make the small journey.

          Governor Molina had encouraged young Sierra to circulate among the writers of Mexico and the nabobs of Yucatan. It was his preference to stand back and observe the proceedings, looking for flaws. Were something to go wrong at Nopal, it was a far better thing that it occur now, with only a line or two of unfavorable print in the back pages of some opposition newspaper, than when the President arrived. Already he had practiced fielding questions on the slavery issue from the foreign press, assuring them that it was debt, not law, which held these men in bondage and, in fact, the laborers of Yucatan's estanciónes were no poorer than their brothers across the Republic. Furthermore, they suffered no more than plantation labor in the great American South or factory hands in the crowded mills of the North. "See Nopal for yourselves," he bade, "take your photographs... talk to these people." And as a further expression of generosity, the Governor provided translators so that the peons' words of praise for their patron and their condition could be heard in both English and Spanish.

          The reaction of José and Roberto Urzaiz was that of many of the montes who had tagged along - great humor, concealed only with greater difficulty.

          "Try not to laugh," Rigoberto scolded. "The Governor, after all, is only trying to cast Yucatan in a friendly light. He has demonstrated his trust in you by invitation, and would not look kindly upon your telling some Capitaleño that such prosperity as we see is not found everywhere that henequen is planted."

          Indeed, Nopal was prosperous! Its "typical indian huts" were festooned with arches of flowers and orange blossoms, each held a small corral in which plump hogs slumbered or wallowed and so many fowl were roaming about that the Governor's men had to shoo the turkeys away from the bedazzled young visitor. Justo was ushered to the church, the school, the clean, well-tended store... with not a trace of an account book!... and, after a fireworks display in greeting, the Governor invited his guest inside one of the huts where they were greeted by an Indian wife in a fine Parisian gown and shown her children, scrubbed and shod and bent over a Latin grammar. The hut was crowded with heavy German and American furniture and, even, a sewing machine at which O'Reilly nodded enthusiastically. A kindly appearing, bespectacled man of full Spanish blood... or nearly such... was brought forward for introduction as the schoolmaster and he forthrightly replied to all the inquiries of the young fellow whom for Porfirio Diaz had so recently appointed Minister of Education.

          "We start the young ones in Latin, you see, for it is of help in building good Christian character. We work well with the church here, the Padre instructs the young in devotion and the lives of the saints."

          "But what about French... English... geometry?" young Justo ventured.

          "They come a little later," the schoolmaster assured him. "As you know, when the indian youth... or girl, we have equality in education here... becomes proficient in Latin at an early age, it is easier to tackle French, and Italian too. There is a boy of twelve in Nopal... unfortunately not here, at the present... who can read Dante in the original. English also comes a little later, as German, and the sciences are integrated into a comprehensive program of training that does not exclude adults who have not had the benefit of an education owing to some of the unfortunate effects of such lingering backwardness as we are slowly overcoming. Our engineering graduates can perform surveys, operate and repair agricultural machinery, even predict the weather by reading the barometric instruments kept in the main house."

          "The lad you mentioned earlier," frowned young Justo, "I would so like to meet him. Is he in the fields?"

          "Oh no," the teacher replied without hesitation, "he and his family are on their holiday to... to Cambridge is it?"

          "That's quite so," the Governor interceded and, observing the interest of the English scribbler, added, warily, "that is, the Cambridge that's in the United States, near Boston."

          José Macias had little sense of humor, but even he felt compelled to place his hand over his mouth to hide a smile. Drawing Roberto aside he said, "well, the Governor has made his point but does he think it will be so easy to fool Diaz?"

          "How much you have to learn!" responded the young loafer. "Porfirio Diaz will know long before he runs his hand over the sewing machine or picks the little girl up from her Latin studies to give her a polite kiss and perhaps a piece of candy that this is all illusory. The Cientificos with him will know too. But the visiting comercios from the British and American banks will be taken in, and the photographs of their press will be seen by the world. As to young Justo, he'll learn soon enough and, if the taste of experience is bitter, old Limantour will set him on his knee and read him some Comte to quiet his troubled conscience."

 

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