THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FOUR: THE BOOK of SCIENCE
CHAPTER FORTY ONE
And then arrived the afternoon of February fifth and, with it, the Presidential entourage. Porfirio Diaz had enjoyed an untroubled early-morning cruise from Campeche to the port of Progreso... no tickets being sold to any other party, leaving Rigoberto Macias, presumably, among a number of young Meridians forced to journey from the southern city by rail (which, at least, provided them with one more day to recover from their debauches). Despite a misapprehension of the tides (which required the President to be deposited in a barge and ferried ashore like a box of tea) his spirits were buoyant; a considerable crowd cheered Diaz on as he boarded a long, mule drawn cortege for the train to Merida, and so many inhabitants of Progreso, along the way, crowded the road that the State Militia was compelled to drive them back to clear the President's way.
The procession terminated a short distance from Merida's railroad station at which, by unfortunate coincidence, the Campeche train had also arrived. Mothers held their infants up, as if offering them to the bewhiskered god that was Porfirio Diaz. Cripples on their sticks beseeched the President for a miracle... or, at least, a peso. Every beggar, pickpocket and vendor in the state had swarmed towards the station and the throng had been swelled to twice the city's population by the henequen gangs, marched into Merida by their patrons who'd assembled behind the banner of their estanciónes... overseers prowling to their rear with shotguns drawn to avert any embarrassing escape. The locomotive inched forward until it reached a point one hundred meters from the station when the crowd could not be moved. Two loud whistles blew and a great cheering arose.
José, hemmed in by the crowd, ignored the Presidential express. His eyes were only for another passenger, one who would have come with her father from Campeche, but there were eighteen long cars and the crowd was so thick that those disembarking were swallowed up almost whole in the shouting, the fireworks, the surge of agitated flesh. He called Elena's name once at the sight of a woman passing a window, but it was not she and the cry disappeared, vanishing like a stone hurled into the sea.
At length the police forcibly cleared a path, which the passengers could follow to the road, where an array of horse and motor carriages waited. José shimmied halfway up a streetlight, which view offered a better perspective of the station. The President remained inside his car, its twin exits heavily guarded. Loud noises occasionally surged above the humming of the mob: fireworks, breaking glass, even gunshots. A man with an empty bottle in his hand staggered against the streetlight, lurched forward a few paces, then toppled and disappeared beneath the throng. José's eyes darted from one car to the next. Among the passengers fighting through towards the vehicles in the street were a number of women, but it was difficult to identify these beneath their hats. He turned his head to the left again and there, standing upon the platform of the third car behind the President's, was Senator Tomas Villareal... Elena's father, looking hot and enraged. Behind him floated a sea of hats: feathers, bows, Parisian ribbons. A ring of fireworks exploded and José slid down and began to elbow his way through the crowd. Somebody struck him sharply on the back, but he did not even turn to confront the assailant. A scent of gunpowder reached his nostrils and he quickened his step.
Two of the railway cars were occupied, not by people, but by cattle; fighting bulls whose quarters were considerably more spacious than those of the human passengers. But the shouts and smells, the periodic shots and explosions had aggravated their combative nature and the stock handlers became an object of the mob's derision. One of the bulls inside the hindmost car began to charge its gate of slatted wood. Its rusty hinges groaned and, as a new burst of skyrocketry exploded over the train, the bull charged again and snapped it, opening a path for at least half a dozen of the frenzied beasts to leap over the heads of some astonished onlookers, landing in a heap in the heart of the crowd. A few terrified spectators grasped the horns of the bulls and held on for their lives. Now, the uninjured began running in all directions from the train and a new wall of humanity cut José off from his destination; the Senator glared once towards the disturbance, baring his teeth in a vulpine scowl and shepherding the hats towards the police escort attempting to hold clear the precarious path from the carriages to the waiting carreteras, pulpitos and Fotingos. The cattle, thrusting through dignitaries and unimportant people alike, finally broke through and thundered down one of the side streets towards the plaza with the police, railroad officials and many spontaneous toreros in pursuit. The distraction offered President Diaz the opportunity to descend and march swiftly towards the street, slapping at only a few of the hands offered to him. José mounted another streetlight and saw him enter a motorcar that was on its way to his hotel before the crowd could figure out what was happening. His own hat gone, his coat torn in two places, José saw no sign of the hats nor of their guardian and left the station, figuring his reunion for another and more auspicious time.
In this manner Porfirio Diaz arrived in Merida.
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