THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
When José returned to Akbal, he found Bravo's orders to proceed to Santa Cruz as second in command to one Colonel Stefan Pinder, replacing a major whom General Bravo had left behind in Valladolid. It was well into July, the height of the chicle season, and a more inopportune occasion for departure could not be conceived - however, the General could not afford to wait any longer. Already the violence was subsiding and, in fact, President Diaz had pardoned his opponent Madero, releasing him from prison on bond under the condition that he remain in the city of San Luis Potosi. The leaders of the Valladolid revolt, however, were put to death on the twenty fourth of that month and the jails remained full of the hundred arrested in the course of the insurgency. Only the fact that those taken in custody by Federal troops had been summarily deported to Quintana Roo prevented the city's becoming as much a prison camp as Santa Cruz del Bravo.
Bravo's entry on August second was followed by his taking possession of the military forces of that city over the feeble objections of the pusillanimous Munoz Aristegui and a telegraphed request to President Diaz for more men and supplies. Valladolid gave Bravo a liberator's reception and parade and, in return, he relieved them of the hundreds of the prisoners, who were driven to the Penitenceria Juarez in Merida... the old Franciscan monastery... built in 1547 and made into don Antonio's luckless Diego's Prison de San Benito in 1820... having been torn down, two years earlier, to make way for a new Post Office.
Hereafter, the fates of the captives was assigned to the eccentric Judge Demosteneo Iniguez.
The reputation of this judge was famous to all Merida, even to the prisoners who had filled the Valladolid jail, Silvestro Kaak among them. He was known to have condemned patently innocent men to death for sport while releasing others whose guilt seemed equally certain. Corruption was known to the courts, but Iniguez was resolute... an offer of money by a prisoner's family was likely to bring a swift appearance before the firing squad. "This is a man who was born to the stage and not the bench," lamented a Ladino from Mexico City who had heard of the wealth of the henequen estanciónes of Yucatan and, going to Valladolid to sell editions of the modern classics, had been swept up in a mob and arrested for disloyalty. "He is no judge, he's a comedian."
Silvestro had taken possession of a place on the floor, which was his to squat or stand upon by day and sleep on in the night. Others in the prison who could not defend themselves resorted to sleeping in stacks like felled logs and were crowded together by day in corners furthest from the solitary window or nearest the metal bucket serving as a toilet. Dry tortillas and water were their meals, although those who had families could bribe guards to bring them more food and even Silvestro did not starve, for the sublevados had friends even among the ranks of the military guard. The bizarre justice of Iniguez unified the prisoners, whether mutinous soldiers, sublevados, thieves or bystanders... they wept when their fellows were hauled out to die and laughed when one was inexplicably freed. They also shared news of the restlessness of the peninsula through the summer months; uprisings in Peto, Temax, Yaxcaba, military outposts ambushed in the territory and further troubles spreading through the breadth of the Republic.
August turned its stone over to September, month of the bat... when the still-devout Maya would be brewing their honey-liquor, balche, and when others of a more modern and scientific bent distilled aguardiente. In the territory, chicle was gathered and shipped out, money rolled in and Major Macias scurried from Vigia Chico to Santa Cruz del Bravo and back, securing, always, the General's portion. Slowly, the population of the jail began to fall. The book salesman was hauled before Iniguez and questioned about his wares, which, of course, had been taken from him on the day of the revolt. "Dickens, Balzac and Twain," the man had said, naming three of the popular authors of the time and Iniguez brought his gavel down heavily.
"We have plenty of our own, good Mexican writers and no need of this foreign stuff! Take him out to be shot. Next!" the judge decreed, and when one of the most notorious tavern brawlers in the state... a fearsome figure in the jail... was brought up, Iniguez embraced him and ordered him freed at once with the apologies of the state of Yucatan. Silvestro, consequently, bloodied four men to take possession of the liberated man's spot beneath the long, narrow window from which, on the clear days of the summer and early autumn, one shaft of light would slowly crawl north to south along the floor like an insect. When it reached Silvestro, about three in the afternoon... except when it was cloudy... he could close his eyes and listen to the voices of the corn and to the daughters of the Cross. These told him to have patience and he would prevail. He would be freed to fight again and the Cruzob would finally prevail.
October arrived and, with it, the supplies General Bravo had ordered sent from Mexico City. Gathering them up, he declared that the crisis was over and his booty-swollen party marched back to Santa Cruz like an engorged snake. In the Territory, Major José Macias presented him with a book of receipts on the chicle commissions paid to the Territory on behalf of the Republic, and a bag of gold, representing Bravo's own surcharge. At Idznacab the henequen was cut, pressed, baled and shipped to Progreso for sale; Don Antonio returned to Merida where preparations for the celebration of the Independence Day Centennial were under way. Evidence of this had been apparent, as Don Antonio observed... concluding the long journey by detouring up the Paseo de Montejo... but the decorations had been haphazardly planned. The absence of the firm hand of Olegario Molina made disorder visible from every corner. Then, too, after three good years, henequen prices had taken another plunge and the best and most ambitious of the henequeros, who had borrowed rashly, had been those whose fall was hardest. Proud men the patron had known roamed the sidewalks and cafes; broken, heads down or raised to the sky, cursing or chastising an indifferent God. The notices of spiritual counselors and dealers in used automobiles were everywhere!
So Don Antonio entered his Merida house, one such morning, and was told that Doña Julia had gone to consult with her latest medium. He nodded and pulled off his boots, asking for coffee and retreating to his favorite chair by which the Merida newspapers had been saved for him. He picked up the oldest of these, dating from the first week of the month, and settled in... reading and waiting for his wife.
On the fourth of the month, Francisco Madero, the dwarfish candidate of the antireelectionistas, had fled from Mexico, claiming to have discovered an assassination plot. The publisher, a staunch supporter of Diaz, dismissed the claims as more evidence of the workings of a disturbed mind, a man so lacking in trust and honor that he had betrayed his President and broken the agreement to remain at liberty in San Luis Potosi by sneaking away in the disguise of a common railroad laborer. Madero had proven himself not only an untrustworthy man but a weak one; vacillating, unable to take decisive action but, in reading between the lines, Don Antonio surmised at least some qualities of daring and foresight which, after all, had delivered him from the grasp of Diaz. In any event, the candidate was over the border in El Paso, Texas, and no longer an irritation to Rigoberto, who had suffered by the defection of some of his Reyista cronies to the Liberals.
In the capital, Porfirio Diaz and his circle were far too busy to give the matter much attention... for the celebration of the Centennial was drawing near. A grand occasion it was to be... fiestas, speeches and diversions not seen since Fin del Siglo or, in Merida, the President's visit. Don Antonio put the paper down for a moment, considering again, the shabby circumstances of the occasion. He'd learned his lesson too. Let others go into debt chasing the dragon of society!
He picked up a paper dated the tenth of October. Troops were leaving the capital for Yucatan on further "rumors of revolutionary movement". By the next day, those rumors had "ceased completely". Don Antonio thumbed through the papers more quickly, most of which contained small notices of the conviction of further prisoners of the June rebellion in Judge Iniguez's court. Four days ago, there had been reported an attack, by the insurgents, on a chicle monteria bordering Yucatan and the Federal Territory, operated by the Compania H. Marquardt. All of its occupants were slain, with the exception of one Remigio Ayora... Aguirre, in later editions... who escaped on horseback into the night. This man was interviewed in Peto, the following day, and swore that his assailants were not indians but Army deserters, who were numerous on the border, and eked out a living robbing farms and chicle camps. Finally, the previous day's paper contained an essay on the duty of Mexico to civilize its indians, suggesting obligatory labor on public works projects.
The patron put the newspapers aside, pulled his boots on, again, and called for his carriage. It was, by now the middle of the afternoon and he was bored; he suddenly craved warmth and wit, the mingling of bodies, the crash and noise human drama. And, because the whorehouses and theaters were still closed and the cafes empty, he ordered his driver to take him to the court.
RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”
RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE