THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
A smell of cooking meat wafted from Bravo's office and José's eyes were first drawn to the iron griddle, then the bowl of eggs scrambled with peppers and onions... finally to Consuela Kan guiding a filled tortilla to the Captain's mouth the way that a mother feeds her infant. "Not only his father's word and offices," José scowled, "but his woman, too."
Tomas Bravo leaped from his chair at the interruption, his face glowering with rage. He was a larger man than his father, with coarser features; gaps between his teeth and tightly curled hair that suggested some African blood. "You, ah... Major," he sputtered, saluting.
"It's been a while since we've conversed, Tomas," José acknowledged, taking a seat on the General's desk. Tomas Bravo was at least five years older than José but, for all of his father's well situated colleagues, promotions had come slowly. "Are you going to offer me a drink?" he asked, tapping an open bottle of aguardiente with his fingernail.
Tomas gestured for the woman to bring a glass. "Something to eat?" he asked and José shook his head.
"Thank you," the Major said, accepting a copita from the indian woman. "Please accept my apologies, but I've forgotten your name."
"Consuela," said Tomas and José detected a possessive smirk on the Captain's heavy features.
"Yes, yes," the Major said, taking a sip of the aguardiente, which had a vile taste in comparison to the Colonel's cognac. "You seem to be doing well... not only the General's office but the maid as well." Distrust and vanity wrestled briefly for the small soul of Tomas Bravo and when the latter won... as José had suspected it would... the Captain leaned back, opening his arms expansively.
"Yes, of course we both know it is just on loan," he said, "but someone has to keep my father's affairs in order while he is in Mexico City. And besides," he added, eager now to put the upstart Major in his place, "women were made to be used. They become ill if they are not," he averred with a lecherous smirk, "in the manner of rats deprived of wood to gnaw on. They become tubercular."
José nodded. Here was more trouble, family trouble to be sure, but a sort that would have a bad effect upon the territory. Tomas pointed to the bowl. "Take this away," he ordered. A yellow smear still clung to his chin. "Now, Major, how may I help you?"
"I understand that you have taken a new business venture upon yourself."
The Captain burped. "And if I have?"
"There are individuals," José began, "with whom your father and myself, among others, have established what you may wish to call a working relationship with. You understand my point?"
"That? Certainly!" Tomas replied.
"And as people will talk, it is important to be careful who is admitted to the circle." A rustling came; José let it pass.
Tomas nodded. "Your circle," he said. "A fine way of putting it. No, you needn't worry on my account, nor father... the gentleman I have found is a discreet and careful man. My father knows him... he has for many years, even before the establishment of the Territory."
"Excellent," José said. "So long as he is not a Cuban..."
"A Cuban?" the Captain laughed. "He is as far from a Cuban as a cat is from the moon."
"And you've informed him of the delicacy of this particular transaction."
"Him?" Tomas Bravo paused and folded his hands. "Actually, no. We communicate through intermediaries, naturally. Oh I know what's bothering you." He paused again, deliberating whether to trust José and to what extent and José saw something moving across the floor out of the corner of his eye.
"Let us begin to understand together," Tomas commenced at last, "that there is little argument over what I would not call ethics, so much as a system of values that holds some men apart of others as a consequence of heritage. Nor would you or I... or any man of reason... deny this fact that these differences exist, nor that their existence is a valid component of policy."
"As you have said," José agreed. "This concept of the man of reason being, of course, at the bottom of the matter."
"Yes well... I understand the term in religious sense, but reason itself calls into question its own applicability in civil law. When an indian, incapable of reason as we know it, commits a theft or murder, we agree that obligatory service may be of some value towards the repair of his soul. Of course such creatures never can be elevated towards the state of that of a man of reason, nor can we dismiss the possibility that some savages are beyond even the possibility of repair, and are best hanged or shot."
"Ah, I see that you have been talking with Padre Dominguez."
José waved to bid the Captain that he should continue.
"Well, you see, if we have to put down an indian, it is because he represents a threat to others. In fact, we must hold white men or, even, some Ladinos who represent the gente de razon, to higher standards... for, when they do wrong, they injure not only their victims but their souls and, by example, the community of reason that upholds them. Therefore, Major, if the obligatory service is corrective for a sinful man who is without reason in the first place, must it not also be an even greater balm to he who has chosen evil, through execution of his reason? After all, the best we can hope to expect of an indian is that he will be restored to the childlike state... obeying God's law and that of the Republic and accepting God's mercy without comprehending its subtleties. The man of reason, on the other hand, has further to fall as he also has the potential to rise. Of course," Tomas admitted, "there are always the exceptions and, besides, this view cannot be openly expressed in these sanctimonious times."
"Well, I must assume that your father shares, also, what we may call the old beliefs?"
"Yee... ess..." said the Captain, drawing out the word as if reluctant to release it. "We must realize," he added, "that no man, however great, cannot be overtaken by progress and forced to change his views. The realization of this is itself fundamental to a state of reason. To understand that there exists a state beyond one's own time and belief, a state of Godliness which we are moving towards, but shown only a semblance of; there... Major... is the core of reason."
"Nevertheless," José objected, "there is still the shell, which is all that most people ever see. And the shell of your reason holds proper the sale of white men, Mexicans like you or I, along with the criminal and the indian. Not that I object personally, in fact your position is most advanced, democratic... you might almost call it a liberal sentiment."
"Of a sort," the Captain smiled. "Such men as Madero deserve to be shot... if for no other reason than that they are an embarrassment to both their class and race... but, still, one cannot deny that there is that gathering of vital energies which heralds a change. Do you know that old indian my father keeps about?"
"Chankik? Of course. I have not seen him for months... is he still alive?"
"Probably," Tomas Bravo admitted, "although I have not seen him myself since my father's leaving. He comes and he goes."
"I know that."
"He told my father something curious not long after I arrived, it was a little after the General took him to Merida for the Presidential visit. Most of it I still remember... since we ourselves reason, it must be reasonable that those who do not, the heathen and perhaps demonically-tinged indians, should believe in a diabolical Genesis which, in the place of the Creation and its end, the reckoning and Resurrection, proposes a blasphemous cycle of creations and destructions in a time without end."
"Chankik does have some talent with herbs, but I do not account him to be a scientist, nor a philosopher," José replied, directing his attention, as he did, to the shoulder that had been the object of the old man's ministrations.
"If there is a science of the Underworld, it certainly must be Mayan!" said Tomas. "Matter shrinks into itself, collapses, becomes dense and hot and violent until exploding like a keg of gunpowder, whereupon it is hurled to the furthest corners of the universe until, reaching the end of its trajectory, it falls back again, repeating the process. So the cientificos say, and so it has gone with the lives of men and the history of nations and even whole worlds, four times, as these indians would have it. I do not expect you to understand..."
"But I do," José protested. "There is little in this that is not also repeated in all the heretical philosophies of the Orient where... I may add, no shame attends to the keeping and trading of slaves. So, Captain, we are back to the matter at hand, though I certainly hope the Republic will not explode in our lifetime. White men may be bought and sold like any indian... Hell, in any event, must be democratic. I understand, and in my own way, also believe. But as we live in the present, Captain, we must be cautious. We either obey our orders or defy them."
Tomas Bravo nodded, sniffed, and pointed to the remains of his meal. "Take that away," he summoned his father's maid.
"Do you intend to personally convey your cargo to port?" José inquired.
"Perhaps." The Captain glared back with a pretended insouciance. "Is it of any concern to you?"
"As yet, I have no orders one way or the other," José said, rising. "If you do go, however, be sure to inquire after Dominguez. He is more comfortable with the origins of the cosmos and you may enjoy his company. He may also have a word or two on whether any transaction may be perceived as disturbing of the peace," the Major warned, seeing again something slip across the General's floor. "Cabron! you have a snake..."
"Yes, this old shack is full of them. I'm not afraid, are you? No? Good evening, then," said Tomas, giving an icy salute.
"Captain," José responded, and also nodded also to Consuela.
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