THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
When he had been apprehended in Valladolid, and installed in prison, Silvestro Kaak had first appeared before the magistrate of that city... who was not a legal scholar, and who was so badly rattled by the suddenness of the insurrection that his powers of discrimination were almost negligible. If something about the appearance of a prisoner offended him, he ordered the man shot or put aside to be taken back to the territory to be sold. The rest were sent on to Merida. Silvestro had made his face a mask, for while he had no desire to face Mexican guns, the prospect of a labor term in Quintana Roo held no fear for him, terrible as it might seem to the other captured indians (most of whom were residents of Valladolid or a nearby estanción). Escape, in the territory, even from the Federals, would not be difficult for one who knew the monte as well as Silvestro. All that was required was a plan... and patience. And avoiding not only soldiers (and the even more violent bounty hunters and deserter bands) was also simple... these seldom left the principle roads or, at most, would congregate beside a few cenotes to which fugitives were drawn. Silvestro knew where other water hid, where the friendly villages were and, most importantly, he had not merely one destination but a choice among many sublevado centers where he would be recognized and welcomed.
Survival was the first order of business, now, and it must also be said that, while most of the indian captives preferred the routine of imprisonment to the uncertainty of Judge Iniguez's court, there were a few he recognized as possible recruits to the insurgence... and, so, these weeks had not been entirely wasted. His capture, in fact, was almost wholly unrelated to the military rebellion of June that had been attributed to the sublevados. Hearing of the revolt, Silvestro had volunteered to go to Valladolid to discover whether it was indeed a popular uprising or merely a dispute among Mexican officers that had gotten out of control. His arrival, however, was most untimely... in that it coincided with that of Lara's army, and as the streets began to fill up with soldiers, he had presumed to find refuge with one of the sublevado sympathizers in the city, a fourteen year old boy originally from the vicinity of Nohbec, Pablo Uic. Pablo had been working as a groom in the house of a retired officer, one Armando Leon, and passing on what information he could to the sublevados. But he had not known that Leon was sympathetic to the rebellion and, in fact, had been among the first to be snatched up by Colonel Lara.
Silvestro and Pablo Uic took refuge in Leon's house, the former having time, only, to hide his rifle before they were surrounded. Both were arrested without resistance and accused of looting. By this time, Armando Leon had already been shot, but it may have been that the Mexicans intended to remove a few of the traitor's possessions into their own saddlebags and were offended that a couple of indians had appeared to have had the same idea. They were each given a score of arrobas on the spot and thrown into jail but the magistrate had, fortunately, regarded Pablo Uic as one whom could be sold at a profit and he had been transported to Santa Cruz. Silvestro had no fear for the boy. In spite of his age, Pablo had been a fugitive since losing his parents, ten years ago; he could hide and steal and kill and, if necessary, veil his faith in the True Cross behind the humble, superstitious gaze of a young indian, wanting only to serve his masters and his Catholic saints. Pablo would be the model faithful, cringing slave until an opportunity arose and then... he would be gone.
Silvestro, then, held out a reasonable hope that his fate would be similar, despite the transport in the wrong direction, to Merida. The arrest report from Valladolid stated only that he had been captured in the house of a conspirator, to which he could reply that he had only sought to get out of the line of fire in the street. With the leaders having been tried and shot or hanged, Silvestro held out hope that Mexico would tire of the charade and release or, at the worst, transport the remaining captives, but when the reeking and trembling tinsmith was marched past him he knew he had underestimated the justice Demosteneo Iniguez dispatched.
"It will go bad for you too," one of the marshals hissed in Silvestro's ear; a man who took satisfaction at beating prisoners for the slightest provocation, or none at all and who extorted money from their families. And the more furious his thoughts, the stupider he allowed his features to become and when the Judge saw Silvestro in the dock, he wearily glanced over the Marshal's paper with his history, consisting of but nine words.
"Do you know what this says?" he asked the prisoner. Silvestro blinked dumbly. "Of course not," Iniguez added, "since you are obviously neither a graduate of the University nor an habitue of the Cafe Real."
Gratuitous chuckles and a few feminine titters rose from the benches. The spectators were predominantly middle-aged and elderly women, but the Judge also recognized a few sporting types, a Captain off-duty, a barber, two hacendados... Don Antonio and Gonzalo Peraza... several Lebanese who regularly visited the court to better their command of the language, and some men of no particular occupation who had probably given up on any attempt to find work for the day. The women were Judge Demosteneo's special audience. Wives of a shabbier element of the gente decente unable to vacation abroad, they had little to do but fill their hours in salons, lecture halls and the court while awaiting the arrival of the winter fashions from Paris or the latest spiritualist from Vienna or Moscow or Ohio, USA.
"Permit me to illuminate your clouded mind with the wisdom of a..." and the Judge scowled, reaching the indecipherable signature of the sergeant who'd arrested Silvestro. "Well and well, at any rate... Found in the house of the conspirator, Armando Leon."
Iniguez leaned forward with a kindly smile. "You are already fortunate," he confided. "This complaint is at least grammatically, if not legally suspect, for it is lacking in the nature of that object found in said house. Now I see by Register that your are ah... José Bec."
He repeated the question in the Mayan language to show the accused that he could not thwart justice by pretending an ignorance of Spanish and, after a suitable interval, Silvestro coughed... which the Judge took for assent.
"We shall continue," said Iniguez. "The nature of that which was found in the home of the conspirator is, of course, important. There is an obvious difference between a pair of scissors, a sack of grain and, let's say, explosives. Now, what might that object have been? Could it have been, José, yourself?"
Silvestro gave a timorous nod.
"Speak the truth, boy... yes or no. Did the soldiers find you in a house in Valladolid?"
"Very well," Iniguez said, folding his hands. "Regrettably, you seem to have incriminated yourself. For association with the treacherous Armando Leon, I could have you shot. Justice demands no less. However I am and have always been a just and curious man. Perhaps to my disadvantage at times, but no matter... can you now explain your presence in the house of Armando Leon?"
Silvestro mumbled a reply, staring downward until the Judge angrily ordered "Look up! Speak clearly. Show a little respect for my court." Iniguez switched from Spanish to Mayan. "Were you in Leon's house... the na-coh... when the shooting started. Making bombs, perhaps? Looking to fire upon our Mexican soldiers from a window?"
"Sir, I was in the market when I heard shooting. There were the soldiers there," he gestured with his right hand "and some other men shooting back." His left hand represented the latter. "There was a street between them like this and I ran down it and turned a corner. More soldiers were coming towards me." He depicted the whole of the flight with his hands.
"And then what did you do?" the Judge inquired.
"I ran back the way I came and began to push on doors until I found one that was open."
"And you went inside." Silvestro nodded eagerly. "So you are not merely a rebel, but a thief as well."
Silvestro's bewilderment was, now, all the more genuine for its sincerity. The judge sensed the futility of deductive reasoning with this prisoner and prodded the matter towards a conclusion.
"So, thief, we have an explanation of your presence in the house of Armando Leon. Now, it is certainly a sign of great intelligence for one to enter the house of a traitor at the very moment he is being taken away by the law. What cunning!" He looked up, inviting the gallery to laugh with him and they did. "Further, it must be a sign of great intelligence to come to Valladolid to steal, instead of that place which you came from… and where is that? The city is a big place, a paradise, full of houses to rob, isn't it?"
"I'm not a thief!" Silvestro cried with perhaps more urgency than he would have wished.
The Judge pretended surprise. "Then what could have been your purpose to be in Valladolid. And now it is time to ask just who you are and where it is you come from."
"Idznacab, sir. I was in Valladolid to sell a turkey."
"Indeed," said the judge, observing the nervous gestures of the accused. "Why don't I believe a fellow like you has turkeys to sell? Why do I suspect it was stolen too? Now, José... whom did you steal the turkey from?"
"I did not steal it!" Silvestro insisted. "Don Armando gave it to me to be sold. I was supposed to bring the money back to Idznacab."
"Aha!" Iniguez cried, "we've got you now." He stood up, the better to appear as a great black bird hovering over the accused, the trembling miscreant, the rat squirming in the talons of justice. "You sold turkeys for the traitor Armando Leon. You brought him money. Is that how the rebellion was financed."
"No, sir, no. I know no traitor, I only went into his house because of the shooting. Don Armando is mayordomo of Idznacab. Armando Feliz. I was his messenger. Only..."
The judge's smile soured and he sank back into his chair, shriveling like a vampire who has opened the vein of what he thought was a virgin, but which had proven not so. "Go on..."
"In Valladolid," Silvestro said, "they took Don Armando's turkey away. Those soldiers at the house."
"The house which you broke into," prompted Iniguez.
"Yes. Yes. The soldiers took it and I've been so long in prison that the mayordomo surely thinks I've run off with the money. When I go back I'll be beaten, and I'll still owe Don Armando money for the turkey and for my time."
"True, true," Iniguez yawned for crime was so often wearisome. He had had, at first, the inclination to have this José Bec shot, for such a meaningless man deserved an equally ignoble end. But the indian was so clearly beneath contempt that the Judge now thought the matter a waste of a bullet and, besides, while looking out into the gallery when he had risen to confront the thief or traitor... if the man was any of these things... he had seen one last opportunity for fun.
"I am going to order your return to Idznacab and let the mayordomo there subject you to whatever justice it is that he desires. Unless you are a brilliant liar, I do not think you had anything to do with the revolt in Valladolid... which is unfortunate for, if you had, it certainly never would have even started. It is not the charge of this court to intervene in disputes between a hacienda and its laborers. Providentially, however, I see that Don Antonio Macias, master of the Idznacab estanción is present in this court." Demosteneo Iniguez nodded to the hacendado. "How fortunate we are, to be able to reunite persons with their property! Come forward, Don Antonio, do you wish to claim this fellow now?"
Silvestro's heart sank as he saw his old master advance. Although his escape had been ten years ago, he remembered it as if it was but yesterday... and remembered, also, the rifle he had taken and used to kill so many Mexicans, that which must still be hidden in this Leon's house, if it had not been found.
"Is this one of your men?" the Judge prompted. "Come closer, look at him."
Silvestro turned his head away, but not without seeing the hacendado squint, his eyes somewhat glazed with the forgetfulness that comes to the dzulob of advancing age when the faculties of the mazehualob are at their sharpest. "He must be mine if he says so," said Don Antonio, turning towards the Judge, "you know, these fellows all look the same and he certainly looks foolish enough to cut henequen and lose my mayordomo's turkey. Armando's a fool too, entrusting such an indian with his property." He coughed twice and proceeded to the aisle, leaning on his cane.
"Do you want to take him with you?" asked Iniguez, anxious to be rid of the stupid indian and its doddering custodian.
"Take him?" Don Antonio half turned and smiled. "Take him where... to Alberto's?" The gallery laughed, this time at the expense of the Judge. "Have him brought round to the house. Everybody knows where that is," he said, turning with a defiant wave. And he continued up the aisle and out the door.
Demosteneo Iniguez beckoned the Marshal to remove the man, who was written up as José Bec, now of Idznacab, and called for a recess. Don Antonio Macias was old, but he was still sharp and he had thoroughly humiliated the Judge in his own court and Iniguez had developed the craving for a sherry and a little bit of time. He'd been a fool to tangle with Macias! Why he was so angry that it would serve them both right if he reversed his decision and ordered that indian taken out and shot... but then the hacendado and his family would have something else to hold over him. But the next time Rigoberto appeared in his court, well... and the next poor idiot from Valladolid, well and well...
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