THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
The escape of Francisco Madero and subsequent publication of his insolent Plan of San Luis Potosi from exile in San Antonio, Texas, had infuriated President Diaz. In every corner of the Republic, antireelectionistas were being rounded up and jailed... many of their leaders deported to the territories of Lower California and Quintana Roo. No longer were the prisoners ragged conspirators and bandits; they now included professional men of caution, discretion and distinction. Indeed, Major Macias returned to Akbal with a trainload of such, whose only crime had been to warn the President of the quagmire that Mexico was sinking into without the guidance of arguably corrupt but capable men like the former Finance Minister Limantour or the peripatetic former Minister of War, Bernardo Reyes.
Dr. Rosario, for ten years now the resident physician of the territory, followed closely all developments in Mexico City, hoping that the new anguish of the old regime might blow a breath of exoneration towards Quintana Roo. Instead, his enemy... being one of those men of little quality that had risen as those of principle had either abandoned the Cientificos or had been made their prisoners... advanced and thrived. Even the military was no longer immune from the gravity of this corruption... a brother of General Hector Lopez and the sister of General Eduardo Neri were now numbered among the convict population of Santa Cruz del Bravo. Officers, doctors and bandits alike continued to arrive in chains, supplies did not, and Rosario managed as he could while hectoring the new arrivals for word of the ruin of his enemy in Mexico City. Far from ruining himself, Rosario's vengeful Cientifico had charmed the silk-hatted perfumados of Standard Oil, as well as the German colony, for most of their erstwhile rivals, the British, had passed up the Centennial. They had returned to London, one and all, for the funeral of Edward VII... another who, like the American Mark Twain, had been carried off into the void in the tail of Halley's Comet, approaching Mexico and all the world with its sinister pedigree and deadly omens.
Late in November, a thumping noise approached his door... a hollow, chopping sound, regular as the grinding of a henequen press... one heavy "clomp" followed by another, and a lighter "pock" responding, repeated several times at a rapidly closing distance. The "pock" came from a mahogany walking stick topped with a ball of ivory, a gift of Mexico to the one who wielded it; a token of gratitude for the sacrifice made by its wielder for his country. The louder "clomps" were also memoirs of the sacrifice, they came from wooden "shoes" extending halfway to the knee, hiding the stumps that were the legs of the doctor's visitor.
When Osvaldo Andujar had returned to the capital, less the feet that the sublevados separated from him, he discovered that the life of a decorated cripple is little different from that of the common one. Loterios, newsdealers and vendors Mexico City had in abundance, and the flag and uniform which were the inspiration of so many patriotic speeches proved of little value in the crowded streets.
Abhorring a beggar's future, and using such friends as he still had from his service and the all-pervasive mordida, Andujar regained his commission in a clerical capacity. So many wholly imaginary soldiers were, after all, contained on the roster of those paid that a man merely without feet was a bargain. The circle completed, he had been assigned to Santa Cruz to serve as a custodian of the territory's greatly expanded armory, and also to help in the keeping of the names of the arriving prisoners.
Rosario was sleeping at his desk when the wooden footsteps disturbed his dreams. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Ah, Sergeant," he said, holding up a finger.
"We have company," Andujar told the doctor.
"From the capital?" The sergeant nodded. "You've seen them?"
"I have. More from lower California."
Rosario grunted. Victims of the famine in the territory at the opposite side of Mexico were being shipped to the penal colony with the cost of their passage assessed against the wages they had been promised. Unfortunately, little had been set aside for food and, already weakened, many of these had died in transit... at a loss to the Cientificos who sponsored them as also, of course, to themselves... and most of those who arrived were barely more than skeletons.
"Ah, to work, to work." Rosario picked a pot of tepid coffee up and peered down. With a shrug, he gulped the contents from the spout, wiping the grounds from his chin. Fifteen minutes later, the first of the arrivals were already forming a line at his door that snaked, under the eyes of Bravo's guards, around the side of the hospital.
Such lines! Rosario had seen hundreds of lines during his tenure in the territory, thousands of beseeching, damaged men. Bones twisted out of shape by accidents, beatings or overwork. The pallor of scurvy or malaria, skin diseases of numerous… often loathsome… origin, wounds left unattended, even some in which the insects already had made a home. Rosario had seen so many such lines that they seemed, at times, to become one; one endless, faceless queue of all the doomed and diseased of the planet.
"One of these animals claims that he knows you," a corporal called out.
"Certainly," Rosario said wearily. Everybody claimed to know the doctor or the General or some authority in either Santa Cruz or Mexico City. Someone whose rank could move him towards the front of the line. Rosario had ordered such persons be ignored and, if they made a nuisance of themselves, shot. Half an hour later, the corporal again pointed out the supplicant as he neared the head of the line... a stranger of course, with the hollow eye and protruding ribs of every other body on line. He was distinct from the others only in that his complexion was pale, a dead gray... like something buried under an old log.
"He's not from Baja California," the doctor guessed, for those who had been sent to that place did not lack for sunlight, at the least. "More likely the capital, Belem perhaps." Aloud, he asked, "I know you?"
"Certainly, Don Raul. I served here almost eighteen months, under somewhat different conditions." Despite his wretched state of health, the man retained a military bearing. "I am Octaviano Solis, Doctor, at your service," the prisoner declared.
"The colonel... for a time." Solis tried to smile, but it was thin as the rest of him.
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