THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SIX:  THE FIRST of the BOOKS of CHANGE

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

 

          Octaviano Solis could not help turning the spoon that he held over and over, for it was a wondrous thing... held, perhaps, by Captains, Colonels, even perhaps by General Bravo. So many ordinary things seemed marvelous after his months of imprisonment - the birds, the flies, the wooden bench and table on which somebody had carved his name. But mostly the food... real food on a tin plate, with a cup of clear, fresh water... miraculous! General Rivera had risen to address the prisoners, and this was also miraculous.

          "We now know," Rivera said, "how a whole nation was misled by Diaz, how the truth was twisted, altered." He had been speaking for some time upon this and that, but the hot cauldrons of soup and roasted meat continued to appear, one after another, buckets of water placed on the tables as quickly as they were emptied, and hot tortillas were brought in an endless procession by... and this was most remarkable... the very uniformed officers, under Bravo's command, who had starved and flogged the captives or had bought a day's labor or even murder for a cigarette, or half a loaf of bread.

          Miraculous!

          "Two years ago, the Minister of War concluded that the troubles which beset the territory were, with the limited exception of agitation fomented in the antireelectionista cause, attributable to the treacherous revolted Maya, who discouraged enterprise in this fertile extremity of the southeast. Never did it cross the minds of we, well distant from Quintana Roo, that the problems of the territory, indeed the very backwardness, was the deliberate construction of one man, its Governor, General Ignacio Bravo."

          Those who could speak groaned at this, and even those who could not showed their displeasure. "Kill Bravo!" someone called out. "Let's eat first," another answered. General Rivera let the clamor die and continued speaking.

          "The fault is ours, we of the military and professional classes of Mexico, that we did not appreciate this evidence of Porfirian decay. The great department stores of the capital were owned by the French. The Germans held a monopoly on the hardware trade, Spaniards on our groceries. Our electricity was generated by Canadians, our railroads run by Belgians and the Americans and the British dominated our petroleum industry. Even Mexicans who could have improved our national standing went, instead, into the employ of foreign companies... our brother Republics of Venezuela and Nicaragua lend their support, as I am given to understand, to Felix Diaz, he who stands behind Pascual Orozco."

          "He is our liberator," muttered Matochino to Solis, "even if he is an idiot. Orozco's one of those who kicked old Diaz out."

          The Colonel, as yet, had given only his name to Rivera's questioning minions. "I've heard the revolutionaries had a falling out over money. What else? There will be time enough to sort out politicos... Rivera's alright unless perhaps he has devised, with Bravo, a new way to torment us. Before, we never had the hope of such food, so our hunger was less painful."

          General Rivera proceeded, at length, to speak of various reforms which he proposed to make in the territorial charter; things few prisoners cared about, fewer could understand and fewer, still, believed would ever happen, and it was only near the end of his discourse that he again gained their attention. "It further pleases me to report that the President has authorized free transport from this penal colony to any state capital of your choosing and, besides this, a sum of money will be provided with which your new lives as citizens may begin."

          "That's kind of him," the bandit shrugged, "but give me only my feet to carry me out of this place and I will not complain. Although," he added, "a rifle would be useful."

          "Surely you don't plan on returning to your old trade?" Solis objected.

          "Of course not," said Matochino, "for what value is in remaining a bandit when one can steal ten times as much in the army or with the police. Don't you think Madero would be wise to offer me a commission? Nothing much, I'd settle for Captain."

          "But what if he doesn't?"

          "Then I shall join Orozco and shoot him. Or Zapata. Isn't he the one in Morelos? The women are better looking there, and it's not so hot. Zapata, then.  Here's a miracle, that man is finished!"

          General Rivera, having completed his discourse, basked in the applause and the whistles... calmly believing them to be for his talk, instead of for the plates and bowls now being filled and refilled and for the promise of money and, firstly, the offer of quick transport out of Santa Cruz del Bravo.

 

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