THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK SIX: THE FIRST of the BOOKS of CHANGE
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
Corporal Boleaga was unused to horses. He had grown to manhood in the capital where such were to be attached to carts and, in his year in the northwest... where mastery of such beasts is essential... he had passed weeks of humiliation and despondency, ending his days in a military prison for the offense of shooting a horse with the temerity to hurl him to the hard, Sonoran earth. But for Bravo he might have remained in jail indefinitely, for the Corporal's hand was set against all of his kind and it was only coincidence that he had been discovered by the one man who recognized this anger... and could find use for it.
His jailers had found the ferocity of the little Corporal comical in the manner of a small, loud dog, but Bravo had guided this to his own purpose and, for that matter, it was his cultivation of the Corporal that started Bravo on his way to Santa Cruz. There are those things which a leader must do... dark things, in which his hand must never be detected and which can occur only with the cooperation of an utterly loyal, utterly ruthless subordinate. Bravo had found his own dark half; an instrument which he could hold while toasting a rival to set against this enemy later in the night, a creature whose very existence he could deny, the better that his own dreams remain undisturbed.
And Boleaga... an unimposing man; awkward, spiteful, unkempt... absorbed the General's authority and, while in his presence, seemed to walk about inflated with magical vapors that produced the approximate of courage and cunning. These leaked away when Bravo was not present... even causing the Corporal to wander aimlessly about the camp, speaking to himself. Experienced men learned to go to great lengths to stay out of his way... not for the thing he was, but for that which inhabited him, and for his strong right arm, El Chacol.
The nearness of Bravo and his uncharacteristic need had given the Corporal a heightened presence at the start of this nocturnal errand... though the plan was all the General's, the instructions too. As inexpert a rider as Boleaga was, the first hours of the journey were easy ones, for they had only to follow the railroad tracks. It was perhaps three in the morning when the Corporal, hearing a rattling noise that disturbed him, cried out.
"Stop!" he said, simultaneously spurring his horse and jerking back the reins to spin the aggrieved beast to one side in a circle.
"Wait here!" Boleaga ordered Vargas and Moron. Both of the Sergeants had been Rurales, bandits offered a choice of execution or service on the side of authority. Boleaga had commanded many such men... finding, from time to time, the pretext to shoot one. If such as Vargas and Moron had scant respect for the Corporal, or his rank, they, at least, were also under the influence of his protector and, so, did not move while Boleaga adjusted the saddlebags which had shifted in his halt.
"There is nothing," Vargas finally declared. "Let us go on." Moron nodded his agreement.
Since the arrival of Rivera, both had been anxious to leave the territory. Many in Santa Cruz, both among the soldados and the prisoners, had scores to settle with these two."
"No," said Boleaga, "I've heard something. It must be the railroad. Something's gone wrong."
"But we've taken care of that," Moron protested.
"Are you sure?" the Corporal challenged. "Even so, Rivera may have brought in an engineer. We will use a short cut through the monte, he could never follow us there."
"Corporal," Vargas pleaded.
"What is it now?" Boleaga complained.
"I know this trail. Santos told me that it emerges near where there was a white tree, where that battle with the indians occurred."
"What of it?"
"Those indians were surrounded and put down their rifles, but General Bravo had them taken to a cave beside the trail and dynamited its entrance. And after that, death came strangely for some, even a priest, until the tree was pulled down."
"I remember something of that," Boleaga answered, prodding the unwilling horse in the direction of the monte. "But are you telling me there is something you're afraid of? Ghosts? Do you fear ghosts, indian ghosts at that, more than the General? Remember, my orders are his."
And another thought occurred to Boleaga.
"The Commander of the area is Major Macias. He, too, is loyal to the General... a capable fellow but of an explosive temper. Would you care to express your doubts to him? We can go by way of Akbal..."
"Macias, no, certainly not... but let us wait together for a few minutes in the monte, at the beginning of the trail where we can watch the railroad," suggested Moron, "for although it is certain that some dead indians are about, it may or may not be that their ghosts will do us harm while he who made them dead will certainly come following should we fail to follow his orders."
So Vargas followed with an oath, for he was outnumbered and afraid. Still, he was able to guide his horse expertly onto the trail behind Moron but Boleaga, inexperienced at riding and already without patience, slashed and spurred the beast and it dove headlong into the dank overgrowth that glistened with the moonlight and the fog of nearby swamps. The thrashing of the Corporal and his horse grew fainter and fainter until there suddenly came a scream... then silence.
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