THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
No matter how the American Peter Austin urged, Silvestro would not make his journey until the chicle gathering season had passed and the taxes were safely collected and deposited in one of the Tatoob's "bancas baja tierra". The end of the season was now the principle festival for most of the territory, and the newly paid chicleros staggered under the weight of silver in their pockets. Silvestro's refusal to permit the reconstruction of the distillery meant, only, that the chicle gatherers were compelled to purchase imported wines and brandy at the price that the jefe demanded and, for this reason, the fiesta profana was not so violent as some of those on the monterias. The policy also ensured that some money was left to be donated to the Cross, in hope of equal success the following year.
With the receipts from his taxes, Silvestro brought musicians from Payo Obispo, who introduced the chicleros to African tunes and dances; the "gambay" and the "brok down", which the more exuberant performed with a machete in either hand. The music and dancing continued through the night and into the next day but, near sundown, Silvestro ordered the musicians to put down their trumpets and guitars. "Let us see how many still remember," he said to Clarencio Pec. A few shots were fired into the air and then all was silence.
"For those who have left the footsteps in which we follow, kindly play the British anthem," Silvestro ordered the musicians, and these began the familiar strains of "God Save the King". But with the exception of a few old and pockmarked men who removed their hats, the melody was unfamiliar and there were outcries of discontent... for it was slow and cumbersome, unfit for dancing.
Silvestro gave word for the fast music to resume but took Clarencio aside. "Now I know that what we accomplished is of the past," he said, "a thing of no importance to the mazehualob today. Our fathers the, ahauob, knew well to write their deeds on stones, for such would be set into the earth and sealed. Gratitude is fleeting, and respect fades as quickly as one of these bright silk shirts."
He picked up one of the latter items from the wagon of a peddler who had paid a fee to be there... the man winced as the jefe of Santa Cruz fingered the shoddy cloth. Silvestro knew well that such "Italian" fabrics quickly tore and faded when exposed to sunlight, that the "fine jewels" were broken and melted glass, that empty cognac bottles could be refilled with sweet wine and aguardiente and, late in the night, sold to chicleros no longer able to discern the difference. He tossed the shirt back into the wagon of the apprehensive peddler and walked a little further. "He who has the contracts from the Governor and President may decide whether all of these will live or die, how much they will earn and what will be permitted in their schools. Is this too formidable a responsibility?"
"No, sir, not for the Jefe who has earned the trust of the Mexicans..."
"Then is that the mark of the Halach Uinic, that he is well liked by Mexicans?"
Clarencio Pec stuttered in his flailing to escape the web Silvestro had set for him. "No... no, my Jefe, it... it's better that he is recognized, but if not, he also can prove a leader in battle. He... he can..."
Silvestro motioned him to say no more. And like Pedro Yoac, who was first whipped and then made an important man of the Tatoob... and even a Capitan of expeditions... Clarencio was astonished when Silvestro promoted him to Teniente and ashamed that he was not deserving. He was not a leader of men the way his father had been, he did not yet realize that the bonds of obligation that confine the soul are stronger than those that only bind the arms of servants. Yet Clarencio, too, was ordered to accompany Silvestro to Merida, leaving Moises Lum as the interim Jefe Militar y Politico of Chan Santa Cruz and interim pretender to the governorship of the territory.
The first part of the journey required the three Oficiales to proceed to Peto on horseback because of the presence of rival bands of the sublevados to the north and west of Santa Cruz. Despite their connotations of the despised Mexican Army, Silvestro no longer held a fear of horses; they were merely another tool that could be mastered and then used. Clarencio and Pedro retained their dread and had never learned to ride, they learned now... under Silvestro's glare and his whip... but their progress was slow and otherwise memorable for the multitudes of butterflies that they encountered in their slow march northwest, against the direction of Bravo's campaign. Some were of a brilliant hue of blue or purple and, since the mazehualob often consider butterflies the souls of the dead, they were accorded a great respect. The dead were also numerous... those villages taken in Bravo's march had reverted back to the monte and, in some dilapidated huts, the skeletons of those who had died in the plague could still be found in their hammocks. Even the animals shunned these places. The survivors had left the territory altogether or had gone to Santa Maria, the largest of the chicle monterias in this part of the peninsula. Silvestro's party found no corn and moved as swiftly as they could from village to village, living on the game they could shoot.
At length they arrived in Peto.
Then as ever, Peto lay on the boundary between Mexico and the monte, between Yucatan and the territory to the east. A few of the innovations of the new century had reached this place; electric generators, the telegraph, and a railroad whose engine and cars were of a wide gauge and departed for Merida twice weekly. There was also a small hospital operated by the Catholic church... poorly supplied but exceedingly well staffed by a number of capable doctors who had come to this place on the edge of civilization owing to their unwelcomeness in so many other parts of Mexico.
Ladislao Yam, the old Chinese chief of the north of the territory, had gone to Peto to be treated by the Christian doctors. When his eyesight had begun to fail, he had invited many curanderos to his village but none had been able to halt his approaching blindness. The Catolicos, also, had not restored his sight, but Yam had remained in Peto and, as soon as Silvestro and his entourage were able to bathe and change their clothes, the Tatoob sought out this old man who offered them a room to stay in as long as they wished to remain in Peto. The frontier still being perceived dangerous, the chief had been able to acquire a fine old Spanish house with a number of servants; men and women and all Mexicans, to do those duties his age and vision no longer allowed him to complete.
Yam's blindness had progressed to the point where, he said, he could see men and objects only as shadows moving through a fog that was not unlike one of those houses of the Underworld... in which are kept the souls of those whose faith is never tested without bending, and whose word is without value. But his memory remained sharp and he remembered Silvestro, not only from the war, but as a youth. "Are you passing through Idznacab on your way to Merida? Your sisters and their children wonder what has become of you, your old friend Esteban Chan is living still, although he is a very sick man. If you should chance to see him, please bear my blessings to his oldest son, who is among my godchildren." Then they smoked cigars together, and Ladislao Yam saw the world as it was and never again would be for that smoke which obscures the vision of most made clear the future for the old jefe. He saw, too, that Silvestro soon would face a decision of momentous aspect, but said nothing of this for, by giving warning, he would incur the displeasure of the underworld, into which he himself would soon be passing.
When the Tatoob lay down the end of his cigar he thanked Ladislao Yam and went directly to the telegraph office to place a message to the Governor, not omitting mention of Clarencio Pec and his father. The Mexican civilian who operated the telegraph took down Silvestro's words as though they were some sort of joke... an indian fresh from the monte (a chiclero, by the looks of him) announcing to the mighty Alvarado that he intended to travel to the White City, and when could he expect his appointment? He was on the verge of tearing up the ridiculous message and calling his dogs... for, while the fellow was stupid-looking he had the face of a killer... when Silvestro removed a small deerskin pouch and paid him, not in one of the bothersome paper revolutionary currencies, but in silver, as he'd heard the Zapatistas do. "Yes, señor!" the operator said cheerfully and Silvestro told him that he would visit every morning at eight for his replies and, if one came after he'd left, that a mozo should bring it to the house of Ladislao Yam.
"What a queer country it's becoming when a man like that... a gangster, surely allied with Zapata, can simply walk in out of the monte and send such message to our Governor. But he's got money... a lot of those people seem to since they drove General Bravo off." And the operator repeated his surprise again and again to his wife until she tired of hearing it. "Not only that, but he also sent a message to a hacendado near Merida, one of the big shots. There aren't too many of those left, the way Alvarado sends his tax collectors after them. And he intends to wait here in Peto for their reply. If he were a tree," the operator predicted, "I could pick a bushel of oranges from his branches during the time he'll spend waiting."
But a message arrived from the hacendado on the very next day, a cordial invitation and, on the day after that, Governor Alvarado extended to this obscure indian all the courtesies of the State of Yucatan... additionally requesting the operator carry, to the Alcalde of Peto, word that the Jefe Militar of Chan Santa Cruz, Silvestro Kaak, was to be extended all of the recognition and assistance that the humble, provincial Alcalde could extend. Silvestro thanked the operator with a second coin, gathered his belongings from the house of Ladislao Yam and purchased two railroad tickets... one for himself and one for Clarencio Pec... on the Merida train leaving early the following morning. Pedro Yoac was ordered back to Santa Cruz with the horses, which was a cause of great apprehension as Silvestro had been the only experienced rider. But the word of the Tatoob was final.
The steam engine at Peto was, to the Decauville of the territory, what a chariot is to an oxcart and Clarencio Pec could barely keep his eyes open out of apprehension that something dreadful lurked just around the next curve. Silvestro, although containing his own fear, felt... also... the deep, formless terror, not so much for his own physical safety as for the prospect that the swiftness of the train would cause the land to hold resentment against its passengers for passing so rudely. The Mexican engine never stopped to honor the spirits of the monte, nor to offer prayers to the gods of the crossroads, only shrieking its approach by the head-splitting hymns of its whistle. Once, the Tatoob poked his hand out the window and found the wind so powerful that it flattened his palm back against the glass, and when he carefully brought it back inside, the fingers were cold and tingling... as if they had been holding one of those confections of ice and syrup which are sold in paper cups in Peto. There were few other passengers, at first, and most of these were Mexicans who opened up the windows and removed their hats. When the wind made their hair stream back, the satisfaction on their faces reminded Silvestro of those tales he had heard of men and women who leaped ecstatically into the wells of sacrifice, centuries before Montejo, and he wondered what surprises Merida would hold; whether the lawns of the great houses would still be dotted with the Greek and Roman statues he remembered from the fateful Fin del Siglo.
It was not a century coming to its end now, but perhaps something even more important... one in the finest blush of youth.
"I am glad that we are going to Idznacab first, instead of to the city," declared Clarencio.
RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”
RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE