THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
The travelers arrived at Idznacab by dusk and, casting a wary glance about for the Mayordomo, Armando Feliz, Silvestro presented the invitation he had received in Peto and asked after the patron. Don Antonio, he learned, would return at a later hour. The attendants of the patron's house were all young and unfamiliar to him. Lord Blood Vomit had passed through Yucatan also.
Silvestro and Clarencio made their way through the deepening shadows to the village of the mazehualob, their feet scattering the pigs and turkeys that patrolled it. From one of the huts, through which the faint glow of a candle or lamp could be seen, came the challenge of a dog and another's barking joined the first. The dogs were Idznacab's warning against intruders whom could not be recognized by scent. Realizing again he was no longer a part of this village, Silvestro steered himself towards what he recognized as the home of Esteban Chan.
A woman waited by the door, suspiciously, the Tatoob was aware of many eyes that had been watching through the slats between the wooden poles. "I've come for Esteban Chan," he told her and, when she did not reply, added: "you may tell him that it is Silvestro Kaak."
Visibly afraid, the woman slipped inside. A moment passed as words too low for the sublevados to hear were passed, then she beckoned both of them inside.
Esteban Chan lay in his hammock, moving only his head at their entry. "Forgive my wife," he said softly and in obvious discomfort. "When one asks for me now, she thinks it must be the Devil, for who else would be interested in a sick old man such as myself?"
"We are not so old," Silvestro said, squatting on his heels.
"Perhaps not so old as Mariano Chable in years and, of course, you seem to have many of those ahead of you. But this place and the disease have made an old man of me, and I barely can move. No wonder every visitor takes on an aspect of the Devil!"
"Nonsense," Silvestro replied. "If anyone calls for you it will be a saint, perhaps San Pedro himself. Consider the virtue of your life, your children..."
Esteban sighed. "The Devil laid his claim on my soul the night on which we parted forever. I was certain that to join the insurgency would lead to certain death, and I despaired. But it is you who have survived and grown strong.
"Strong?" asked Silvestro with a puzzled expression.
"Of course," replied the other. "Even here they know the reputation of Tata Silvestro, Jefe of Chan Santa Cruz... killer of four hundred Mexicans. Why you are as notorious as Pancho Villa!"
The Tatoob thought about that a moment, not entirely displeased, but shook his head. "I am not my reputation," he demurred. "And you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have your children."
"They cannot atone for my weaknesses," Esteban answered, and Silvestro saw that he would not be moved from his guilt but clutch it ever more tightly, for it was all he possessed.
"So... old Mariano's still alive?" he asked, dropping the matter, hoping to learn something of the village routine – that which he had forsaken at the call of the Cross.
"He'll bury us all! He's taken another wife, the daughter of Paco Pozo. Do you remember him?"
"Old Paco? How could I forget... is he still at Idznacab?"
Esteban cast his eyes downward, spreading his palm wide and rotating it, to suggest the tomb. "In a manner of speaking, he is..."
"Then you need have no fear of the Devil, for Paco undoubtedly has poisoned him by this time. His daughter! She was seven years old when I left, or was it eight? And now she has married old Mariano! I must smoke with that old rogue."
"He has gone to Valladolid," Esteban said and his words trailed off. The harsh voice of Clara Chan interrupted them.
"Can't you see that my husband is tired?" she scolded and Silvestro Kaak, the Tatoob... the Jefe of Chan Santa Cruz and the scourge of Mexicans... gathered his hat and backed out of the hut, drawing Clarencio in his wake, promising to return in the morning.
It had grown fully dark and the electric generator chugging away at the side of the patron's house had transformed it into a hall of lights. There were even lights to each side of the front door and these intimidated the Tatoob, whose boldness was the greater by day... he had fought in the dark and had prevailed, but retained his ancestral dread of moon-spirits. Leading Clarencio to the back door, he was received by a stout Ladino woman, who took his hat and his invitation with an expression of contempt.
Don Antonio, however, was soon in returning and gave Silvestro an abrazo which confused him all the more, for he did not know whether the hacendado regarded him as Governor of the Territory, though an indian, or remembered him as a debtor who had run from his debts. "No man under protection of Governor Alvarado must ever, ever enter by the back door again," he said, shooting a freezing look at the housekeeper. "The new Governor has proclaimed an equality of the races." His voice dropped. "The sexes also, but that is another matter. Anyway, my home is yours. And who is this?"
"He is my Teniente," said Silvestro, "son of the Oficiale to whom the Governor you name made his surrender, on behalf of Mexico, in Chan Santa Cruz." The hacendado lifted his eyebrow at this, but extended a hand and motioned for their small belongings to be carried away. Deliberating quickly, the Tatoob gave up his rifle.
Don Antonio did not offer any sign of recognition that it was the same he had entrusted to Silvestro six years previously, the second weapon of Idznacab to fall into the hands of the Cruzob.
He ushered them out of the kitchen and into the library where another indian was seated, a man of Clarencio's age. He was attired in a dark and sober Mexican suit tucked into riding boots dusty with the soil of Idznacab, he wore spectacles rimmed in gold and his fingers glistened with rings. "This is Juan Kui," said the hacendado, removing the stopper from a decanter of cognac and pouring three generous portions. "Once he worked for me, just like any of those people out in the village there, but Providence intervened, causing him to be taken to Europe and to Africa, to Egypt and... what was that place?"
"Mongolia," said Kui. He has acquired the accent of the dzulob, thought Silvestro.
"Imagine that!" said don Antonio. "Places we have only heard about through books." And he opened wide his arms to included Silvestro and Clarencio Pec in this world, though neither of them read nor wrote, nor knew even that there was such a village that was Mongolia.
"Now Juan has returned to us and, with the sponsorship of his patron, Governor Alvarado, will establish a school in every village of this state." The hacendado passed cognac to his visitors. "He has also adopted the Governor's anticlericalism and his sentiments on Prohibition, which law of Yucatan we must hope that he will not cause to be turned against us."
Juan Kui's voice resembled that which the Tatoob thought would come out of the mouth of a steam engine, if such were to suddenly begin speaking. "The changes that the Republic now must go through will be codified only when every Mexican is capable of reading and writing Spanish."
Silvestro sampled the cognac, feeling the absurd disapproval of Juan Kui. It had a light, smooth taste, and some sense of its value flickered back to him as he remembered the only two times he had tasted such a liquid... at the house in Merida, at which time he had been obliged to swallow it in haste, for fear of discovery... and upon the night he had made his pact with Bravo's representative, the little Huichol who, reportedly, had later been made President of the Mexicans, but was no longer. This was a taste he consequently associated with fear or treason and wondered which, if either, was an omen of this mission.
The cognac also inflamed his determination to challenge this scholar, this automaton posed before him. "The Governor, of course, acknowledged that we are not Mexicans. We have his signed decree."
Juan Kui raised his left hand at don Antonio who had risen half out of his seat in surprise. "Don't be alarmed, this fellow has a point," he said. "Science and education did not arise with the Europeans. During my travels in Egypt and in the Orient, I encountered many curiosities that hint at an association between educators in that era that is comparable in sophistication to any of our own time. Mexico has as much to learn from its Indian populations as it has to offer.
"Don Antonio informs me that you are a chief upon whose words the destinies of hundreds, even thousands of your people rise or fall," Juan Kui said directly now.
"That number is, perhaps, an overestimation."
"No matter," replied the scholar. "When my work in Yucatan is done, it would please me to go to the territory to establish schools in that place where there never have been any."
"There were schools in Santa Cruz," Silvestro said.
"We destroyed them," continued the Tatoob and Clarencio, who had only listened, nodded enthusiastically. "All that they taught was disrespect for Christianity, and that the children of the mazehualob should become spies for the Mexicans. Those children who went to schools grew up unhealthy, and most of them were taken by the plague. What purpose is there for our children to learn to read and write Spanish when they have their own language?"
"I assure you things will be different," promised Kui. "The education of the indians... the mazehualob... will be under the personal supervision of General Alvarado."
The implication that the Governor of Yucatan would take personal command of the schools, as Bravo had, caused Silvestro to frown but he took one more sip of cognac and waited.
Juan Kui, perhaps, had realized his mistake. "The Governor is no revolutionary bandit, nor a leader who will exploit his people, as did Porfirio Diaz and General Bravo. He is a man of culture, of intelligence. And," Kui emphasized, "he has more to offer the territory besides education."
Kui leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, pointing his rings towards Silvestro. "If you had traveled, as I have, you would understand the importance of civilization... not only here but in the backward nations of the world. It is never constant, but requires the will of the multitudes. Even mighty Egypt... how it has fallen! President Carranza has decreed an abolition of slavery of the body, but only Mexicans can end a slavery of mind. Today they are free, but what is the use of freedom if only to work for a day or two to earn the money to buy a bottle and fall asleep in the street. Why should men do this over and over until the day they die?
"Salvador Alvarado is so aptly named for he is the salvation of the common man. He is establishing new banks..."
The scholar hesitated now, for Silvestro's incomprehension was so deep and so hostile that explanation was needed.
"Banks!... buildings where people bring their money for it to be safe. And doctors," he added. "Doctors and scientists. They will eradicate the chicle fly," he promised Clarencio, whose nose and ears already were showing evidence of that insect's depredations.
But as we know, the word for scientists is that which also refers to the cabinet of Porfirio Diaz. Each of the Cruzob knew that the soldiers sent to kill them acted upon the orders of Cientificos. And so, for Juan Kui's careless word, Silvestro Kaak closed his ears and after some further discussion by Juan Kui... to which the Oficiales reacted with turgid disdain... don Antonio called them to adjourn to dinner, believing that the associates of the former dictator would be sent to the monte to kill flies. Impossible! Such men would be spies... setting about to gain, by treachery, that victory which they could not achieve by force. Spies!
The occasional meals that Silvestro took with soldiers and chicle traders and the memories of the far off functions of Merida had ill prepared him for the complexities of the table, with its bewildering array of silver tools. Anxious that he not reveal inexperience, and fighting the urge to grab the nearest morsel and hide it in his shirt, he observed the movements of his hosts and followed them as precisely as he could. The meal ended without incident and, after another cognac and cigars, and more of Kui's recitation of the odd habits of people whom Silvestro knew nor cared nothing of, don Antonio escorted the two Oficiales up a staircase and to two rooms at the end of the hall.
"These are yours," the hacendado said, growling like a dog, which has caught a bone in its throat. "They were used by my sons... but one is dead and the other is somewhere in the Republic fighting, or is perhaps also dead. I have heard nothing of him for years."
To this Silvestro merely grunted. Hard as sleep may be, at least he would not be afflicted by a madman's nearness.
When the morning arrived, don Antonio told Silvestro that a carriage had been prepared to take him to the railroad junction. Trains ran more frequently now, under Alvarado, and Merida would be reached after only an hour's ride. Juan Kui was still asleep. "He has become," the hacendado smiled, "more of a European than the Europeans. Even in May and June he will not rest when the sun is hottest, but must be at his studies, or else planning the program of his schools... he intends that all Maya children shall learn Latin. Do you know what Latin is?"
"Priest language," Silvestro said impatiently, "before we shot them." He gestured to Clarencio to hold the carriage, for he wished to pay his respects to Esteban.
"He is not well," protested Clara, trying to bar the door, but Silvestro pushed her aside, seeing for himself that his old friend remained in his hammock with his eyes closed, bathed in sweat. Then he regretted his rude treatment of Esteban's wife, but asked instead how long he'd had the fever.
"For years and years," said Clara. "It comes over him whenever he thinks of things that he is not, and those which might have been." And she said this with such unpleasant intonations that Silvestro bowed and ducked outside without a further gesture of farewell.
But, at the outskirts of the village, he was approached by Esteban's oldest son. "Help me escape," the young man begged, "I cannot abide this place... with its poverty and with the schools we must attend, but are not paid for attending. Take me to Merida, to Santa Cruz... please!" But Clarencio was motioning by the carriage and Silvestro had already begun to put Idznacab out of his mind. The Tatoob responded sternly to the boy, admonishing him to respect the wishes of his parents. Then, he returned to the waiting carriage, which would bring him to the train, then, the city.
Silvestro had no remorse over his treatment of Esteban's son. Chan Santa Cruz was no place for one to be brought to... it is found only by the desperate and determined. If the youth was one of these he would appear, sooner or later.
RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”
RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE