فصل 09

کتاب: صد سال تنهایی / فصل 9

فصل 09

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Chapter 9

GERINELDO MÁRQUEZ was the first to perceive the emptiness of the war. In his position as civil and military leader of Macondo he would have telegraphic conversations twice a week with Colonel Aureliano Buendía. At first those exchanges would determine the course of a flesh-and-blood war, the perfectly defined outlines of which told them at any moment the exact spot -where it was and the prediction of its future direction. Although he never let himself be pulled into the area of confidences, not even by his closest friends, Colonel Aureliano Buendía still had at that time the familiar tone that made it possible to identify him at the other end of the wire. Many times he would prolong the talk beyond the expected limit and let them drift into comments of a domestic nature. Little by little, however, and as the war became more intense and widespread, his image was fading away into a universe of unreality. The characteristics of his speech were more and more uncertain, and they cam together and combined to form words that were gradually losing all meaning. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez limited himself then to just listening, burdened by the impression that he was in telegraphic contact with a stranger from another world.

“I understand, Aureliano,” he would conclude on the key.

“Long live the Liberal party!”

He finally lost all contact with the war. What in other times had been a real activity, an irresistible passion of his youth, became a remote point of reference for him: an emptiness. His only refuge was Amaranta’s sewing room. He would visit her every afternoon. He liked to watch her hands as she curled frothy petticoat cloth in the machine that was kept in motion by Remedios the Beauty. They spent many hours without speaking, content with their reciprocal company, but while Amaranta was inwardly pleased in keeping the fire of his devotion alive, he was unaware of the secret designs of that indecipherable heart. When the news of his return reached her, Amaranta had been smothered by anxiety. But when she saw him enter the house in the middle of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s noisy escort and she saw how he had been mistreated by the rigors of exile, made old by age and oblivion, dirty with sweat and dust, smelling like a herd, ugly, with his left arm in a sling, she felt faint with disillusionment. “My God,” she thought. “This wasn’t the person I was waiting for.” On the following day, however, he came back to the house shaved and clean, with his mustache perfumed with lavender water and without the bloody sling. He brought her a prayerbook bound in mother-of-pearl.

“How strange men are,” she said, because she could not think of anything else to say. “They spend their lives fighting against priests and then give prayerbooks as gifts.”

From that time on, even during the most critical days of the war, he visited her every afternoon. Many times, when Remedios the Beauty was not present, it was he who turned the wheel on the sewing machine. Amaranta felt upset by the perseverance, the loyalty, the submissiveness of that man who was invested with so much authority and who nevertheless took off his sidearm in the living room so that he could go into the sewing room without weapons, But for four years he kept repeating his love and she would always find a way to reject him without hurting him, for even though she had not succeeded in loving him she could no longer live without him. Remedios the Beauty, who seemed indifferent to everything and who was thought to be mentally retarded, was not insensitive to so much devotion and she intervened in Colonel Gerineldo Márquez’s favor. Amaranta suddenly discovered that the girl she had raised, who was just entering adolescence, was already the most beautiful creature that had even been seen in Macondo. She felt reborn in her heart the rancor that she had felt in other days for Rebeca, and begging God not to impel her into the extreme state of wishing her dead, she banished her from the sewing room. It was around that time that Colonel Gerineldo Márquez began to feel the boredom of the war. He summoned his reserves of persuasion, his broad and repressed tenderness, ready to give up for Amaranta a glory that had cost him the sacrifice of his best years. But he could not succeed in convincing her. One August afternoon, overcome by the unbearable weight of her own obstinacy, Amaranta locked herself in her bedroom to weep over her solitude unto death after giving her final answer to her tenacious suitor: “Let’s forget about each other forever,” she told him. “We’re too old for this sort of thing now.”

Colonel Gerineldo Márquez had a telegraphic call from Colonel Aureliano Buendía that afternoon. It was a routine conversation which was not going to bring about any break in the stagnant war. At the end, Colonel Gerineldo Márquez looked at the desolate streets, the crystal water on the almond trees, and he found himself lost in solitude.

“Aureliano,” he said sadly on the key, “it’s raining in Macondo.”

There was a long silence on the line. Suddenly the apparatus jumped with the pitiless letters from Colonel Aureliano Buendía.

“Don’t be a jackass, Gerineldo,” the signals said. “It’s natural for it to be raining in August.”

They had not seen each other for such a long time that Colonel Gerineldo Márquez was upset by the aggressiveness of the reaction. Two months later, however, when Colonel Aureliano Buendía returned to Macondo, his upset was changed to stupefaction. Even Úrsula was surprised at how much he had changed. He came with no noise, no escort, wrapped in a cloak in spite of the heat, and with three mistresses, whom he installed in the same house, where he spent most of his time lying in a hammock. He scarcely read the telegraphic dispatches that reported routine operations. On one occasion Colonel Gerineldo Márquez asked him for instructions for the evacuation of a spot on the border where there was a danger that the conflict would become an international affair.

“Don’t bother me with trifles,” he ordered him. “Consult Divine Providence.”

It was perhaps the most critical moment of the war. The Liberal landowners, who had supported the revolution in the beginning, had made secret alliances with the Conservative landowners in order to stop the revision of property titles. The politicians who supplied funds for the war from exile had Publicly repudiated the drastic aims of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, but even that withdrawal of authorization did not seem to bother him. He had not returned to reading his poetry, which filled more than five volumes and lay forgotten at the bottom of his trunk. At night or at siesta time he would call one of his women to his hammock and obtain a rudimentary satisfaction from her, and then he would sleep like a stone that was not concerned by the slightest indication of worry. Only he knew at that time that his confused heart was condemned to uncertainty forever. At first, intoxicated by the glory of his return, by his remarkable victories, he had peeped into the abyss of greatness. He took pleasure in keeping by his right hand the Duke of Marlborough, his great teacher in the art of war, whose attire of skins and tiger claws aroused the respect of adults and the awe of children. It was then that he decided that no human being, not even Úrsula, could come closer to him than ten feet. In the center of the chalk circle that his aides would draw wherever he stopped, and which only he could enter, he would decide with brief orders that had no appeal the fate of the world. The first time that he was in Manaure after the shooting of General Moncada, he hastened to fulfill his victim’s last wish and the widow took the glasses, the medal, the watch, and the ring, but she would not let him in the door.

“You can’t come in, colonel,” she told him. “You may be in command of your war, but I’m in command of my house.”

Colonel Aureliano Buendía did not show any sign of anger, but his spirit only calmed down when his bodyguard had sacked the widow’s house and reduced it to ashes. “Watch out for your heart, Aureliano,” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez would say to him then. “You’re rotting alive.” About that time he called together a second assembly of the principal rebel commanders. He found all types: idealists, ambitious people, adventurers, those with social resentments, even common criminals. There was even a former Conservative functionary who had taken refuge in the revolt to escape a judgment for misappropriation of funds. Many of them did not even know why they were fighting in the midst of that motley crowd, whose differences of values were on the verge of causing an internal explosion, one gloomy authority stood out: General Te6filo Vargas. He was a full-blooded Indian, untamed, illiterate, and endowed with quiet wiles and a messianic vocation that aroused a demented fanaticism in his men. Colonel Aureliano Buendía called the meeting with the aim of unifying the rebel command against the maneuvers of the politicians. General Teófilo Vargas came forward with his intentions: in a few hours he shattered the coalition of better-qualified commanders and took charge of the main command. “He’s a wild beast worth watching,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía told his officers. “That man is more dangerous to us than the Minister of War.” Then a very young captain who had always been outstanding for his timidity raised a cautious index finger.

“It’s quite simple, colonel,” he proposed. “He has to be killed.”

Colonel Aureliano Buendía was not alarmed by the coldness of the proposition but by the way in which, by a fraction of a second, it had anticipated his own thoughts.

“Don’t expect me to give an order like that,” he said.

He did not give it, as a matter of fact. But two weeks later General Teófilo Vargas was cut to bits by machetes in an ambush and Colonel Aureliano Buendía assumed the main command. The same night that his authority was recognized by all the rebel commands, he woke up in a fright, calling for a blanket. An inner coldness which shattered his bones and tortured him even in the heat of the sun would not let him sleep for several months, until it became a habit. The intoxication of power began to break apart under waves of discomfort. Searching for a cure against the chill, he had the young officer who had proposed the murder of General Teófilo Vargas shot. His orders were being carried out even before they were given, even before he thought of them, and they always went much beyond what he would have dared have them do. Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction. He was bothered by the people who cheered him in neighboring villages, and he imagined that they were the same cheers they gave the enemy. Everywhere he met adolescents who looked at him with his own eyes, who spoke to him with his own voice, who greeted him with the same mistrust with which he greeted them, and who said they were his sons. He felt scattered about, multiplied, and more solitary than ever. He was convinced that his own officers were lying to him. He fought with the Duke of Marlborough. “The best friend a person has,” he would say at that time, “is one who has just died.” He was weary of the uncertainty, of the vicious circle of that eternal war that always found him in the same place, but always older, wearier, even more in the position of not knowing why, or how, or even when. There was always someone outside of the chalk circle. Someone who needed money, someone who had a son with whooping cough, or someone who wanted to go off and sleep forever because he could not stand the shit taste of the war in his mouth and who, nevertheless, stood at attention to inform him: “Everything normal, colonel.” And normality was precisely the most fearful part of that infinite war: nothing ever happened. Alone, abandoned by his premonitions, fleeing the chill that was to accompany him until death, he sought a last refuge in Macondo in the warmth of his oldest memories. His indolence was so serious that when they announced the arrival of a commission from his party that was authorized to discuss the stalemate of the war, he rolled over in his hammock without completely waking up.

“Take them to the whores,” he said.

They were six lawyers in frock coats and top hats who endured the violent November sun with stiff stoicism. Úrsula put them up in her house. They spent the greater part of the day closeted in the bedroom in hermetic conferences and at dusk they asked for an escort and some accordion players and took over Catarino’s store. “Leave them alone,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía ordered. “After all, I know what they want.” At the beginning of December the long-awaited interview, which many had foreseen as an interminable argument, was resolved in less than an hour.

In the hot parlor, beside the specter of the pianola shrouded in a white sheet, Colonel Aureliano Buendía did not sit down that time inside the chalk circle that his aides had drawn. He sat in a chair between his political advisers and, wrapped in his woolen blanket, he listened in silence to the brief proposals of the emissaries. They asked first that he renounce the revision of property titles in order to get back the support of the Liberal landowners. They asked, secondly, that he renounce the fight against clerical influence in order to obtain the support of the Catholic masses. They asked, finally, that he renounce the aim of equal rights for natural and illegitimate children in order to preserve the integrity of the home.

“That means,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía said, smiling when the reading was over, “that all we’re fighting for is power.”

“They’re tactical changes,” one of the delegates replied. “Right now the main thing is to broaden the popular base of the war. Then we’ll have another look.”

One of Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s political advisers hastened to intervene.

“It’s a contradiction” he said. “If these changes are good, it means that the Conservative regime is good. If we succeed in broadening the popular base of the war with them, as you people say, it means that the regime his a broad popular base. It means, in short, that for almost twenty years we’ve been fighting against the sentiments of the nation.”

He was going to go on, but Colonel Aureliano Buendía stopped him with a signal. “Don’t waste your time, doctor.” he said. “The important thing is that from now on we’ll be fighting only for power.” Still smiling, he took the documents the delegates gave him and made ready to sign them.

“Since that’s the way it is,” he concluded, “we have no objection to accepting.”

His men looked at one another in consternation. “Excuse me, colonel,” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez said softly, “but this is a betrayal.”

Colonel Aureliano Buendía held the inked pen in the air and discharged the whole weight of his authority on him.

“Surrender your weapons,” he ordered.

Colonel Gerineldo Márquez stood up and put his sidearms on the table.

“Report to the barracks,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía ordered him. “Put yourself at the disposition of the revolutionary court.”

Then he signed the declaration and gave the sheets of paper to the emissaries, saying to them:

“Here an your papers, gentlemen. I hope you can get some advantage out of them.”

Two days later, Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, accused of high treason, was condemned to death. Lying in his hammock, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was insensible to the pleas for clemency. On the eve of the execution, disobeying the order not to bother him, Úrsula visited him in his bedroom. Encased in black, invested with a rare solemnity, she stood during the three minutes of the interview. “I know that you’re going to shoot Gerineldo,” she said calmly, “and that I can’t do anything to stop it. But I give you one warning: as soon as I see his body I swear to you by the bones of my father and mother, by the memory of José Arcadio Buendía, I swear to you before God that I will drag you out from wherever you’re hiding and kill you with my own two hands.” Before leaving the room, without waiting for any reply, she concluded: “It’s the same as if you’d been born with the tail of a pig.”

During that interminable night while Colonel Gerineldo Márquez thought about his dead afternoons in Amaranta’s sewing room, Colonel Aureliano Buendía scratched for many hours trying to break the hard shell of his solitude. His only happy moments, since that remote afternoon when his father had taken him to see ice, had taken place in his silver workshop where he passed the time putting little gold fishes together. He had had to start thirty-two wars and had had to violate all of his pacts with death and wallow like a hog in the dungheap of glory in order to discover the privileges of simplicity almost forty years late.

At dawn, worn out by the tormented vigil, he appeared in the cell an hour before the execution. “The farce is over, old friend,” he said to Colonel Gerineldo Márquez. “Let’s get out of here before the mosquitoes in here execute you.” Colonel Gerineldo Márquez could not repress the disdain that was inspired in him by that attitude.

“No, Aureliano,” he replied. “I’d rather be dead than see you changed into a bloody tyrant.”

“You won’t see me,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía said. “Put on your shoes and help me get this shitty war over with.”

When he said it he did not know that it was easier to start a war than to end one. It took him almost a year of fierce and bloody effort to force the government to propose conditions of peace favorable to the rebels and another year to convince his own partisans of the convenience of accepting them. He went to inconceivable extremes of cruelty to put down the rebellion of his own officers, who resisted and called for victory, and he finally relied on enemy forces to make them submit.

He was never a greater soldier than at that time. The certainty that he was finally fighting for his own liberation and not for abstract ideals, for slogans that politicians could twist left and right according to the circumstances, filled him with an ardent enthusiasm. Colonel Gerineldo Márquez, who fought for defeat with as much conviction and loyalty as he had previously fought for victory, reproached him for his useless temerity. “Don’t worry,” he would say, smiling. “Dying is much more difficult than one imagines.” In his case it was true. The certainty that his day was assigned gave him a mysterious immunity, an immortality or a fixed period that made him invulnerable to the risks of war and in the end permitted him to win a defeat that was much more difficult, much more bloody and costly than victory.

In almost twenty years of war, Colonel Aureliano Buendía had been at his house many times, but the state of urgency with which he always arrived, the military retinue that accompanied him everywhere, the aura of legend that glowed about his presence and of which even Úrsula was aware, changed him into a stranger in the end. The last time that he was in Macondo and took a house for his three concubines, he was seen in his own house only on two or three occasions when he had the time to accept an invitation to dine. Remedios the Beauty and the twins, born during the middle of the war, scarcely knew him. Amaranta could not reconcile her image of the brother who had spent his adolescence making little gold fishes with that of the mythical warrior who had placed a distance of ten feet between himself and the rest of humanity. But when the approach of the armistice became known and they thought that he would return changed back into a human being, delivered at last for the hearts of his own people, the family feelings, dormant for such a long time, were reborn stronger than ever.

“We’ll finally have a man in the house again,” Úrsula said.

Amaranta was the first to suspect that they had lost him forever. One week before the armistice, when he entered the house without an escort, preceded by two barefoot orderlies who deposited on the porch the saddle from the mule and the trunk of poetry, all that was left of his former imperial baggage, she saw him pass by the sewing room and she called to him. Colonel Aureliano Buendía had trouble recognizing her.

“It’s Amaranta,” she said good-humoredly, happy at his return, and she showed him the hand with the black bandage. “Look.”

Colonel Aureliano Buendía smiled at her the same way as when he had first seen her with the bandage on that remote morning when he had come back to Macondo condemned to death.

“How awful,” he said, “the way time passes!”

The regular army had to protect the house. He arrived amid insults, spat upon, accused of having accelerated the war in order to sell it for a better price. He was trembling with fever and cold and his armpits were studded with sores again. Six months before, when she had heard talk about the armistice, Úrsula had opened up and swept out the bridal chamber and had burned myrrh in the corners, thinking that he would come back ready to grow old slowly among Remedios’ musty dolls. But actually, during the last two years he had paid his final dues to life, including growing old. When he passed by the silver shop, which Úrsula had prepared with special diligence, he did not even notice that the keys were in the lock. He did not notice the minute, tearing destruction that time had wreaked on the house and that, after such a prolonged absence, would have looked like a disaster to any man who had kept his memories alive. He was not pained by the peeling of the whitewash on the walls or the dirty, cottony cobwebs in the corners or the dust on the begonias or the veins left on the beams by the termites or the moss on the hinges or any of the insidious traps that nostalgia offered him. He sat down on the porch, wrapped in his blanket and with his boots still on, as if only waiting for it to clear, and he spent the whole afternoon watching it rain on the begonias. Úrsula understood then that they would not have him home for long. “If it’s not the war,” she thought, “it can only be death.” It was a supposition that was so neat, so convincing that she identified it as a premonition.

That night, at dinner, the supposed Aureliano Segundo broke his bread with his right hand and drank his soup with his left. His twin brother, the supposed José Arcadio Segundo, broke his bread with his left hand and drank his soup with his right. So precise was their coordination that they did not look like two brothers sitting opposite each other but like a trick with mirrors. The spectacle that the twins had invented when they became aware that they were equal was repeated in honor of the new arrival. But Colonel Aureliano Buendía did not notice it. He seemed so alien to everything that he did not even notice Remedios the Beauty as she passed by naked on her way to her bedroom. Úrsula was the only one who dared disturb his, abstraction.

“If you have to go away again,” she said halfway through dinner, “at least try to remember how we were tonight.”

Then Colonel Aureliano Buendía realized, without surprise, that Úrsula was the only human being who had succeeded in penetrating his misery, and for the first time in many years he looked her in the face. Her skin was leathery, her teeth decayed, her hair faded and colorless, and her look frightened. He compared her with the oldest memory that he had of her, the afternoon when he had the premonition that a pot of boiling soup was going to fall off the table, and he found her broken to pieces. In an instant he discovered the scratches, the welts, the sores, the ulcers, and the scan that had been left on her by more than half a century of daily life, and he saw that those damages did not even arouse a feeling of pity in him. Then he made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away and he could not find it. On another occasion, he felt at least a confused sense of shame when he found the smell of Úrsula on his own skin, and more than once he felt her thoughts interfering with his. But all of that had been wiped out by the war. Even Remedios, his wife, at that moment was a hazy image of someone who might have been his daughter. The countless women he had known on the desert of love and who had spread his seed all along the coast had left no trace in his feelings. Most of them had come into his room in the dark and had left before dawn, and on the following day they were nothing but a touch of fatigue in his bodily memory. The only affection that prevailed against time and the war was that which he had felt for his brother José Arcadio when they both were children, and it was not based on love but on complicity.

“I’m sorry,” he excused himself from Úrsula’s request. “It’s just that the war has done away with everything.”

During the following days he busied himself destroying all trace of his passage through the world. He stripped the silver shop until all that were left were impersonal objects, he gave his clothes away to the orderlies, and he buried his weapons in the courtyard with the same feeling of penance with which his father had buried the spear that had killed Prudencio Aguilar. He kept only one pistol with one bullet in it. Úrsula did not intervene. The only time she dissuaded him was when he was about to destroy the daguerreotype of Remedios that was kept in the parlor lighted by an eternal lamp. “That picture stopped belonging to you a long time ago,” she told him. “It’s a family relic.” On the eve of the armistice, when no single object that would let him be remembered was left in the house, he took the trunk of poetry to the bakery when Santa Sofía de la Piedad was making ready to light the oven.

“Light it with this,” he told her, handing her the first roll of yellowish papers. “It will, burn better because they’re very old things.”

Santa Sofía de la Piedad, the silent one, the condescending one, the one who never contradicted anyone, not even her own children, had the impression that it was a forbidden act.

“They’re important papers,” she said.

“Nothing of the sort,” the colonel said. “They’re things that a person writes to himself.”

“In that case,” she said, “you burn them, colonel.”

He not only did that, but he broke up the trunk with a hatchet and threw the pieces into the fire. Hours before, Pilar Ternera had come to visit him. After so many years of not seeing her, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was startled at how old and fat she had become and how much she had lost of the splendor of her laugh, but he was also startled at the depths she had reached in her reading of the cards. “Watch out for your mouth,” she told him, and he wondered whether the other time she had told him that during the height of his glory it had not been a surprisingly anticipated vision of his fate. A short time later, when his personal physician finished removing his sores, he asked him, without showing any particular interest, where the exact location of his heart was. The doctor listened with his stethoscope and then painted a circle on his cheat with a piece of cotton dipped in iodine.

The Tuesday of the armistice dawned warm and rainy. Colonel Aureliano Buendía appeared in the kitchen before five o’clock and had his usual black coffee without sugar. “You came into the world on a day like this,” Úrsula told him. “Everybody was amazed at your open eyes.” He did not pay any attention because he was listening to the forming of the troops, the sound of the comets, and the voices of command that were shattering the dawn. Even though after so many years of war they should have sounded familiar to him this time he felt the same weakness in his knees and the same tingling in his skin that he had felt in his youth in the presence of a naked woman. He thought confusedly, finally captive in a trap of nostalgia, that perhaps if he had married her he would have been a man without war and without glory, a nameless artisan, a happy animal. That tardy shudder which had not figured in his forethought made his breakfast bitter. At seven in the morning, when Colonel Gerineldo Márquez came to fetch him, in the company of a group of rebel officers, he found him more taciturn than ever, more pensive and solitary. Úrsula tried to throw a new wrap over his shoulders. “What will the government think,” she told him. “They’ll figure that you’ve surrendered because you didn’t have anything left to buy a cloak with.” But he would not accept it. When he was at the door, he let her put an old felt hat of José Arcadio Buendía’s on his head.

“Aureliano,” Úrsula said to him then, “Promise me that if you find that it’s a bad hour for you there that you’ll think of your mother.”

He gave her a distant smile, raising his hand with all his fingers extended, and without saying a word he left the house and faced the shouts, insults, and blasphemies that would follow him until he left the town. Úrsula put the bar on the door, having decided not to take it down for the rest of her life. “We’ll rot in here,” she thought. “We’ll turn to ashes in this house without men, but we won’t give this miserable town the pleasure of seeing us weep.” She spent the whole morning looking for a memory of her son in the most hidden corners, but she could find none.

The ceremony took place fifteen miles from Macondo in the shade of a gigantic ceiba tree around which the town of Neerlandia would be founded later. The delegates from the government and the party and the commission of the rebels who were laying down their arms were served by a noisy group of novices in white habits who looked like a flock of doves that had been frightened by the rain. Colonel Aureliano Buendía arrived on a muddy mule. He had not shaved, more tormented by the pain of the sores than by the great failure of his dreams, for he had reached the end of all hope, beyond glory and the nostalgia of glory. In accordance with his arrangements there was no music, no fireworks, no pealing bells, no shouts of victory, or any other manifestation that might alter the mournful character of the armistice. An itinerant photographer who took the only picture of him that could have been preserved was forced to smash his plates without developing them.

The ceremony lasted only the time necessary to sign the documents. Around the rustic table placed in the center of a patched circus tent where the delegates sat were the last officers who were faithful to Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Before taking the signatures, the personal delegate of the president of the republic tried to read the act of surrender aloud, but Colonel Aureliano Buendía was against it. “Let’s not waste time on formalities,” he said and prepared to sign the papers without reading them. One of his officers then broke the soporific silence of the tent.

“Colonel,” he said, “please do us the favor of not being the first to sign.”

Colonel Aureliano Buendía acceded. When the documents went all around the table, in the midst of a silence that was so pure that one could have deciphered the signatures from the scratching of the pen on the paper, the first line was still blank. Colonel Aureliano Buendía prepared to fill it.

“Colonel,” another of his officers said, “there’s still time for everything to come out right.”

Without changing his expression, Colonel Aureliano Buendía signed the first copy. He had not finished signing the last one when a rebel colonel appeared in the doorway leading a mule carrying two chests. In spite of his entire youth he had a dry look and a patient expression. He was the treasurer of the revolution in the Macondo region. He had made a difficult journey of six days, pulling along the mule, who was dying of hunger, in order to arrive at the armistice on time. With an exasperating parsimony he took down the chests, opened them, and placed on the table, one by one, seventy-two gold bricks, Everyone had forgotten about the existence of that fortune. In the disorder of the past year, when the central command fell apart and the revolution degenerated into a bloody rivalry of leaders, it was impossible to determine any responsibility. The gold of the revolution, melted into blocks that were then covered with baked clay, was beyond all control. Colonel Aureliano Buendía had the seventy-two gold bricks included in the inventory of surrender and closed the ceremony without allowing any speeches. The filthy adolescent stood opposite him, looking into his eyes with his own calm, syrup-colored eyes.

“Something else?” Colonel Aureliano Buendía asked him.

The young colonel tightened his mouth.

“The receipt,” he said.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía wrote it out in his own hand. Then he had a glass of lemonade and a piece of biscuit that the novices were passing around and retired to a field tent which had been prepared for him in case he wished to rest. There he took off his shirt, sat on the edge of the cot, and at three-fifteen in the afternoon took his pistol and shot himself in the iodine circle that his personal physician had painted on his chest. At that moment in Macondo Úrsula took the cover off the pot of milk on the stove, wondering why it was taking so long to boil, and found it full of worms.

“They’ve killed Aureliano,” she exclaimed.

She looked toward the courtyard, obeying a habit of her solitude, and then she saw José Arcadio Buendía, soaking wet and sad in the rain and much older than when he had died. “They shot him in the back,” Úrsula said more precisely, “and no one was charitable enough to close his eyes.” At dusk through her tears she saw the swift and luminous disks that crossed the sky like an exhalation and she thought that it was a signal of death. She was still under the chestnut tree, sobbing at her husband’s knees, when they brought in Colonel Aureliano Buendía, wrapped in a blanket that was stiff with dry blood and with his eyes open in rage.

He was out of danger. The bullet had followed such a neat path that the doctor was able to put a cord soaked in iodine in through the chest and withdraw it from the back. “That was my masterpiece,” he said with satisfaction. “It was the only point where a bullet could pass through without harming any vital organ.” Colonel Aureliano Buendía saw himself surrounded by charitable novices who intoned desperate psalms for the repose of his soul and then he was sorry that he had not shot himself in the roof of the mouth as he had considered doing if only to mock the prediction of Pilar Ternera.

“If I still had the authority,” he told the doctor, “I’d have you shot out of hand. Not for having saved my life but for having made a fool of me.”

The failure of his death brought back his lost prestige in a few hours. The same people who invented the story that he had sold the war for a room with walls made of gold bricks defined the attempt at suicide as an act of honor and proclaimed him a martyr. Then, when he rejected the Order of Merit awarded him by the president of the republic, even his most bitter enemies filed through the room asking him to withdraw recognition of the armistice and to start a new war. The house was filled with gifts meant as amends. Impressed finally by the massive support of his former comrades in arms, Colonel Aureliano Buendía did not put aside the possibility of pleasing them. On the contrary, at a certain moment he seemed so enthusiastic with the idea of a new war that Colonel Gerineldo Márquez thought that he was only waiting for a pretext to proclaim it. The pretext was offered, in fact, when the president of the republic refused to award any military pensions to former combatants, Liberal or Conservative, until each case was examined by a special commission and the award approved by the congress. “That’s an outrage,” thundered Colonel Aureliano Buendía. “They’ll die of old age waiting for the mail to come.” For the first time he left the rocker that Úrsula had bought for his convalescence, and, walking about the bedroom, he dictated a strong message to the president of the republic. In that telegram which was never made public, he denounced the first violation of the Treaty of Neerlandia and threatened to proclaim war to the death if the assignment of pensions was not resolved within two weeks. His attitude was so just that it allowed him to hope even for the support of former Conservative combatants. But the only reply from the government was the reinforcement of the military guard that had been placed at the door of his house with the pretext of protecting him, and the prohibition of all types of visits, Similar methods were adopted all through the country with other leaders who bore watching. It was an operation that was so timely, drastic, and effective that two months after the armistice, when Colonel Aureliano Buendía had recovered, his most dedicated conspirators were dead or exiled or had been assimilated forever into public administration.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía left his room in December and it was sufficient for him to look at the porch in order not to think about war again. With a vitality that seemed impossible at her age, Úrsula had rejuvenated the house again. “Now they’re going to see who I am,” she said when she saw that her son was going to live. “There won’t be a better, more open house in all the world than this madhouse.” She had it washed and painted, changed the furniture, restored the garden and planted new flowers, and opened doors and windows so that the dazzling light of summer would penetrate even into the bedrooms. She decreed an end to the numerous superimposed periods of mourning and she herself exchanged her rigorous old gowns for youthful clothing. The music of the pianola again made the house merry. When she heard it, Amaranta thought of Pietro Crespi, his evening gardenia, and his smell of lavender, and in the depths of her withered heart a clean rancor flourished, purified by time. One afternoon when she was trying to put the parlor in order, Úrsula asked for the help of the soldiers who were guarding the house. The young commander of the guard gave them permission. Little by little, Úrsula began assigning them new chores. She invited them to eat, gave them clothing and shoes, and taught them how to read and write. When the government withdrew the guard, one of them continued living in the house and was in her service for many years. On New Year’s Day, driven mad by rebuffs from Remedios the Beauty, the young commander of the guard was found dead under her window.

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