WHEN THE PIRATE Sir Francis Drake attacked Riohacha in the sixteenth century, ?rsula Iguar?n’s great-great-grandmother became so frightened with the ringing of alarm bells and the firing of cannons that she lost control of her nerves and sat down on a lighted stove. The burns changed her into a useless wife for the rest of her days. She could only sit on one side, cushioned by pillows, and something strange must have happened to her way of walking, for she never walked again in public. She gave up all kinds of social activity, obsessed with the notion that her body gave off a singed odor. Dawn would find her in the courtyard, for she did not dare fall asleep lest she dream of the English and their ferocious attack dogs as they came through the windows of her bedroom to submit her to shameful tortures with their red-hot irons. Her husband, an Aragonese merchant by whom she had two children, spent half the value of his store on medicines and pastimes in an attempt to alleviate her terror. Finally he sold the business and took the family to live far from the sea in a settlement of peaceful Indians located in the foothills, where he built his wife a bedroom without windows so that the pirates of her dream would have no way to get in.
In that hidden village there was a native-born tobacco planter who had lived there for some time, Don Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, with whom ?rsula’s great-great-grandfather established a partnership that was so lucrative that within a few years they made a fortune. Several centuries later the great-great-grandson of the native-born planter married the great-great-granddaughter of the Aragonese. Therefore, every time that ?rsula became exercised over her husband’s mad ideas, she would leap back over three hundred years of fate and curse the day that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha. It was simply a way. of giving herself some relief, because actually they were joined till death by a bond that was more solid that love: a common prick of conscience. They were cousins. They had grown up together in the old village that both of their ancestors, with their work and their good habits, had transformed into one of the finest towns in the province. Although their marriage was predicted from the time they had come into the world, when they expressed their desire to be married their own relatives tried to stop it. They were afraid that those two healthy products of two races that had interbred over the centuries would suffer the shame of breeding iguanas. There had already been a horrible precedent. An aunt of ?rsula’s, married to an uncle of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, had a son who went through life wearing loose, baggy trousers and who bled to death after having lived forty-two years in the purest state of virginity, for he had been born and had grown up with a cartilaginous tail in the shape of a corkscrew and with a small tuft of hair on the tip. A pig’s tail that was never allowed to be seen by any woman and that cost him his life when a butcher friend did him the favor of chopping it off with his cleaver. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, with the whimsy of his nineteen years, resolved the problem with a single phrase: “I don’t care if I have piglets as long as they can talk.” So they were married amidst a festival of fireworks and a brass band that went on for three days. They would have been happy from then on if ?rsula’s mother had not terrified her with all manner of sinister predictions about their offspring, even to the extreme of advising her to refuse to consummate the marriage. Fearing that her stout and willful husband would rape her while she slept, ?rsula, before going to bed, would put on a rudimentary kind of drawers that her mother had made out of sailcloth and had reinforced with a system of crisscrossed leather straps and that was closed in the front by a thick iron buckle. That was how they lived for several months. During the day he would take care of his fighting cocks and she would do frame embroidery with her mother. At night they would wrestle for several hours in an anguished violence that seemed to be a substitute for the act of love, until popular intuition got a whiff of something irregular and the rumor spread that ?rsula was still a virgin a year after her marriage because her husband was impotent. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a was the last one to hear the rumor.
“Look at what people are going around saying, ?rsula,” he told his wife very calmly.
“Let them talk,” she said. “We know that it’s not true.”
So the situation went on the same way for another six months until that tragic Sunday when Jos? Arcadio Buend?a won a cockfight from Prudencio Aguilar. Furious, aroused by the blood of his bird, the loser backed away from Jos? Arcadio Buend?a so that everyone in the cockpit could hear what he was going to tell him.
“Congratulations!” he shouted. “Maybe that rooster of yours can do your wife a favor.”
Jos? Arcadio Buend?a serenely picked up his rooster. “I’ll be right back,” he told everyone. And then to Prudencio Aguilar:
“You go home and get a weapon, because I’m going to kill you.”
Ten minutes later he returned with the notched spear that had belonged to his grandfather. At the door to the cockpit, where half the town had gathered, Prudencio Aguilar was waiting for him. There was no time to defend himself. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a’s spear, thrown with the strength of a bull and with the same good aim with which the first Aureliano Buend?a had exterminated the jaguars in the region, pierced his throat. That night, as they held a wake over the corpse in the cockpit, Jos? Arcadio Buend?a went into the bedroom as his wife was putting on her chastity pants. Pointing the spear at her he ordered: “Take them off.” ?rsula had no doubt about her husband’s decision. “You’ll be responsible for what happens,” she murmured. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a stuck the spear into the dirt floor.
“If you bear iguanas, we’ll raise iguanas,” he said. “But there’ll be no more killings in this town because of you.”
It was a fine June night, cool and with a moon, and they were awake and frolicking in bed until dawn, indifferent to the breeze that passed through the bedroom, loaded with the weeping of Prudencio Aguilar’s kin.
The matter was put down as a duel of honor, but both of them were left with a twinge in their conscience. One night, when she could not sleep, ?rsula went out into the courtyard to get some water and she saw Prudencio Aguilar by the water jar. He was livid, a sad expression on his face, trying to cover the hole in his throat with a plug made of esparto grass. It did not bring on fear in her, but pity. She went back to the room and told her husband what she had seen, but he did not think much of it. “This just means that we can’t stand the weight of our conscience.” Two nights later ?rsula saw Prudencio Aguilar again, in the bathroom, using the esparto plug to wash the clotted blood from his throat. On another night she saw him strolling in the rain. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, annoyed by his wife’s hallucinations, went out into the courtyard armed with the spear. There was the dead man with his sad expression.
“You go to hell,” Jos? Arcadio Buend?a shouted at him. “Just as many times as you come back, I’ll kill you again.”
Prudencio Aguilar did not go away, nor did Jos? Arcadio Buend?a dare throw the spear. He never slept well after that. He was tormented by the immense desolation with which the dead man had looked at him through the rain, his deep nostalgia as he yearned for living people, the anxiety with which he searched through the house looking for some water with which to soak his esparto plug. “He must be suffering a great deal,” he said to ?rsula. “You can see that he’s so very lonely.” She was so moved that the next time she saw the dead man uncovering the pots on the stove she understood what he was looking for, and from then on she placed water jugs all about the house. One night when he found him washing his wound in his own room, Jos? Anedio Buend?a could no longer resist.
“It’s all right, Prudencio,” he told him. “We’re going to leave this town, just as far away as we can go, and we’ll never come back. Go in peace now.”
That was how they undertook the crossing of the mountains. Several friends of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, young men like him, excited, by the adventure, dismantled their houses and packed up, along with their wives and children, to head toward the land that no one had promised them. Before he left, Jos? Arcadio Buend?a buried the spear in the courtyard and, one after the other, he cut the throats of his magnificent fighting cocks, trusting that in that way he could give some measure of peace to Prudencio Aguilar. All that ?rsula took along were a trunk with her bridal clothes, a few household utensils, and the small chest with the gold pieces that she had inherited from her father. They did not lay out any definite itinerary. They simply tried to go in a direction opposite to the road to Riohacha so that they would not leave any trace or meet any people they knew. It was an absurd journey. After fourteen months, her stomach corrupted by monkey meat and snake stew, ?rsula gave birth to a son who had all of his features human. She had traveled half of the trip in a hammock that two men carried on their shoulders, because swelling had disfigured her legs and her varicose veins had puffed up like bubbles. Although it was pitiful to see them with their sunken stomachs and languid eyes, the children survived the journey better than their parents, and most of the time it was fun for them. One morning, after almost two years of crossing, they became the first mortals to see the western slopes of the mountain range. From the cloudy summit they saw the immense aquatic expanse of the great swamp as it spread out toward the other side of the world. But they never found the sea. One night, after several months of lost wandering through the swamps, far away now from the last Indians they had met on their way, they camped on the banks of a stony river whose waters were like a torrent of frozen glass. Years later, during the second civil war, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a tried to follow that same route in order to take Riohacha by surprise and after six days of traveling he understood that it was madness. Nevertheless, the night on which they camped beside the river, his father’s host had the look of shipwrecked people with no escape, but their number had grown during the crossing and they were all prepared (and they succeeded) to die of old age. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a dreamed that night that right there a noisy city with houses having mirror wails rose up. He asked what city it was and they answered him with a name that he had never heard, that had no meaning at all, but that had a supernatural echo in his dream: Macondo. On the following day he convinced his men that they would never find the sea. He ordered them to cut down the trees to make a clearing beside the river, at the coolest spot on the bank, and there they founded the village.
Jos? Arcadio Buend?a did not succeed in deciphering the dream of houses with mirror walls until the day he discovered ice. Then he thought he understood its deep meaning. He thought that in the near future they would be able to manufacture blocks of ice on a large scale from such a common material as water and with them build the new houses of the village. Macondo would no longer be a burning place, where the hinges and door knockers twisted with the heat, but would be changed into a wintry city. If he did not persevere in his attempts to build an ice factory, it was because at that time he was absolutely enthusiastic over the education of his sons, especially that of Aureliano, who from the first had revealed a strange intuition for alchemy. The laboratory had been dusted off. Reviewing Melqu?ades’ notes, serene now, without the exaltation of novelty, in prolonged and patient sessions they tried to separate ?rsula’s gold from the debris that was stuck to the bottom of the pot. Young Jos? Arcadio scarcely took part in the process. While his father was involved body and soul with his water pipe, the willful first-born, who had always been too big for his age, had become a monumental adolescent. His voice had changed. An incipient fuzz appeared on his upper lip. One night, as ?rsula went into the room where he was undressing to go to bed, she felt a mingled sense of shame and pity: he was the first man that she had seen naked after her husband, and he was so well-equipped for life that he seemed abnormal. ?rsula, pregnant for the third time, relived her newlywed terror.
Around that time a merry, foul-mouthed, provocative woman came to the house to help with the chorea, and she knew how to read the future in cards. ?rsula spoke to her about her son. She thought that his disproportionate size was something as unnatural as her cousin’s tail of a pig. The woman let out an expansive laugh that resounded through the house like a spray of broken glass. “Just the opposite,” she said. “He’ll be very lucky.” In order to confirm her prediction she brought her cards to the house a few days later and locked herself up with Jos? Arcadio in a granary off the kitchen. She calmly placed her cards on an old carpenter’s bench. saying anything that came into her head, while the boy waited beside her, more bored than intrigued. Suddenly she reached out her hand and touched him. “Lordy!” she said, sincerely startled, and that was all she could say. Jos? Arcadio felt his bones filling up with foam, a languid fear, and a terrible desire to weep. The woman made no insinuations. But Jos? Arcadio kept looking for her all night long, for the smell of smoke that she had under her armpits and that had got caught under his skin. He wanted to be with her all the time, he wanted her to be his mother, for them never to leave the granary, and for her to say “Lordy!” to him. One day he could not stand it any more and. he went looking for her at her house: He made a formal visit, sitting uncomprehendingly in the living room without saying a word. At that moment he had no desire for her. He found her different, entirely foreign to the image that her smell brought on, as if she were someone else. He drank his coffee and left the house in depression. That night, during the frightful time of lying awake, he desired her again with a brutal anxiety, but he did not want her that time as she had been in the granary but as she had been that afternoon.
Days later the woman suddenly called him to her house, where she was alone with her mother, and she had him come into the bedroom with the pretext of showing him a deck of cards. Then she touched him with such freedom that he suffered a delusion after the initial shudder, and he felt more fear than pleasure. She asked him to come and see her that night. He agreed. in order to get away, knowing that he was incapable of going. But that night, in his burning bed, he understood that he had to go we her, even if he were not capable. He got dressed by feel, listening in the dark to his brother’s calm breathing, the dry cough of his father in the next room, the asthma of the hens in the courtyard, the buzz of the mosquitoes, the beating of his heart, and the inordinate bustle of a world that he had not noticed until then, and he went out into the sleeping street. With all his heart he wanted the door to be barred and not just closed as she had promised him. But it was open. He pushed it with the tips of his fingers and the hinges yielded with a mournful and articulate moan that left a frozen echo inside of him. From the moment he entered, sideways and trying not to make a noise, he caught the smell. He was still in the hallway, where the woman’s three brothers had their hammocks in positions that he could not see and that he could not determine in the darkness as he felt his way along the hall to push open the bedroom door and get his bearings there so as not to mistake the bed. He found it. He bumped against the ropes of the hammocks, which were lower than he had suspected, and a man who had been snoring until then turned in his sleep and said in a kind of delusion, “It was Wednesday.” When he pushed open the bedroom door, he could not prevent it from scraping against the uneven floor. Suddenly, in the absolute darkness, he understood with a hopeless nostalgia that he was completely disoriented. Sleeping in the narrow room were the mother, another daughter with her husband and two children, and the woman, who may not have been there. He could have guided himself by the smell if the smell had not been all over the house, so devious and at the same time so definite, as it had always been on his skin. He did not move for a long time, wondering in fright how he had ever got to that abyss of abandonment, when a hand with all its fingers extended and feeling about in the darkness touched his face. He was not surprised, for without knowing, he had been expecting it. Then he gave himself over to that hand, and in a terrible state of exhaustion he let himself be led to a shapeless place where his clothes were taken off and he was heaved about like a sack of potatoes and thrown from one side to the other in a bottomless darkness in which his arms were useless, where it no longer smelled of woman but of ammonia, and where he tried to remember her face and found before him the face of ?rsula, confusedly aware that he was doing something that for a very long time he had wanted to do but that he had imagined could really never be done, not knowing what he was doing because he did not know where his feet were or where his head was, or whose feet or whose head, and feeling that he could no longer resist the glacial rumbling of his kidneys and the air of his intestines, and fear, and the bewildered anxiety to flee and at the same time stay forever in that exasperated silence and that fearful solitude.
Her name was Pilar Ternera. She had been part of the exodus that ended with the founding of Macondo, dragged along by her family in order to separate her from the man who had raped her at fourteen and had continued to love her until she was twenty-two, but who never made up his mind to make the situation public because he was a man apart. He promised to follow her to the ends of the earth, but only later on, when he put his affairs in order, and she had become tired of waiting for him, always identifying him with the tall and short, blond and brunet men that her cards promised from land and sea within three days, three months, or three years. With her waiting she had lost the strength of her thighs, the firmness of her breasts, her habit of tenderness, but she kept the madness of her heart intact. Maddened by that prodigious plaything, Jos? Arcadio followed her path every night through the labyrinth of the room. On a certain occasion he found the door barred, and he knocked several times, knowing that if he had the boldness to knock the first time he would have had to knock until the last, and after an interminable wait she opened the door for him. During the day, lying down to dream, he would secretly enjoy the memories of the night before. But when she came into the house, merry, indifferent, chatty, he did not have to make any effort to hide his tension, because that woman, whose explosive laugh frightened off the doves, had nothing to do with the invisible power that taught him how to breathe from within and control his heartbeats, and that had permitted him to understand why man are afraid of death. He was so wrapped up in himself that he did not even understand the joy of everyone when his father and his brother aroused the household with the news that they had succeeded in penetrating the metallic debris and had separated ?rsula’s gold.
They had succeeded, as a matter of fact, after putting in complicated and persevering days at it. ?rsula was happy, and she even gave thanks to God for the invention of alchemy, while the people of the village crushed into the laboratory, and they served them guava jelly on crackers to celebrate the wonder, and Jos? Arcadio Buend?a let them see the crucible with the recovered gold, as if he had just invented it. Showing it all around, he ended up in front of his older son, who during the past few days had barely put in an appearance in the laboratory. He put the dry and yellowish mass in front of his eyes and asked him: “What does it look like to you?” Jos? Arcadio answered sincerely:
His father gave him a blow with the back of his hand that brought out blood and tears. That night Pilar Ternera put arnica compresses on the swelling, feeling about for the bottle and cotton in the dark, and she did everything she wanted with him as long as it did not bother him, making an effort to love him without hurting him. They reached such a state of intimacy that later, without realizing it, they were whispering to each other.
“I want to be alone with you,” he said. “One of these days I’m going to tell everybody and we can stop all of this sneaking around.”
She did not try to calm him down.
“That would be fine,” she said “If we’re alone, we’ll leave the lamp lighted so that we can see each other, and I can holler as much as I want without anybody’s having to butt in, and you can whisper in my ear any crap you can think of.”
That conversation, the biting rancor that he felt against his father, and the imminent possibility of wild love inspired a serene courage in him. In a spontaneous way, without any preparation, he told everything to his brother.
At first young Aureliano understood only the risk, the immense possibility of danger that his brother’s adventures implied, and he could not understand the fascination of the subject. Little by little he became contaminated with the anxiety. He wondered about the details of the dangers, he identified himself with the suffering and enjoyment of his brother, he felt frightened and happy. He would stay awake waiting for him until dawn in the solitary bed that seemed to have a bottom of live coals, and they would keep on talking until it was time to get up, so that both of them soon suffered from the same drowsiness, felt the same lack of interest in alchemy and the wisdom of their father, and they took refuge in solitude. “Those kids are out of their heads,” ?rsula said. “They must have worms.” She prepared a repugnant potion for them made out of mashed wormseed, which they both drank with unforeseen stoicism, and they sat down at the same time on their pots eleven times in a single day, expelling some rose-colored parasites that they showed to everybody with great jubilation, for it allowed them to deceive ?rsula as to the origin of their distractions and drowsiness. Aureliano not only understood by then, he also lived his brother’s experiences as something of his own, for on one occasion when the latter was explaining in great detail the mechanism of love, he interrupted him to ask: “What does it feel like?” Jos? Arcadio gave an immediate reply:
“It’s like an earthquake.”
One January Thursday at two o’clock in the morning, Amaranta was born. Before anyone came into the room, ?rsula examined her carefully. She was light and watery, like a newt, but all of her parts were human: Aureliano did not notice the new thing except when the house became full of people. Protected by the confusion, he went off in search of his brother, who had not been in bed since eleven o’clock, and it was such an impulsive decision that he did not even have time to ask himself how he could get him out of Pilar Ternera’s bedroom. He circled the house for several hours, whistling private calls, until the proximity of dawn forced him to go home. In his mother’s room, playing with the newborn little sister and with a face that drooped with innocence, he found Jos? Arcadio.
?rsula was barely over her forty days’ rest when the gypsies returned. They were the same acrobats and jugglers that had brought the ice. Unlike Melqu?ades’ tribe, they had shown very quickly that they were not heralds of progress but purveyors of amusement. Even when they brought the ice they did not advertise it for its usefulness in the life of man but as a simple circus curiosity. This time, along with many other artifices, they brought a flying carpet. But they did not offer it as a fundamental contribution to the development of transport, rather as an object of recreation. The people at once dug up their last gold pieces to take advantage of a quick flight over the houses of the village. Protected by the delightful cover of collective disorder, Jos? Arcadio and Pilar passed many relaxing hours. They were two happy lovers among the crowd, and they even came to suspect that love could be a feeling that was more relaxing and deep than the happiness, wild but momentary, of their secret nights. Pilar, however, broke the spell. Stimulated by the enthusiasm that Jos? Arcadio showed in her companionship, she confused the form and the occasion, and all of a sudden she threw the whole world on top of him. “Now you really are a man,” she told him. And since he did not understand what she meant, she spelled it out to him.
“You’re going to be a father.”
Jos? Arcadio did not dare leave the house for several days. It was enough for him to hear the rocking laughter of Pilar in the kitchen to run and take refuge in the laboratory, where the artifacts of alchemy had come alive again with ?rsula’s blessing. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a received his errant son with joy and initiated him in the search for the philosopher’s stone, which he had finally undertaken. One afternoon the boys grew enthusiastic over the flying carpet that went swiftly by the laboratory at window level carrying the gypsy who was driving it and several children from the village who were merrily waving their hands, but Jos? Arcadio Buend?a did not even look at it. “Let them dream,” he said. “We’ll do better flying than they are doing, and with more scientific resources than a miserable bedspread.” In spite of his feigned interest, Jos? Arcadio must understood the powers of the philosopher’s egg, which to him looked like a poorly blown bottle. He did not succeed in escaping from his worries. He lost his appetite and he could not sleep. He fell into an ill humor, the same as his father’s over the failure of his undertakings, and such was his upset that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a himself relieved him of his duties in the laboratory, thinking that he had taken alchemy too much to heart. Aureliano, of course, understood that his brother’s affliction did not have its source in the search for the philosopher’s stone but he could not get into his confidence. He had lost his former spontaneity. From an accomplice and a communicative person he had become withdrawn and hostile. Anxious for solitude, bitten by a virulent rancor against the world, one night he left his bed as usual, but he did not go to Pilar Ternera’s house, but to mingle is the tumult of the fair. After wandering about among all kinds of contraptions with out becoming interested in any of them, he spotted something that was not a part of it all: a very young gypsy girl, almost a child, who was weighted down by beads and was the most beautiful woman that Jos? Arcadio had ever seen in his life. She was in the crowd that was witnessing the sad spectacle of the man who had been turned into a snake for having disobeyed his parents.
Jos? Arcadio paid no attention. While the sad interrogation of the snake-man was taking place, he made his way through the crowd up to the front row, where the gypsy girl was, and he stooped behind her. He pressed against her back. The girl tried to separate herself, but Jos? Arcadio pressed more strongly against her back. Then she felt him. She remained motionless against him, trembling with surprise and fear, unable to believe the evidence, and finally she turned her head and looked at him with a tremulous smile. At that instant two gypsies put the snake-man into his cage and carried him into the tent. The gypsy who was conducting the show announced:
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to show the terrible test of the woman who must have her head chopped off every night at this time for one hundred and fifty years as punishment for having seen what she should not have.”
Jos? Arcadio and the gypsy girl did not witness the decapitation. They went to her tent, where they kissed each other with a desperate anxiety while they took off their clothes. The gypsy girl removed the starched lace corsets she had on and there she was, changed into practically nothing. She was a languid little frog, with incipient breasts and legs so thin that they did not even match the size of Jos? Arcadio’s arms, but she had a decision and a warmth that compensated for her fragility. Nevertheless, Jos? Arcadio could not respond to her because they were in a kind of public tent where the gypsies passed through with their circus things and did their business, and would even tarry by the bed for a game of dice. The lamp hanging from the center pole lighted the whole place up. During a pause in the caresses, Jos? Arcadio stretched out naked on the bed without knowing what to do, while the girl tried to inspire him. A gypsy woman with splendid flesh came in a short time after accompanied by a man who was not of the caravan but who was not from the village either, and they both began to undress in front of the bed. Without meaning to, the woman looked at Jos? Arcadio and examined his magnificent animal in repose with a kind of pathetic fervor.
“My boy,” she exclaimed, “may God preserve you just as you are.”
Jos? Arcadio’s companion asked them to leave them alone, and the couple lay down on the ground, close to the bed. The passion of the others woke up Jos? Arcadio’s fervor. On the first contact the bones of the girl seemed to become disjointed with a disorderly crunch like the sound of a box of dominoes, and her skin broke out into a pale sweat and her eyes filled with tears as her whole body exhaled a lugubrious lament and a vague smell of mud. But she bore the impact with a firmness of character and a bravery that were admirable. Jos? Arcadio felt himself lifted up into the air toward a state of seraphic inspiration, where his heart burst forth with an outpouring of tender obscenities that entered the girl through her ears and came out of her mouth translated into her language. It was Thursday. On Saturday night, Jos? Arcadio wrapped a red cloth around his head and left with the gypsies.
When ?rsula discovered his absence she searched for him all through the village. In the remains of the gypsy camp there was nothing but a garbage pit among the still smoking ashes of the extinguished campfires. Someone who was there looking for beads among the trash told ?rsula that the night before he had seen her son in the tumult of the caravan pushing the snake-man’s cage on a cart. “He’s become a gypsy” she shouted to her husband, who had not shown the slightest sign of alarm over the disappearance.
“I hope it’s true,” Jos? Arcadio Buend?a said, grinding in his mortar the material that had been ground a thousand times and reheated and ground again. “That way he’ll learn to be a man.” ?rsula asked where the gypsies had gone. She went along asking and following the road she had been shown, thinking that she still had time to catch up to them. She kept getting farther away from the village until she felt so far away that she did not think about returning. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a did not discover that his wife was missing until eight o’clock at night, when he left the material warming in a bed of manure and went to see what was wrong with little Amaranta, who was getting hoarse from crying. In a few hours he gathered a group of well-equipped men, put Amaranta in the hands of a woman who offered to nurse her, and was lost on invisible paths in pursuit of ?rsula. Aureliano went with them. Some Indian fishermen, whose language they could not understand, told them with signs that they had not seen anyone pass. After three days of useless searching they returned to the village.
For several weeks Jos? Arcadio Buend?a let himself be overcome by consternation. He took care of little Amaranta like a mother. He bathed and dressed her, took her to be nursed four times a day, and even sang to her at night the songs that ?rsula never knew how to sing. On a certain occasion Pilar Ternera volunteered to do the household chores until ?rsula came back. Aureliano, whose mysterious intuition had become sharpened with the misfortune, felt a glow of clairvoyance when he saw her come in. Then he knew that in some inexplicable way she was to blame for his brother’s flight and the consequent disappearance of his mother, and he harassed her with a silent and implacable hostility in such a way that the woman did not return to the house.
Time put things in their place. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a and his son did not know exactly when they returned to the laboratory, dusting things, lighting the water pipe, involved once more in the patient manipulation of the material that had been sleeping for several months in its bed of manure. Even Amaranta, lying in a wicker basket, observed with curiosity the absorbing work of her father and her brother in the small room where the air was rarefied by mercury vapors. On a certain occasion, months after ?rsula’s departure, strange things began to happen. An empty flask that had been forgotten in a cupboard for a long time became so heavy that it could not be moved. A pan of water on the worktable boiled without any fire under it for a half hour until it completely evaporated. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a and his son observed those phenomena with startled excitement, unable to explain them but interpreting them as predictions of the material. One day Amaranta’s basket began to move by itself and made a complete turn about the room, to the consternation of Auerliano, who hurried to stop it. But his father did not get upset. He put the basket in its place and tied it to the leg of a table, convinced that the long-awaited event was imminent. It was on that occasion that Auerliano heard him say:
“If you don’t fear God, fear him through the metals.
Suddenly, almost five months after her disappearance, ?rsula came back. She arrived exalted, rejuvenated, with new clothes in a style that was unknown in the village. Jos? Arcadio Buend?a could barely stand up under the impact. “That was it!” he shouted. “I knew it was going to happen.” And he really believed it, for during his prolonged imprisonment as he manipulated the material, he begged in the depth of his heart that the longed-for miracle should not be the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, or the freeing of the breath that makes metals live, or the faculty to convert the hinges and the locks of the house into gold, but what had just happened: ?rsula’s return. But she did not share his excitement. She gave him a conventional kiss, as if she had been away only an hour, and she told him:
“Look out the door.”
Jos? Arcadio Buend?a took a long time to get out of his perplexity when he went out into the street and saw the crowd. They were not gypsies. They were men and women like them, with straight hair and dark skin, who spoke the same language and complained of the same pains. They had mules loaded down with things to eat, oxcarts with furniture and domestic utensils, pure and simple earthly accessories put on sale without any fuss by peddlers of everyday reality. They came from the other side of the swamp, only two days away, where there were towns that received mail every month in the year and where they were familiar with the implements of good living. ?rsula had not caught up with the gypsies, but she had found the route that her husband had been unable to discover in his frustrated search for the great inventions.