THE WAR was over in May. Two weeks before the government made the official announcement in a high-sounding proclamation, which promised merciless punishment for those who had started the rebellion, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a fell prisoner just as he was about to reach the western frontier disguised as an Indian witch doctor. Of the twenty-one men who had followed him to war, fourteen fell in combat, six were wounded, and only one accompanied him at the moment of final defeat: Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez. The news of his capture was announced in Macondo with a special proclamation. “He’s alive,” ?rsula told her husband. “Let’s pray to God for his enemies to show him clemency.” After three days of weeping, one afternoon as she was stirring some sweet milk candy in the kitchen she heard her son’s voice clearly in her ear. “It was Aureliano, “ she shouted, running toward the chestnut tree to tell her husband the news. “I don’t know how the miracle took place, but he’s alive and we’re going to see him very soon.” She took it for granted. She had the floors of the house scrubbed and changed the position of the furniture. One week later a rumor from somewhere that was not supported by any proclamation gave dramatic confirmation to the prediction. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had been condemned to death and the sentence would be carried out in Macondo as a lesson to the population. On Monday, at ten-thirty in the morning, Amaranta was dressing Aureliano Jos? when she heard the sound of a distant troop and the blast of a cornet one second before ?rsula burst into the room with the shout: “They’re bringing him now!” The troop struggled to subdue the overflowing crowd with their rifle butts. ?rsula and Amaranta ran to the corner, pushing their way through, and then they saw him. He looked like a beggar. His clothing was torn, his hair and beard were tangled, and he was barefoot. He was walking without feeling the burning dust, his hands tied behind his back with a rope that a mounted officer had attached to the head of his horse. Along with him, also ragged and defeated, they were bringing Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez. They were not sad. They seemed more disturbed by the crowd that was shouting all kinds of insults at the troops.
“My son!” ?rsula shouted in the midst of the uproar, and she slapped the soldier who tried to hold her back. The officer’s horse reared. Then Colonel Aureliano Buend?a stopped, tremulous, avoided the arms of his mother, and fixed a stern look on her eyes.
“Go home, Mama,” he said. “Get permission from the authorities to come see me in jail.”
He looked at Amaranta, who stood indecisively two steps behind ?rsula, and he smiled as he asked her, “What happened to your hand?” Amaranta raised the hand with the black bandage. “A burn,” she said, and took ?rsula away so that the horses would not run her down. The troop took off. A special guard surrounded the prisoners and took them to the jail at a trot.
At dusk ?rsula visited Colonel Aureliano Buend?a in jail. She had tried to get permission through Don Apolinar Moscote, but he had lost all authority in the face of the military omnipotence. Father Nicanor was in bed with hepatic fever. The parents of Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, who had not been condemned to death, had tried to see him and were driven off with rifle butts. Facing the impossibility of finding anyone to intervene, convinced that her son would be shot at dawn, ?rsula wrapped up the things she wanted to bring him and went to the jail alone.
“I am the mother of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a,” she announced.
The sentries blocked her way. “I’m going in in any case,” ?rsula warned them. “So if you have orders to shoot, start right in.” She pushed one of them aside and went into the former classroom, where a group of half-dressed soldiers were oiling their weapons. An officer in a field uniform, ruddy-faced, with very thick glasses and ceremonious manners, signaled to the sentries to withdraw.
“I am the mother of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a,” ?rsula repeated.
“You must mean,” the officer corrected with a friendly smile, “that you are the mother of Mister Aureliano Buend?a.” ?rsula recognized in his affected way of speaking the languid cadence of the stuck-up people from the highlands.
“As you say, mister,” she accepted, “just as long as I can see him.”
There were superior orders that prohibited visits to prisoners condemned to death, but the officer assumed the responsibility of letting her have a fifteen-minute stay. ?rsula showed him what she had in the bundle: a change of clean clothing, the short boots that her son had worn at his wedding, and the sweet milk candy that she had kept for him since the day she had sensed his return. She found Colonel Aureliano Buend?a in the room that was used as a cell, lying on a cot with his arms spread out because his armpits were paved with sores. They had allowed him to shave. The thick mustache with twisted ends accentuated the sharp angles of his cheekbones. He looked paler to ?rsula than when he had left, a little taller, and more solitary than ever. He knew all about the details of the house: Pietro Crespi’s suicide, Arcadio’s arbitrary acts and execution. the dauntlessness of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a underneath the chestnut tree. He knew that Amaranta had consecrated her virginal widowhood to the rearing of Aureliano Jos? and that the latter was beginning to show signs of quite good judgment and that he had learned to read and write at the same time he had learned to speak. From the moment In which she entered the room ?rsula felt inhibited by the maturity of her son, by his aura of command, by the glow of authority that radiated from his skin. She was surprised that he was so well-informed. “You knew all along that I was a wizard,” he joked. And he added in a serious tone, “This morning, when they brought me here, I had the impression that I had already been through all that before.” In fact, while the crowd was roaring alongside him, he had been concentrating his thoughts, startled at how the town had aged. The leaves of the almond trees were broken. The houses, painted blue, then painted red, had ended up with an indefinable coloration.
“What did you expect?” ?rsula sighed. “Time passes.”
“That’s how it goes,” Aureliano admitted, “but not so much.”
In that way the long-awaited visit, for which both had prepared questions and had even anticipated answers, was once more the usual everyday conversation. When the guard announced the end of the visit, Aureliano took out a roll of sweaty papers from under the cot. They were his poetry, the poems inspired by Remedios, which he had taken with him when he left, and those he had written later on during chance pauses in the war. “Promise me that no one will read them,” he said. “Light the oven with them this very night.” ?rsula promised and stood up to kiss him good-bye.
“I brought you a revolver,” she murmured.
Colonel Aureliano Buend?a saw that the sentry could not see. “It won’t do me any good,” he said in a low voice, “but give it to me in case they search you on the way out.” ?rsula took the revolver out of her bodice and put it under the mattress of the cot. “And don’t say good-bye,” he concluded with emphatic calmness. “Don’t beg or bow down to anyone. Pretend that they shot me a long time ago.” ?rsula bit her lip so as not to cry.
“Put some hot stones on those sores,” she said.
She turned halfway around and left the room. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a remained standing, thoughtful, until the door closed. Then he lay down again with his arms open. Since the beginning of adolescence, when he had begun to be aware of his premonitions, he thought that death would be announced with a definite, unequivocal, irrevocable signal, but there were only a few hours left before he would die and the signal had not come. On a certain occasion a very beautiful woman had come into his camp in Tucurinca and asked the sentries’ permission to see him. They let her through because they were aware of the fanaticism of mothers, who sent their daughters to the bedrooms of the most famous warriors, according to what they said, to improve the breed. That night Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was finishing the poem about the man who is lost in the rain when the girl came into his room. He turned his back to her to put the sheet of paper into the locked drawer where he kept his poetry. And then he sensed it. He grasped the pistol in the drawer without turning his head.
“Please don’t shoot,” he said.
When he turned around holding his Pistol, the girl had lowered hers and did not know what to do. In that way he had avoided four out of eleven traps. On the other hand, someone who was never caught entered the revolutionary headquarters one night in Manaure and stabbed to death his close friend Colonel Magn?fico Visbal, to whom he had given his cot so that he could sweat out a fever. A few yards away, sleeping in a hammock in the same room. he was not aware of anything. His efforts to systematize his premonitions were useless. They would come suddenly in a wave of supernatural lucidity, like an absolute and momentaneous conviction, but they could not be grasped. On occasion they were so natural that he identified them as premonitions only after they had been fulfilled. Frequently they were nothing but ordinary bits of superstition. But when they condemned him to death and asked him to state his last wish, he did not have the least difficulty in identifying the premonition that inspired his answer.
“I ask that the sentence be carried out in Macondo,” he said.
The president of the court-martial was annoyed. “Don’t be clever, Buend?a,” he told him. “That’s just a trick to gain more time.”
“If you don’t fulfill it, that will be your worry.” the colonel said, “but that’s my last wish.”
Since then the premonitions had abandoned him. The day when ?rsula visited him in jail, after a great deal of thinking he came to the conclusion that perhaps death would not be announced that time because it did not depend on chance but on the will of his executioners. He spent the night awake, tormented by the pain of his sores. A little before dawn he heard steps in the hallway. “They’re coming,” he said to himself, and for no reason he thought of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a, who at that moment was thinking about him under the dreary dawn of the chestnut tree. He did not feel fear or nostalgia, but an intestinal rage at the idea that this artificial death would not let him see the end of so many things that he had left unfinished. The door opened and a sentry came in with a mug of coffee. On the following day at the same hour he would still be doing what he was then, raging with the pain in his armpits, and the same thing happened. On Thursday he shared the sweet milk candy with the guards and put on his clean clothes, which were tight for him, and the patent leather boots. By Friday they had still not shot him.
Actually, they did not dare carry out the sentence. The rebelliousness of the town made the military men think that the execution of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a might have serious political consequences not only in Macondo but throughout the area of the swamp, so they consulted the authorities in the capital of the province. On Saturday night, while they were waiting for an answer Captain Roque Carnicero went with some other officers to Catarino’s place. Only one woman, practically threatened, dared take him to her room. “They don’t want to go to bed with a man they know is going to die,” she confessed to him. “No one knows how it will come, but everybody is going around saying that the officer who shoots Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and all the soldiers in the squad, one by one, will be murdered, with no escape, sooner or later, even if they hide at the ends of the earth.” Captain Roque Carnicero mentioned it to the other officers and they told their superiors. On Sunday, although no one had revealed it openly, although no action on the part of the military had disturbed the tense calm of those days, the whole town knew that the officers were ready to use any manner of pretext to avoid responsibility for the execution. The official order arrived in the Monday mail: the execution was to be carried out within twenty-four hours. That night the officers put seven slips of paper into a cap, and Captain Roque Carnicero’s unpeaceful fate was foreseen by his name on the prize slip. “Bad luck doesn’t have any chinks in it,” he said with deep bitterness. “I was born a son of a bitch and I’m going to die a son of a bitch.” At five in the morning he chose the squad by lot, formed it in the courtyard, and woke up the condemned man with a premonitory phrase.
“Let’s go, Buend?a,” he told him. “Our time has come.”
“So that’s what it was,” the colonel replied. “I was dreaming that my sores had burst.”
Rebeca Buend?a got up at three in the morning when she learned that Aureliano would be shot. She stayed in the bedroom in the dark, watching the cemetery wall through the half-opened window as the bed on which she sat shook with Jos? Arcadio’s snoring. She had waited all week with the same hidden persistence with which during different times she had waited for Pietro Crespi’s letters. “They won’t shoot him here,” Jos? Arcadio, told her. “They’ll shoot him at midnight in the barracks so that no one will know who made up the squad, and they’ll bury him right there.” Rebeca kept on waiting. “They’re stupid enough to shoot him here,” she said. She was so certain that she had foreseen the way she would open the door to wave good-bye. “They won’t bring him through the streets,” Jos? Arcadio insisted, with six scared soldiers and knowing that the people are ready for anything.” Indifferent to her husband’s logic, Rebeca stayed by the window.
“You’ll see that they’re just stupid enough,” she said.
On Tuesday, at five-in the. morning, Jos? Arcadio had drunk his coffee and let the dogs out when Rebeca closed the window and held onto the head of the bed so as not to fall down. “There, they’re bringing him,” she sighed. “He’s so handsome.” Jos? Arcadio looked out the window and saw him. tremulous in the light of dawn. He already had his back to the wall and his hands were on his hips because the burning knots in his armpits would not let him lower them. “A person fucks himself up so much,” Colonel Aureliano Buend?a said. “Fucks himself up so much just so that six weak fairies can kill him and he can’t do anything about it.” He repeated it with so much rage that it almost seemed to be fervor, and Captain Roque Carnicero was touched, because he thought he was praying. When the squad took aim, the rage had materialized into a viscous and bitter substance that put his tongue to sleep and made him close his eyes. Then the aluminum glow of dawn disappeared and he saw himself again in short pants, wearing a tie around his neck, and he saw his father leading him into the tent on a splendid afternoon, and he saw the ice. When he heard the shout he thought that it was the final command to the squad. He opened his eyes with a shudder of curiosity, expecting to meet the incandescent trajectory of the bullets, but he only saw Captain Roque Carnicero with his arms in the air and Jos? Arcadio crossing the street with his fearsome shotgun ready to go off.
“Don’t shoot,” the captain said to Jos? Arcadio. “You were sent by Divine Providence.”
Another war began right there. Captain Roque Carnicero and his six men left with Colonel Aureliano Buend?a to free the revolutionary general Victorio Medina, who had been condemned to death in Riohacha. They thought they could save time by crossing the mountains along the trail that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a had followed to found Macondo, but before a week was out they were convinced that it was an impossible undertaking. So they had to follow the dangerous route over the outcroppings; with no other munitions but what the firing squad had. They would camp near the towns and one of them, with a small gold fish in his hand, would go in disguise in broad daylight to contact the dormant Liberals, who would go out hunting on the following morning and never return. When they saw Riohacha from a ridge in the mountains, General Victorio Medina had been shot. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s men proclaimed him chief of the revolutionary forces of the Caribbean coast with the rank of general. He assumed the position but refused the promotion and took the stand that he would never accept it as long as the Conservative regime was in power. At the end of three months they had succeeded in arming more than a thousand men, but they were wiped out. The survivors reached the eastern frontier. The next thing that was heard of them was that they had landed on Cabo de la Vela, coming from the smaller islands of the Antilles, and a message from the government was sent all over by telegraph and included in jubilant proclamations throughout the country announcing the death of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. But two days later a multiple telegram which almost overtook the previous one announced another uprising on the southern plains. That was how the legend of the ubiquitous Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, began. Simultaneous and contradictory information declared him victorious in Villanueva. defeated in Guacamayal, devoured by Motil?n Indians, dead in a village in the swamp, and up in arms again in Urumita. The Liberal leaders, who at that moment were negotiating for participation in the congress, branded him in adventurer who did not represent the party. The national government placed him in the category of a bandit and put a price of five thousand pesos on his head. After sixteen defeats, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a left Guajira with two thousand well-armed Indians and the garrison, which was taken by surprise as it slept, abandoned Riohacha. He established his headquarters there and proclaimed total war against the regime. The first message he received from the government was a threat to shoot Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez within forty-eight hours if he did not withdraw with his forces to the eastern frontier. Colonel Roque Carnicero, who was his chief of staff then, gave him the telegram with a look of consternation, but he read it with unforeseen joy.
“How wonderful!” he exclaimed. “We have a telegraph office in Macondo now.”
His reply was definitive. In three months he expected to establish his headquarters in Macondo. If he did not find Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez alive at that time he would shoot out of hand all of the officers he held prisoner at that moment starting with the generals, and he would give orders to his subordinates to do the same for the rest of the war. Three months later, when he entered Macondo in triumph, the first embrace he received on the swamp road was that of Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez.
The house was full of children. ?rsula had taken in Santa Sof?a de la Piedad with her older daughter and a pair of twins, who had been born five months after Arcadio had been shot. Contrary to the victim’s last wishes, she baptized the girl with the name of Remedios. I’m sure that was what Arcadio meant,” she alleged. “We won’t call her ?rsula, because a person suffers too much with that name.” The twins were named Jos? Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo. Amaranta took care of them all. She put small wooden chairs in the living room and established a nursery with other children from neighboring families. When Colonel Aureliano Buend?a returned in the midst of exploding rockets and ringing bells, a children’s chorus welcomed him to the house. Aureliano Jos?, tall like his grandfather, dressed as a revolutionary officer, gave him military honors.
Not all the news was good. A year after the flight of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, Jos? Arcadio and Rebeca went to live in the house Arcadio had built. No one knew about his intervention to halt the execution. In the new house, located on the best corner of the square, in the shade of an almond tree that was honored by three nests of redbreasts, with a large door for visitors and four windows for light, they set up a hospitable home. Rebeca’s old friends, among them four of the Moscote sisters who were still single, once more took up the sessions of embroidery that had been interrupted years before on the porch with the begonias. Jos? Arcadio continued to profit from the usurped lands, the title to which was recognized by the Conservative government. Every afternoon he could be seen returning on horseback, with his hunting dogs and his double-barreled shotgun and a string of rabbits hanging from his saddle. One September afternoon, with the threat of a storm, he returned home earlier than usual. He greeted Rebeca in the dining room, tied the dogs up in the courtyard, hung the rabbits up in the kitchen to be salted later, and went to the bedroom to change his clothes. Rebeca later declared that when her husband went into the bedroom she was locked in the bathroom and did not hear anything. It was a difficult version to believe, but there was no other more plausible, and no one could think of any motive for Rebeca to murder the man who had made her happy. That was perhaps the only mystery that was never cleared up in Macondo. As soon as Jos? Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buend?a house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano Jos? , and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where ?rsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
“Holy Mother of God!” ?rsula shouted.
She followed the thread of blood back along its course, and in search of its origin she went through the pantry, along the begonia porch where Aureliano Jos? was chanting that three plus three is six and six plus three is nine, and she crossed the dining room and the living rooms and followed straight down the street, and she turned first to the right and then to the left to the Street of the Turks, forgetting that she was still wearing her baking apron and her house slippers, and she came out onto the square and went into the door of a house where she had never been, and she pushed open the bedroom door and was almost suffocated by the smell of burned gunpowder, and she found Jos? Arcadio lying face down on the ground on top of the leggings he had just taken off, and she saw the starting point of the thread of blood that had already stopped flowing out of his right ear. They found no wound on his body nor could they locate the weapon. Nor was it possible to remove the smell of powder from the corpse. First they washed him three times with soap and a scrubbing brush, and they rubbed him with salt and vinegar, then with ashes and lemon, and finally they put him in a barrel of lye and let him stay for six hours. They scrubbed him so much that the arabesques of his tattooing began to fade. When they thought of the desperate measure of seasoning him with pepper, cumin seeds, and laurel leaves and boiling him for a whole day over a slow fire, he had already begun to decompose and they had to bury him hastily. They sealed him hermetically in a special coffin seven and a half feet long and four feet wide, reinforced inside with iron plates and fastened together with steel bolts, and even then the smell could be perceived on the streets through which the funeral procession passed. Father Nicanor, with his liver enlarged and tight as a drum, gave him his blessing from bed. Although in the months that followed they reinforced the grave with walls about it, between which they threw compressed ash, sawdust, and quicklime, the cemetery still smelled of powder for many years after, until the engineers from the banana company covered the grave over with a shell of concrete. As soon as they took the body out, Rebeca closed the doors of her house and buried herself alive, covered with a thick crust of disdain that no earthly temptation was ever able to break. She went out into the street on one occasion, when she was very old, with shoes the color of old silver and a hat made of tiny flowers, during the time that the Wandering Jew passed through town and brought on a heat wave that was so intense that birds broke through window screens to come to die in the bedrooms. The last time anyone saw her alive was when with one shot she killed a thief who was trying to force the door of her house. Except for Arg?nida, her servant and confidante, no one ever had any more contact with her after that. At one time it was discovered that she was writing letters to the Bishop, whom she claimed as a first cousin. but it was never said whether she received any reply. The town forgot about her.
In spite of his triumphal return, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was not enthusiastic over the looks of things. The government troops abandoned their positions without resistance and that aroused an illusion of victory among the Liberal population that it was not right to destroy, but the revolutionaries knew the truth, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a better than any of them. Although at that moment he had more than five thousand men under his command and held two coastal states, he had the feeling of being hemmed in against the sea and caught in a situation that was so confused that when he ordered the restoration of the church steeple, which had been knocked down by army cannon fire, Father Nicanor commented from his sickbed: “This is silly; the defenders of the faith of Christ destroy the church and the Masons order it rebuilt.” Looking for a loophole through which he could escape, he spent hours on end in the telegraph office conferring with the commanders of other towns, and every time he would emerge with the firmest impression that the war was at a stalemate. When news of fresh liberal victories was received it was celebrated with jubilant proclamations, but he would measure the real extent of them on the map and could see that his forces were penetrating into the jungle, defending themselves against malaria and mosquitoes, advancing in the opposite direction from reality. “We’re wasting time,” he would complain to his officers. “We’re wasting time while the bastards in the party are begging for seats in congress.” Lying awake at night, stretched out on his back in a hammock in the same room where he had awaited death, he would evoke the image of lawyers dressed in black leaving the presidential palace in the icy cold of early morning with their coat collars turned up about their ears, rubbing their hands, whispering, taking refuge in dreary early-morning caf?s to speculate over what the president had meant when he said yes, or what he had meant when he said no, and even to imagine what the president was thinking when he said something quite different, as he chased away mosquitoes at a temperature of ninety-five degrees, feeling the approach of the fearsome dawn when he would have to give his men the command to jump into the sea.
One night of uncertainty, when Pilar Ternera was singing in the courtyard with the soldiers, he asked her to read the future in her cards. “Watch out for your mouth,” was all that Pilar Ternera brought out after spreading and picking up the cards three times. “I don’t know what it means, but the sign is very clear. Watch out for your mouth.” Two days later someone gave an orderly a mug of black coffee and the orderly passed it on to someone else and that one to someone else until, hand to hand, it reached Colonel Aureliano Buend?a office. He had not asked for any coffee, but since it was there the colonel drank it. It had a dose of nux vomica strong enough to kill a horse. When they took him home he was stiff and arched and his tongue was sticking out between his teeth. ?rsula fought against death over him. After cleaning out his stomach with emetics, she wrapped him in hot blankets and fed him egg whites for two days until his harrowed body recovered its normal temperature. On the fourth day he was out of danger. Against his will, pressured by ?rsula and his officers, he stayed in bed for another week. Only then did he learn that his verses had not been burned. “I didn’t want to be hasty,” ?rsula explained to him. “That night when I went to light the oven I said to myself that it would be better to wait until they brought the body.” In the haze of convalescence, surrounded by Remedios’ dusty dolls, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, brought back the decisive periods of his existence by reading his poetry. He started writing again. For many hours, balancing on the edge of the surprises of a war with no future, in rhymed verse he resolved his experience on the shores of death. Then his thoughts became so clear that he was able to examine them forward and backward. One night he asked Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez:
“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be?” Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez answered. “For the great liberal party.”
“You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”
“That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez said. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile:
“Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”
His pride had prevented him from making contact with the armed groups in the interior of the country until the leaders of the party publicly rectified their declaration that he was a bandit. He knew, however, that as soon as he put those scruples aside he would break the vicious circle of the war. Convalescence gave him time to reflect. Then he succeeded in getting ?rsula to give him the rest of her buried inheritance and her substantial savings. He named Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez civil and military leader of Macondo and he went off to make contact with the rebel groups in the interior.
Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez was not only the man closest to Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, but ?rsula received him as a member of the family. Fragile, timid, with natural good manners, he was, however, better suited for war than for government. His political advisers easily entangled him in theoretical labyrinths, But he succeeded in giving Macondo the atmosphere of rural peace that Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a dreamed of so that he could die of old age making little gold fishes. Although he lived in his parents’ house he would have lunch at ?rsula’s two or three times a week. He initiated Aureliano Jos? in the use of firearms, gave him early military instruction, and for several months took him to live in the barracks, with ?rsula’s consent, so that he could become a man. Many years before, when he was still almost a child, Gerineldo M?rquez had declared his love for Amaranta. At that time she was so illusioned with her lonely passion for Pietro Crespi that she laughed at him. Gerineldo M?rquez waited. On a certain occasion he sent Amaranta a note from jail asking her to embroider a dozen batiste handkerchiefs with his father’s initials on them. He sent her the money. A week later Amaranta, brought the dozen handkerchiefs to him in jail along with the money and they spent several hours talking about the past. “When I get out of here I’m going to marry you,” Gerineldo M?rquez told her when she left. Amaranta laughed but she kept on thinking about him while she taught the children to read and she tried to revive her juvenile passion for Pietro Crespi. On Saturday, visiting days for the prisoners, she would stop by the house of Gerineldo M?rquez’s parents and accompany them to the jail. On one of those Saturdays ?rsula was surprised to see her in the kitchen, waiting for the biscuits to come out of the oven so that she could pick the best ones and cap them in a napkin that she had embroidered for the occasion.
“Marry him,” she told her. “You’ll have a hard time finding another man like him.”
Amaranta feigned a reaction of displeasure.
“I don’t have to go around hunting for men,” she answered. “I’m taking these biscuits to Gerineldo because I’m sorry that sooner or later they’re going to shoot him.”
She said it without thinking, but that was the time that the government had announced its threat to shoot Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez if the rebel forces did not surrender Riohacha. The visits stopped. Amaranta shut herself up to weep, overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt similar to the one that had tormented her when Remedios died, as if once more her careless words had been responsible for a death. Her mother consoled her. She inured her that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a would do something to prevent the execution and promised that she would take charge of attracting Gerineldo M?rquez herself when the war was over. She fulfilled her promise before the imagined time. When Gerineldo M?rquez returned to the house, invested with his new dignity of civil and military leader, she received him as a son, thought of delightful bits of flattery to hold him there, and prayed with all her soul that he would remember his plan to marry Amaranta. Her pleas seemed to be answered. On the days that he would have lunch at the house, Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez would linger on the begonia porch playing Chinese checkers with Amaranta. ?rsula would bring them coffee and milk and biscuits and would take over the children so that they would not bother them. Amaranta was really making an effort to kindle in her heart the forgotten ashes of her youthful passion. With an anxiety that came to be intolerable, she waited for the lunch days, the afternoons of Chinese checkers, and time flew by in the company of the warrior with a nostalgic name whose fingers trembled imperceptibly as he moved the pieces. But the day on which Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez repeated his wish to marry her, she rejected him.
“I’m not going to marry anyone,” she told him, “much less you. You love Aureliano so much that you want to marry me because you can’t marry him.”
Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez was a patient man. “I’ll keep on insisting,” he said. “Sooner or later I’ll convince you.” He kept on visiting the house. Shut up in her bedroom biting back her secret tears, Amaranta put her fingers in her ears so as not to bear the voice of the suitor as he gave ?rsula the latest war news, and in spite of the fact that she was dying to see him she had the strength not to go out and meet him.
At that time Colonel Aureliano Buend?a took the time to send a detailed account to Macondo every two weeks. But only once, almost eight months after he had left, did he write to ?rsula. A special messenger brought a sealed envelope to the house with a sheet of paper inside bearing the colonel’s delicate hand: Take good care of Papa because he is going to die. ?rsula became alarmed. “If Aureliano says so it’s because Aureliano knows,” she said. And she had them help her take Jos? Arcadio Buend?a to his bedroom. Not only was he as heavy as ever, but during his prolonged stay under the chestnut tree he had developed the faculty of being able to increase his weight at will, to such a degree that seven men were unable to lift him and they had to drag him to the bed. A smell of tender mushrooms, of wood-flower fungus, of old and concentrated outdoors impregnated the air of the bedroom as it was breathed by the colossal old man weather-beaten by the sun and the rain. The next morning he was not in his bed. In spite of his undiminished strength, Jos? Arcadio Buend?a was in no condition to resist. It was all the same to him. If he went back to the chestnut tree it was not because he wanted to but because of a habit of his body. ?rsula took care of him, fed him, brought him news of Aureliano. But actually, the only person with whom he was able to have contact for a long time was Prudencio Aguilar. Almost pulverized at that time by the decrepitude of death, Prudencio Aguilar would come twice a day to chat with him. They talked about fighting cocks. They promised each other to set up a breeding farm for magnificent birds, not so much to enjoy their victories, which they would not need then, as to have something to do on the tedious Sundays of death. It was Prudencio Aguilar who cleaned him fed him and brought him splendid news of an unknown person called Aureliano who was a colonel in the war. When he was alone, Jos? Arcadio Buend?a consoled himself with the dream of the infinite rooms. He dreamed that he was getting out of bed, opening the door and going into an identical room with the same bed with a wrought-iron head, the same wicker chair, and the same small picture of the Virgin of Help on the back wall. From that room he would go into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another one just the same, and then into another exactly alike, and so on to infinity. He liked to go from room to room. As in a gallery of parallel mirrors, until Prudencio Aguilar would touch him on the shoulder. Then he would go back from room to room, walking in reverse, going back over his trail, and he would find Prudencio Aguilar in the room of reality. But one night, two weeks after they took him to his bed, Prudencio Aguilar touched his shoulder in an intermediate room and he stayed there forever, thinking that it was the real room. On the following morning ?rsula was bringing him his breakfast when she saw a man coming along the hall. He was short and stocky, with a black suit on and a hat that was also black, enormous, pulled down to his taciturn eyes. “Good Lord,” ?rsula thought, “I could have sworn it was Melqu?ades.” It was Cataure, Visitaci?n’s brother, who had left the house fleeing from the insomnia plague and of whom there had never been any news. Visitaci?n asked him why he had come back, and he answered her in their solemn language:
“I have come for the exequies of the king.”
Then they went into Jos? Arcadio Buend?a’s room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but they could not awaken him. A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who dept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.