SITTNG IN THE WICKER ROCKING chair with her interrupted work in her lap, Amaranta watched Aureliano, Jos? , his chin covered with foam, stropping his razor to give himself his first shave. His blackheads bled and he cut his upper lip as he tried to shape a mustache of blond fuzz and when it was all over he looked the same as before, but the laborious process gave Amaranta the feeling that she had begun to grow old at that moment.
“You look just like Aureliano when he was your age,” she said. “You’re a man now.”
He had been for a long time, ever since that distant day when Amaranta thought he was still a child and continued getting undressed in front of him in the bathroom as she had always done, as she had been used to doing ever since Pilar Ternera had turned him over to her to finish his upbringing. The first time that he saw her the only thing that drew his attention was the deep depression between her breasts. He was so innocent that he asked her what had happened to her and Amaranta pretended to dig into her breasts with the tips of her fingers and answered: “They gave me some terrible cuts.” Some time later, when she had recovered from Pietro Crespi’s suicide and would bathe with Aureliano Jos? again, he no longer paid attention to the depression but felt a strange trembling at the sight of the splendid breasts with their brown nipples. He kept on examining her, discovering the miracle of her intimacy inch by inch, and he felt his skin tingle as he contemplated the way her skin tingled when it touched the water. Ever since he was a small child he had the custom of leaving his hammock and waking up in Amaranta’s bed, because contact with her was a way of overcoming his fear of the dark. But since that day when he became aware of his own nakedness, it was not fear of the dark that drove him to crawl in under her mosquito netting but an urge to feel Amaranta’s warm breathing at dawn. Early one morning during the time when she refused Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, Aureliano Jos? awoke with the feeling that he could not breathe. He felt Amaranta’s fingers searching across his stomach like warm and anxious little caterpillars. Pretending to sleep, he changed his position to make it easier, and then he felt the hand without the black bandage diving like a blind shellfish into the algae of his anxiety. Although they seemed to ignore what both of them knew and what each one knew that the other knew, from that night on they were yoked together in an inviolable complicity. Aureliano Jos? could not get to sleep until he heard the twelve-o’clock waltz on the parlor dock, and the mature maiden whose skin was beginning to grow sad did not have a moments’ rest until she felt slip in under her mosquito netting that sleepwalker whom she had raised, not thinking that he would be a palliative for her solitude. Later they not only slept together, naked, exchanging exhausting caresses, but they would also chase each other into the corners of the house and shut themselves up in the bedrooms at any hour of the day in a permanent state of unrelieved excitement. They were almost discovered by ?rsula one afternoon when she went into the granary as they were starting to kiss. “Do you love your aunt a lot?” she asked Aureliano Jos? in an innocent way. He answered that he did. “That’s good of you,” ?rsula concluded and finished measuring the flour for the bread and returned to the kitchen. That episode drew Amaranta out of her delirium. She realized that she had gone too far, that she was no longer playing kissing games with a child, but was floundering about in an autumnal passion, one that was dangerous and had no future, and she cut it off with one stroke. Aureliano Jos?, who was then finishing his military training, finally woke up to reality and went to sleep in the barracks. On Saturdays he would go with the soldiers to Catarino’s store. He was seeking consolation for his abrupt solitude, for his premature adolescence with women who smelled of dead flowers, whom he idealized in the darkness and changed into Amaranta by means of the anxious efforts of his imagination.
A short time later contradictory news of the war began to come in. While the government itself admitted the progress of the rebellion, the officers in Macondo had confidential reports of the imminence of a negotiated peace. Toward the first of April a special emissary identified himself to Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez. He confirmed the fact to him that the leaders of the party had indeed established contact with the rebel leaders in the interior and were on the verge of arranging an armistice in exchange for three cabinet posts for the Liberals, a minority representation in the congress, and a general amnesty for rebels who laid down their arms. The emissary brought a highly confidential order from Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, who was not in agreement with the terms of the armistice. Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez was to choose five of his best men and prepare to leave the country with them. The order would be carried out with the strictest secrecy. One week before the agreement was announced, and in the midst of a storm of contradictory rumors, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and ten trusted officers, among them Colonel Roque Carnicero, stealthily arrived in Macondo after midnight, dismissed the garrison, buried their weapons, and destroyed their records. By dawn they had left town, along with Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez and his five officers. It was such a quick and secret operation that ?rsula did not find out about it until the last moment, when someone tapped on her bedroom window and whispered, “If you want to see Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, come to the door right now.” ?rsula Jumped out of bed and went to the door in her nightgown and she was just able to see the horsemen who were leaving town gallop off in a mute cloud of dust. Only on the following day did she discover that Aureliano Jos? had gone with his father.
Ten days after a joint communiqu? by the government and the opposition announced the end of the war, there was news of the first armed uprising of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a on the western border. His small and poorly armed force was scattered in less than a week. But during that year, while Liberals and Conservatives tried to make the country believe in reconciliation, he attempted seven other revolts. One night he bombarded Riohacha from a schooner and the garrison dragged out of bed and shot the fourteen best-known Liberals in the town as a reprisal. For more than two weeks he held a customs post on the border and from there sent the nation a call to general war. Another of his expectations was lost for three months in the jungle in a mad attempt to cross more than a thousand miles of virgin territory in order to proclaim war on the outskirts of the capital. On one occasion he was lea than fifteen miles away from Macondo and was obliged by government patrols to hide in the mountains, very close to the enchanted region where his father had found the fossil of a Spanish galleon many years before.
Visitaci?n died around that time. She had the pleasure of dying a natural death after having renounced a throne out of fear of insomnia, and her last wish was that they should dig up the wages she had saved for more than twenty years under her bed and send the money to Colonel Aureliano Buend?a so that he could go on with the war. But ?rsula did not bother to dig it up because it was rumored in those days that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had been killed in a landing near the provincial capital. The official announcement—the fourth in less than two years—was considered true for almost six months because nothing further was heard of him. Suddenly, when ?rsula and Amaranta had added new mourning to the past period, unexpected news arrived. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was alive, but apparently he had stopped harassing the government of his country and had joined with the victorious federalism of other republics of the Caribbean. He would show up under different names farther and farther away from his own country. Later it would be learned that the idea that was working on him at the time was the unification of the federalist forms of Central America in order to wipe out conservative regimes from Alaska to Patagonia. The first direct news that ?rsula received from him, several years after his departure, was a wrinkled and faded letter that had arrived, passing through various hands, from Santiago, Cuba.
“We’ve lost him forever,” ?rsula exclaimed on reading it. “If he follows this path he’ll spend Christmas at the ends of the earth.”
The person to whom she said it, who was the first to whom she showed the letter, was the Conservative general Jos? Raquel Moncada, mayor of Macondo since the end of the war. “This Aureliano,” General Moncada commented, “what a pity that he’s not a Conservative.” He really admired him. Like many Conservative civilians, Jos? Raquel Moncada had waged war in defense of his party and had earned the title of general on the field of battle, even though he was not a military man by profession. On the contrary, like so many of his fellow party members, he was an antimilitarist. He considered military men unprincipled loafers, ambitious plotters, experts in facing down civilians in order to prosper during times of disorder. Intelligent, pleasant, ruddy-faced, a man who liked to eat and watch cockfights, he had been at one time the most feared adversary of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. He succeeded in imposing his authority over the career officers in a wide sector along the coast. One time when he was forced by strategic circumstances to abandon a stronghold to the forces of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, he left two letters for him. In one of them quite long, he invited him to join in a campaign to make war more humane. The other letter was for his wife, who lived in Liberal territory, and he left it with a plea to see that it reached its destination. From then on, even in the bloodiest periods of the war, the two commanders would arrange truces to exchange prisoners. They were pauses with a certain festive atmosphere, which General Moncada took advantage of to teach Colonel Aureliano Buend?a how to play chess. They became great friends. They even came to think about the possibility of coordinating the popular elements of both parties, doing away with the influence of the military men and professional politicians, and setting up a humanitarian regime that would take the best from each doctrine. When the war was over, while Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a was sneaking about through the narrow trails of permanent sub. version, General Moncada was named magistrate of Macondo. He wore civilian clothes, replaced the soldiers with unarmed policemen, enforced the amnesty laws, and helped a few families of Liberals who had been killed in the war. He succeeded in having Macondo raised to the status of a municipality and he was therefore its first mayor, and he created an atmosphere of confidence that made people think of the war as an absurd nightmare of the past. Father Nicanor, consumed by hepatic fever, was replaced by Father Coronel, whom they called “The Pup,” a veteran of the first federalist war. Bruno Crespi, who was married to Amparo Mos. cote, and whose shop of toys and musical instruments continued to prosper, built a theater which Spanish companies included in their Itineraries. It was a vast open-air hall with wooden benches, a velvet curtain with Greek masks, and three box offices in the shape of lions’ heads, through whose mouths the tickets were sold. It was also about that time that the school was rebuilt. It was put under the charge of Don Melchor Escalona, an old teacher brought from the swamp, who made his lazy students walk on their knees in the lime-coated courtyard and made the students who talked in class eat hot chili with the approval of their parents. Aureliano Segundo and Jos? Arcadio Segundo, the willful twins of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad, were the first to sit in the classroom, with their slates, their chalk, and their aluminum jugs with their names on them. Remedios, who inherited her mother’s pure beauty, began to be known as Remedios the Beauty. In spite of time, of the superimposed Periods of mourning, and her accumulated afflictions, ?rsula resisted growing old. Aided by Santa Sof?a de la Piedad, she gave a new drive to her pastry business and in a few years not only recovered the fortune that her son had spent in the war, but she once more stuffed with pure gold the gourds buried in the bedroom. “As long as God gives me life,” she would say, “there will always be money in this madhouse.” That was how things were when Aureliano Jos? deserted the federal troops in Nicaragua, signed on as a crewman on a German ship, and appeared in the kitchen of the house, sturdy as a horse, as dark and long-haired as an Indian, and with a secret determination to marry Amaranta.
When Amaranta, saw him come in, even though he said nothing she knew immediately why he had come back. At the table they did not dare look each other in the face. But two weeks after his return, in the presence of ?rsula, he set his eyes on hers and said to her, “I always thought a lot about you.” Amaranta avoided him. She guarded against chance meetings. She tried not to become separated from Remedios the Beauty. She was ashamed of the blush that covered her cheeks on the day her nephew asked her how long she intended wearing the black bandage on her hand, for she interpreted it as an allusion to her virginity. When he arrived, she barred the door of her bedroom, but she heard his peaceful snoring in the next room for so many nights that she forgot about the precaution. Early one morning, almost two months after his return, she heard him come into the bedroom. Then, instead of fleeing, instead of shouting as she had thought she would, she let herself be saturated with a soft feeling of relaxation. She felt him slip in under the mosquito netting as he had done when he was a child, as he had always done, and she could not repress her cold sweat and the chattering of her teeth when she realized that he was completely naked. “Go away,” she whispered, suffocating with curiosity. “Go away or I’ll scream.” But Aureliano Jos? knew then what he had to do, because he was no longer a child but a barracks animal. Starting with that night the dull, inconsequential battles began again and would go on until dawn. “I’m your aunt,” Amaranta murmured, spent. “It’s almost as if I were your mother, not just because of my age but because the only thing I didn’t do for you was nurse you.” Aureliano would escape at dawn and come back early in the morning on the next day, each time more excited by the proof that she had not barred the door. He had nit stopped desiring her for a single instant. He found her in the dark bedrooms of captured towns, especially in the most abject ones, and he would make her materialize in the smell of dry blood on the bandages of the wounded, in the instantaneous terror of the danger of death, at all times and in all places. He had fled from her in an attempt to wipe out her memory, not only through distance but by means of a muddled fury that his companions at arms took to be boldness, but the more her image wallowed in the dunghill of the war, the more the war resembled Amaranta. That was how he suffered in exile, looking for a way of killing her with, his own death, until he heard some old man tell the tale of the man who had married his aunt, who was also his cousin, and whose son ended up being his own grandfather.
“Can a person marry his own aunt?” he asked, startled.
“He not only can do that, a soldier answered him. “but we’re fighting this war against the priests so that a person can marry his own mother.”
Two weeks later he deserted. He found Amaranta more withered than in his memory, more melancholy and shy, and now really turning the last corner of maturity, but more feverish than ever in the darkness of her bedroom and more challenging than ever in the aggressiveness of her resistance. “You’re a brute,” Amaranta would tell him as she was harried by his hounds. “You can’t do that to a poor aunt unless you have a special dispensation from the Pope.” Aureliano, Jos? promised to go to Rome, he promised to go across Europe on his knees to kiss the sandals of the Pontiff just so that she would lower her drawbridge.
“It’s not just that,” Amaranta retorted. “Any children will be born with the tail of a pig.”
Aureliano Jos? was deaf to all arguments.
“I don’t care if they’re born as armadillos,” he begged.
Early one morning, vanquished by the unbearable pain of repressed virility, he went to Catarino’s. He found a woman with flaccid breasts, affectionate and cheap, who calmed his stomach for some time. He tried to apply the treatment of disdain to Amaranta. He would see her on the porch working at the sewing machine, which she had learned to operate with admirable skill, and he would not even speak to her. Amaranta felt freed of a reef, and she herself did not understand why she started thinking again at that time about Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, why she remembered with such nostalgia the afternoons of Chinese checkers, and why she even desired him as the man in her bedroom. Aureliano, Jos? did not realize how much ground he had lost on, the night he could no longer bear the farce of indifference and went back to Amaranta’s room. She rejected him with an inflexible and unmistakable determination, and she barred the door of her bedroom forever.
A few months after the return of Aureliano Jos? an exuberant woman perfumed with jasmine appeared at the house with a boy of five. She stated that he was the son of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and that she had brought him to ?rsula to be baptized. No one doubted the origins of that nameless child: he looked exactly like the colonel at the time he was taken to see ice for the first time. The woman said that he had been born with his eyes open, looking at people with the judgment of an adult, and that she was frightened by his way of staring at things without blinking. “He’s identical,” ?rsula said. “The only thing missing is for him to make chairs rock by simply looking at them.” They christened him Aureliano and with his mother’s last name, since the law did not permit a person to bear his father’s name until he had recognized him. General Moncada was the godfather. Although Amaranta insisted that he be left so that she could take over his upbringing, his mother was against it. ?rsula at that time did not know about the custom of sending virgins to the bedrooms of soldiers in the same way that hens are turned loose with fine roosters, but in the course of that year she found out: nine more sons of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a were brought to the house to be baptized. The oldest, a strange dark boy with green eyes, who was not at all like his father’s family, was over ten years old. They brought children of all ages, all colors, but all males and all with a look of solitude that left no doubt as to the relationship. Only two stood out in the group. One, large for his age, made smithereens out of the flowerpots and china because his hands seemed to have the property of breaking everything they touched. The other was a blond boy with the same light eyes as his mother, whose hair had been left to grow long and curly like that of a woman. He entered the house with a great deal of familiarity, as if he had been raised there, and he went directly to a chest in ?rsula’s bedroom and demanded, “I want the mechanical ballerina.” ?rsula was startled. She opened the chest, searched among the ancient and dusty articles left from the days of Melqu?ades, and wrapped in a pair of stockings she found the mechanical ballerina that Pietro Crespi had brought to the house once and that everyone had forgotten about. In less than twelve years they baptized with the name Aureliano and the last name of the mother all the sons that the colonel had implanted up and down his theater of war: seventeen. At first ?rsula would fill their pockets with money and Amaranta tried to have them stay. But they finally limited themselves to giving them presents and serving as godmothers. “We’ve done our duty by baptizing them,” ?rsula would say, jotting down in a ledger the name and address of the mother and the place and date of birth of the child. “Aureliano needs well-kept accounts so that he can decide things when he comes back.” During lunch, commenting with General Moncada about that disconcerting proliferation, she expressed the desire for Colonel Aureliano Buend?a to come back someday and gather all of his sons together in the house.
“Don’t worry, dear friend,” General Moncada said enigmatically. “He’ll come sooner than you suspect.”
What General Moncada knew and what he did not wish to reveal at lunch was that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was already on his way to head up the most prolonged, radical, and bloody rebellion of all those he had started up till then.
The situation again became as tense as it had been during the months that preceded the first war. The cockfights, instituted by the mayor himself, were suspended. Captain Aquiles Ricardo, the commander of the garrison, took over the exercise of municipal power. The Liberals looked upon him as a provocateur. “Something terrible is going to happen,” ?rsula would say to Aureliano Jos?. “Don’t go out into the street after six o’clock.” The entreaties were useless. Aureliano Jos?, just like Arcadio in other times, had ceased to belong to her. It was as if his return home, the possibility of existing without concerning himself with everyday necessities, had awakened in him the lewd and lazy leanings of his uncle Jos? Arcadio. His passion for Amaranta had been extinguished without leaving any scars. He would drift around, playing pool, easing his solitude with occasional women, sacking the hiding places where ?rsula had forgotten her money. He ended up coming home only to change his clothes. “They’re all alike,” ?rsula lamented. “At first they behave very well, they’re obedient and prompt and they don’t seem capable of killing a fly, but as soon as their beards appear they go to ruin.” Unlike Arcadio, who had never known his real origins, he found out that he was the son of Pilar Ternera, who had hung up a hammock so that he could take his siesta in her house. More than mother and son, they were accomplices in solitude. Pilar Ternera had lost the trail of all hope. Her laugh had taken on the tones of an organ, her breasts had succumbed to the tedium of endless caressing, her stomach and her thighs had been the victims of her irrevocable fate as a shared woman, but her heart grew old without bitterness. Fat, talkative, with the airs of a matron in disgrace, she renounced the sterile illusions of her cards and found peace and consolation in other people’s loves. In the house where Aureliano Jos? took his siesta, the girls from the neighborhood would receive their casual lovers. “Lend me your room, Pilar,” they would simply say when they were already inside. “Of course,” Pilar would answer. And if anyone was present she would explain:
“I’m happy knowing that people are happy in bed.”
She never charged for the service. She never refused the favor, just as she never refused the countless men who sought her out, even in the twilight of her maturity, without giving her money or love and only occasionally pleasure. Her five daughters, who inherited a burning seed, had been lost on the byways of life since adolescence. Of the two sons she managed to raise, one died fighting in the forces of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and the other was wounded and captured at the age of fourteen when he tried to steal a crate of chickens in a town in the swamp. In a certain way, Aureliano Jos? was the tall, dark man who had been promised her for half a century by the king of hearts, and like all men sent by the cards he reached her heart when he was already stamped with the mark of death. She saw it in the cards.
“Don’t go out tonight,” she told him. “Stay and sleep here because Carmelita Montiel is getting tired of asking me to put her in your room.”
Aureliano Jos? did not catch the deep feeling of begging that was in the offer.
“Tell her to wait for me at midnight” he said. He went to the theater, where a Spanish company was putting on The Dagger of the Fox, which was really Zorzilla’s play with the title changed by order of Captain Aquiles Ricardo, because the Liberals called the Conservatives Goths. Only when he handed in his ticket at the door did Aureliano Jos? realize that Captain Aquiles Ricardo and two soldiers armed with rifles were searching the audience.
“Be careful, captain,” Aureliano Jos? warned him. “The man hasn’t been born yet who can lay hands on me.” The captain tried to search him forcibly and Aureliano Jos?, who was unarmed, began to run. The soldiers disobeyed the order to shoot. “He’s a Buend?a,” one of them explained. Blind with rage, the captain then snatched away the rifle, stepped into the center of the street, and took aim.”
“Cowards!” he shouted. “I only wish it was Colonel Aureliano Buend?a.”
Carmelita Montiel, a twenty-year-old virgin, had just bathed in orange-blossom water and was strewing rosemary leaves on Pilar Ternera’s bed when the shot rang out. Aureliano Jos? had been destined to find with her the happiness that Amaranta had denied him, to have seven children, and to die in her arms of old age, but the bullet that entered his back and shattered his chest had been directed by a wrong interpretation of the cards. Captain Aquiles Ricardo, who was really the one destined to die that night, did indeed die, four hours before Aureliano Jos?. As won as the shot was heard he was brought down by two simultaneous bullets whose origin was never established and a shout of many voices shook the night.
“Long live the Liberal party! Long live Colonel Aureliano Buend?a!”
At twelve o’clock, when Aureliano, Jos? had bled to death and Carmelita Montiel found that the cards showing her future were blank, more than four hundred men had filed past the theater and discharged their revolvers into the abandoned body of Captain Aquiles Ricardo. A patrol had to use a wheelbarrow to carry the body, which was heavy with lead and fell apart like a water-soaked loaf of bread.
Annoyed by the outrages of the regular army, General Jos? Raquel Moncada used his political influence, put on his uniform again, and assumed the civil and military leadership of Macondo. He did not expect, however, that his conciliatory attitude would be able to prevent the inevitable. The news in September was contradictory. While the government announced that it was maintaining control throughout the country, the Liberals were receiving secret news of armed uprisings in the interior. The regime would not admit a state of war until it was proclaimed in a decree that had followed a court-martial which had condemned Colonel Aureliano Buend?a to death in absentia. The first unit that captured him was ordered to carry the sentence out. “This means he’s come back,” ?rsula said joyfully to General Moncada. But he himself knew nothing about it.
Actually, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had been in the country for more than a month. He was preceded by conflicting rumors, supposed to be in the most distant places at the same time, and even General Moncada did not believe in his return until it was officially announced that he had seized two states on the coast. “Congratulations, dear friend,” he told ?rsula, showing her the telegram. “You’ll soon have him here.” ?rsula was worried then for the first time. “And what will you do?” she asked. General Moncada had asked himself that same question many times.
“The same as he, my friend,” he answered. “I’ll do my duty.”
At dawn on the first of October Colonel Aureliano Buend?a attacked Macondo with a thousand well-armed men and the garrison received orders to resist to the end. At noon, while General Moncada was lunching with ?rsula, a rebel cannon shot that echoed in the whole town blew the front of the municipal treasury to dust. “They’re as well armed as we are,” General Moncada sighed, “but besides that they’re fighting because they want to.” At two o’clock in the afternoon, while the earth trembled with the artillery fire from both sides, he took leave of ?rsula with the certainty that he was fighting a losing battle.
“I pray to God that you won’t have Aureliano in the house tonight,” he said. “If it does happen that way, give him an embrace for me, because I don’t expect ever to see him again.”
That night he was captured when he tried to escape from Macondo, after writing a long letter to Colonel Aureliano Buend?a in which he reminded him of their common aim to humanize the war and he wished him a final victory over the corruption of the militarists and the ambitions of the politicians in both parties. On the following day Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had lunch with him in ?rsula’s house, where he was being held until a revolutionary court-martial decided his fate. It was a friendly gathering. But while the adversaries forgot the war to remember things of the past, ?rsula had the gloomy feeling that her son was an intruder. She had felt it ever since she saw him come in protected by a noisy military retinue, which turned the bedrooms inside out until they were convinced there was no danger. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a not only accepted it but he gave strict orders that no one should come closer than ten feet, not even ?rsula, while the members of his escort finished placing guards about the house. He was wearing an ordinary denim uniform with no insignia of any kind and high boots with spurs that were caked with mud and dried blood. On his waist he wore a holster with the flap open and his hand, which was always on the butt of the pistol, revealed the same watchful and resolute tension as his look. His head, with deep recessions in the hairline now, seemed to have been baked in a slow oven. His face, tanned by the salt of the Caribbean, had acquired a metallic hardness. He was preserved against imminent old age by a vitality that had something to do with the coldness of his insides. He was taller than when he had left, paler and bonier, and he showed the first symptoms of resistance to nostalgia. “Good Lord,” ?rsula said to herself. “Now he looks like a man capable of anything.” He was. The Aztec shawl that he brought Amaranta, the remembrances he spoke of at lunch, the funny stories her told were simple leftovers from his humor of a different time. As soon as the order to bury the dead in a common grave was carried out, he assigned Colonel Roque Carnicero the minion of setting up courts-martial and he went ahead with the exhausting task of imposing radical reforms which would not leave a stone of the reestablished Conservative regime in place. “We have to get ahead of the politicians in the party,” he said to his aides. “When they open their eyes to reality they’ll find accomplished facts.” It was then that he decided to review the titles to land that went back a hundred years and he discovered the legalized outrages of his brother, Jos? Arcadio. He annulled the registrations with a stroke of the pen. As a last gesture of courtesy, he left his affairs for an hour and visited Rebeca to bring her up to date on what he was determined to do.
In the shadows of her house, the solitary widow who at one time had been the confidante of his repressed loves and whose persistence had saved his life was a specter out of the past. Encased in black down to her knuckles, with her heart turned to ash, she scarcely knew anything about the war. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had the impression that the phosphorescence of her bones was showing through her skin and that she moved in an atmosphere of Saint Elmo’s fire, in a stagnant air where one could still note a hidden smell of gunpowder. He began by advising her to moderate the rigor of her mourning, to ventilate the house, to forgive the world for the death of Jos? Arcadio. But Rebeca was already beyond any vanity. After searching for it uselessly in the taste of earth, in, the perfumed letters from Pietro Crespi, in the tempestuous bed of her husband, she had found peace in that house where memories materialized through the strength of implacable evocation and walked like human beings through the cloistered rooms, Leaning back in her wicker rocking chair, looking at Colonel Aureliano Buend?a as if he were the one who looked like a ghost out of the past, Rebeca was not even upset by the news that the lands usurped by Jos? Arcadio would be returned to their rightful owners.
“Whatever you decide will be done, Aureliano,” she sighed. “I always thought and now I have the proof that you’re a renegade.”
The revision of the deeds took place at the same time as the summary courts-martial presided over by Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, which ended with the execution of all officers of the regular army who had been taken prisoner by the revolutionaries. The last court-martial was that of Jos? Raquel Moncada. ?rsula intervened. ‘”His government was the best we’ve ever had in Macondo,” she told Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. “I don’t have to tell you anything about his good heart, about his affection for us, because you know better than anyone.” Colonel Aureliano Buend?a gave her a disapproving look.
“I can’t take over the job of administering justice,” he replied. “If you have something to say, tell it to the court-martial.”
?rsula not only did that she also brought all of the mothers of the revolutionary officers who lived in Macondo to testify. One by one the old women who had been founders of the town, several of whom had taken part in the daring crossing of the mountains, praised the virtues of General Moncada. ?rsula was the last in line. Her gloomy dignity, the weight of her name, the convincing vehemence of her declaration made the scale of justice hesitate for a moment. “You have taken this horrible game very seriously and you have done well because you are doing your duty,” she told the members of the court. “But don’t forget that as long as God gives us life we will still be mothers and no matter how revolutionary you may be, we have the right to pull down your pants and give you a whipping at the first sign of disrespect.” The court retired to deliberate as those words still echoed in the school that had been turned into a barracks. At midnight General Jos? Raquel Moncada was sentenced to death. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, in spite of the violent recriminations of ?rsula, refused to commute the sentence. A short while before dawn he visited the condemned man in the room used as a cell.
“Remember, old friend,” he told him. “I’m not shooting you. It’s the revolution that’s shooting you.”
General Moncada did not even get up from the cot when he saw him come in.
“Go to hell, friend,” he answered.
Until that moment, ever since his return. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had not given himself the opportunity to see him with his heart. He was startled to see how much he had aged, how his hands shook, and the rather punctilious conformity with which he awaited death, and then he felt a great disgust with himself, which he mingled with the beginnings of pity.
“You know better than I,” he said, “that all courts-martial are farces and that you’re really paying for the crimes of other people, because this time we’re going to win the war at any price. Wouldn’t you have done the same in my place?”
General Moncada, got up to clean his thick horn-rimmed glasses on his shirttail. “Probably,” he said. “But what worries me is not your shooting me, because after all, for people like us it’s a natural death.” He laid his glasses on the bed and took off his watch and chain. “What worries me,” he went on, “is that out of so much hatred for the military, out of fighting them so much and thinking about them so much, you’ve ended up as bad as they are. And no ideal in life is worth that much baseness.” He took off his wedding ring and the medal of the Virgin of Help and put them alongside his glasses and watch.
“At this rate,” he concluded, “you’ll not only be the most despotic and bloody dictator in our history, but you’ll shoot my dear friend ?rsula in an attempt to pacify your conscience.”
Colonel Aureliano Buend?a stood there impassively. General Moncada then gave him the glasses, medal, watch, and ring and he changed his tone.
“But I didn’t send for you to scold you,” he said. “I wanted to ask you the favor of sending these things to my wife.”
Colonel Aureliano Buend?a put them in his pockets.
“Is she still in Manaure?”
“She’s still in Manaure,” General Moncada confirmed, “in the same house behind the church where you sent the letter.”
“I’ll be glad to, Jos? Raquel,” Colonel Aureliano Buend?a said.
When he went out into the blue air of the mist his face grew damp as on some other dawn in the past and only then did he realize that -he had ordered the sentence to be carried out in the courtyard and not at the cemetery wall. The firing squad, drawn up opposite the door, paid him the honors of a head of state.
“They can bring him out now,” he ordered.