THE MARRIAGE was on the point of breaking up after two months because Aureliano Segundo, in an attempt to placate Petra Cotes, had a picture taken of her dressed as the Queen of Madagascar. When Fernanda found out about it she repacked her bridal trunks and left Macondo without saying good-bye. Aureliano Segundo caught up with her on the swamp road. After much pleading and promises of reform he succeeded in getting her to come home and he abandoned his concubine.
Petra Cotes, aware of her strength, showed no signs of worry. She had made a man of him. While he was still a child she had drawn him out of Melqu?ades’ room, his head full of fantastic ideas and lacking any contact with reality, and she had given him a place in the world. Nature had made him reserved and withdrawn. with tendencies toward solitary meditation, and she had molded an opposite character in him, one that was vital, expansive, open, and she had injected him with a joy for living and a pleasure in spending and celebrating until she had converted him inside and out, into the man she had dreamed of for herself ever since adolescence. Then he married, as all sons marry sooner or later. He did not dare tell her the news. He assumed an attitude that was quite childish under the circumstances, feigning anger and imaginary resentment so that Petra Cotes would be the one who would bring about the break. One day, when Aureliano Segundo reproached her unjustly, she eluded the trap and put things in their proper place.
“What it all means,” she said, “is that you want to marry the queen.”
Aureliano Segundo, ashamed, pretended an attack of rage, said that he was misunderstood and abused, and did not visit her again. Petra Cotes, without losing her poise of a wild beast in repose for a single instant, heard the music and the fireworks from the wedding, the wild bustle of the celebration as if all of it were nothing but some new piece of mischief on the part of Aureliano Segundo. Those who pitied her fate were calmed with a smile. “Don’t worry,” she told them. “Queens run errands for me.” To a neighbor woman who brought her a set of candles so that she could light up the picture of her lost lover with them, she said with an enigmatic security:
“The only candle that will make him come is always lighted.”
Just as she had foreseen, Aureliano Segundo went back to her house as soon as the honeymoon was over. He brought his usual old friends, a traveling photographer, and the gown and ermine cape soiled with blood that Fernanda had worn during the carnival. In the heat of the merriment that broke out that evening, he had Petra Cotes dress up as queen, crowned her absolute and lifetime ruler of Madagascar, and handed out copies of the picture to his friends, she not only went along with the game, but she felt sorry for him inside, thinking that he must have been very frightened to have conceived of that extravagant means of reconciliation. At seven in the evening, still dressed as the queen, she received him in bed. He had been married scarcely two months, but she realized at once that things were not going well in the nuptial bed, and she had the delicious pleasure of vengeance fulfilled. Two days later, however, when he did not dare return but sent an intermediary to arrange the terms of the separation, she understood that she was going to need more patience than she had foreseen because he seemed ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of appearances. Nor did she get upset that time. Once again she made things easy with a submission that confirmed the generalized belief that she was a poor devil, and the only souvenir she kept of Aureliano Segundo was a pair of patent leather boots, which, according to what he himself had said, were the ones he wanted to wear in his coffin. She kept them wrapped in cloth in the bottom of a trunk and made ready to feed on memories, waiting without despair.
“He has to come sooner or later,” she told herself, “even if it’s just to put on those boots.”
She did not have to wait as long as she had imagined. Actually, Aureliano Segundo understood from the night of his wedding that he would return to the house of Petra Cotes much sooner than when he would have to put on the patent leather boots: Fernanda was a woman who was lost in the world. She had been born and raised in a city six hundred miles away, a gloomy city where on ghostly nights the coaches of the viceroys still rattled through the cobbled streets, Thirty-two belfries tolled a dirge at six in the afternoon. In the manor house, which was paved with tomblike slabs, the sun was never seen. The air had died in the cypresses in the courtyard, in the pale trappings of the bedrooms, in the dripping archways of the garden of perennials. Until puberty Fernanda had no news of the world except for the melancholy piano lessons taken in some neighboring house by someone who for years and years had the drive not to take a siesta. In the room of her sick mother, green and yellow under the powdery light from the windowpanes, she would listen to the methodical, stubborn, heartless scales and think that that music was in the world while she was being consumed as she wove funeral wreaths. Her mother, perspiring with five-o’clock fever, spoke to her of the splendor of the past. When she was a little girl, on one moonlit night Fernanda saw a beautiful woman dressed in white crossing the garden toward the chapel. What bothered her most about that fleeting vision was that she felt it was exactly like her, as if she had seen herself twenty years in advance. “It was your great-grandmother the queen,” her mother told her during a truce in her coughing. “She died of some bad vapors while she was cutting a string of bulbs.” Many years later, when she began to feel she was the equal of her great-grandmother, Fernanda doubted her childhood vision, but her mother scolded her disbelief.
“We are immensely rich and powerful,” she told her. “One day you will be a queen.”
She believed it, even though they were sitting at the long table with a linen tablecloth and silver service to have a cup of watered chocolate and a sweet bun. Until the day of her wedding she dreamed about a legendary kingdom, in spite of the fact that her father, Don Fernando, had to mortgage the house in order to buy her trousseau. It was not innocence or delusions of grandeur. That was how they had brought her up. Since she had had the use of reason she remembered having done her duty in a gold pot with the family crest on it. She left the house for the first time at the age of twelve in a coach and horses that had to travel only two blocks to take her to the convent. Her classmates were surprised that she sat apart from them in a chair with a very high back and that she would not even mingle with them during recess. “She’s different,” the nuns would explain. “She’s going to be a queen.” Her schoolmates believed this because she was already the most beautiful, distinguished, and discreet girl they had ever seen. At the end of eight years, after having learned to write Latin poetry, play the clavichord, talk about falconry with gentlemen and apologetics, with archbishops, discuss affairs of state with foreign rulers and affairs of God with the Pope, she returned to her parents’ home to weave funeral wreaths. She found it despoiled. All that was left was the furniture that was absolutely necessary, the silver candelabra and table service, for the everyday utensils had been sold one by one to underwrite the costs of her education. Her mother had succumbed to five-o’clock fever. Her father, Don Fernando, dressed in black with a stiff collar and a gold watch chain, would give her a silver coin on Mondays for the household expenses, and the funeral wreaths finished the week before would be taken away. He spent most of his time shut up in his study and the few times that he went out he would return to recite the rosary with her. She had intimate friendships with no one. She had never heard mention of the wars that were bleeding the country. She continued her piano lessons at three in the afternoon. She had even began to lose the illusion of being a queen when two peremptory raps of the knocker sounded at the door and she opened it to a well-groomed military officer with ceremonious manners who had a scar on his cheek and a gold medal on his chest. He closeted himself with her father in the study. Two hours later her father came to get her in the sewing room. “Get your things together,” he told her. “You have to take a long trip.” That was how they took her to Macondo. In one single day, with a brutal slap, life threw on top of her the whole weight of a reality that her parents had kept hidden from her for many years. When she returned home she shut herself up in her room to weep, indifferent to Don Fernando’s pleas and explanations as he tried to erase the scars of that strange joke. She had sworn to herself never to leave her bedroom until she died when Aureliano Segundo came to get her. It was an act of impossible fate, because in the confusion of her indignation, in the fury of her shame, she had lied to him so that he would never know her real identity. The only real clues that Aureliano Segundo had when he left to look for her were her unmistakable highland accent and her trade as a weaver of funeral wreaths. He searched for her without cease. With the fierce temerity with which Jos? Arcadio Buend?a had crossed the mountains to found Macondo, with the blind pride with which Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had undertaken his fruitless wars, with the mad tenacity with which ?rsula watched over the survival of the line, Aureliano Segundo looked for Fernanda, without a single moment of respite. When he asked where they sold funeral wreaths they took him from house to house so that he could choose the best ones. When he asked for the most beautiful woman who had ever been seen on this earth, all the women brought him their daughters. He became lost in misty byways, in times reserved for oblivion, in labyrinths of disappointment. He crossed a yellow plain where the echo repeated one’s thoughts and where anxiety brought on premonitory mirages. After sterile weeks he came to an unknown city where all the bells were tolling a dirge. Although he had never seen them and no one had ever described them to him he immediately recognized the walls eaten away by bone salt, the broken-down wooden balconies gutted by fungus, and nailed to the outside door, almost erased by rain, the saddest cardboard sign in the world: Funeral Wreaths for Sale. From that moment until the icy morning when Fernanda left her house under the care of the Mother Superior there was barely enough time for the nuns to sew her trousseau and in six trunks put the candelabra, the silver service, and the gold chamberpot along with the countless and useless remains of a family catastrophe that had been two centuries late in its fulfillment. Don Fernando declined the invitation to go along. He promised to go later when he had cleared up his affairs, and from the moment when he gave his daughter his blessing he shut himself up in his study again to write out the announcements with mournful sketches and the family coat of arms, which would be the first human contact that Fernanda and her father would have had in all their lives. That was the real date of her birth for her. For Aureliano Segundo it was almost simultaneously the beginning and the end of happiness.
Fernanda carried a delicate calendar with small golden keys on which her spiritual adviser had marked in purple ink the dates of venereal abstinence. Not counting Holy week, Sundays, holy days of obligation, first Fridays, retreats, sacrifices, and cyclical impediments, her effective year was reduced to forty-two days that were spread out through a web of purple crosses. Aureliano Segundo, convinced that time would break up that hostile network, prolonged the wedding celebration beyond the expected time. Tired of throwing out so many empty brandy and champagne bottles so that they would not clutter up the house and at the same time intrigued by the fact that the newlyweds slept at different times and in separate rooms while the fireworks and music and the slaughtering of cattle went on, ?rsula remembered her own experience and wondered whether Fernanda might have a chastity belt too which would sooner or later provoke jokes in the town and give rise to a tragedy. But Fernanda confessed to her that she was just letting two weeks go by before allowing the first contact with her husband. Indeed, when the period was over, she opened her bedroom with a resignation worthy of an expiatory victim and Aureliano Segundo saw the most beautiful woman on earth, with her glorious eyes of a frightened animal and her long, copper-colored hair spread out across the pillow. He was so fascinated with that vision that it took him a moment to realize that Fernanda was wearing a white nightgown that reached down to her ankles, with long sleeves and with a large, round buttonhole, delicately trimmed, at the level of her lower stomach. Aureliano Segundo could not suppress an explosion of laughter.
“That’s the most obscene thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he shouted with a laugh that rang through the house. “I married a Sister of Charity.”
A month later, unsuccessful in getting his wife to take off her nightgown, he had the picture taken of Petra Cotes dressed as a queen. Later on, when he succeeded in getting Fernanda to come back home, she gave in to his urges in the fever of reconciliation, but she could not give him the repose he had dreamed about when he went to fetch her in the city with the thirty-two belfries. Aureliano Segundo found only a deep feeling of desolation in her. One night, a short time before their first child was born, Fernanda realized that her husband had returned in secret to the bed of Petra Cotes.
“That’s what happened,” he admitted. And he explained in a tone of prostrated resignation: “I had to do it so that the animals would keep on breeding.”
He needed a little time to convince her about such a strange expedient, but when he finally did so by means of proofs that seemed irrefutable, the only promise that Fernanda demanded from him was that he should not be surprised by death in his concubine’s bed. In that way the three of them continued living without bothering each other. Aureliano Segundo, punctual and loving with both of them. Petra Cotes, strutting because of the reconciliation, and Fernanda, pretending that she did not know the truth.
The pact did not succeed, however, in incorporating Fernanda into the family. ?rsula insisted in vain that she take off the woolen ruff which she would have on when she got up from making love and which made the neighbors whisper. She could not convince her to use the bathroom or the night lavatory and sell the gold chamberpot to Colonel Aureliano Buend?a so that he could convert it into little fishes. Amaranta felt so uncomfortable with her defective diction and her habit of using euphemisms to designate everything that she would always speak gibberish in front of her.
“Thifisif.” she would say, “ifisif onefos ofosif thofosif whosufu cantantant statantand thefesef smufumellu ofosif therisir owfisown shifisifit.”
One day, irritated by the mockery, Fernanda wanted to know what Amaranta was saying, and she did not use euphemisms in answering her.
“I was saying,” she told her, “that you’re one of those people who mix up their ass and their ashes.”
From that time on they did not speak to each other again. When circumstances demanded it they would send notes. In spite of the visible hostility of the family, Fernanda did not give up her drive to impose the customs of her ancestors. She put an end to the custom of eating in the kitchen and whenever anyone was hungry, and she imposed the obligation of doing it at regular hours at the large table in the dining room, covered with a linen cloth and with silver candlesticks and table service. The solemnity of an act which ?rsula had considered the most simple one of daily life created a tense atmosphere against which the silent Jos? Arcadio Segundo rebelled before anyone else. But the custom was imposed, the same as that of reciting the rosary before dinner, and it drew the attention of the neighbors, who soon spread the rumor that the Buend?as did not sit down to the table like other mortals but had changed the act of eating into a kind of high mass. Even ?rsula’s superstitions, with origins that came more from an inspiration of the moment than from tradition, came into conflict with those of Fernanda, who had inherited them from her parents and kept them defined and catalogued for every occasion. As long as ?rsula had full use of her faculties some of the old customs survived and the life of the family kept some quality of her impulsiveness, but when she lost her sight and the weight of her years relegated her to a corner, the circle of rigidity begun by Fernanda from the moment she arrived finally closed completely and no one but she determined the destiny of the family. The business in pastries and small candy animals that Santa Sof?a de la Piedad had kept up because of ?rsula’s wishes was considered an unworthy activity by Fernanda and she lost no time in putting a stop to it. The doors of the house, wide open from dawn until bedtime, were closed during siesta time under the pretext that the sun heated up the bedrooms and in the end they were closed for good. The aloe branch and loaf of bread that had been hanging over the door since the days of the founding were replaced by a niche with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a became aware somehow of those changes and foresaw their consequences. “We’re becoming people of quality,” he protested. “At this rate we’ll end up fighting against the Conservative regime again, but this time to install a king in its place.” Fernanda very tactfully tried not to cross his path. Within herself she was bothered by his independent spirit his resistance to all kinds of social rigidity. She was exasperated by his mugs of coffee at five in the morning, the disorder of his workshop, his frayed blanket, and his custom of sitting in the street door at dusk. But she had to tolerate that one loose piece in the family machinery because she was sure that the old colonel was an animal who had been tamed by the years and by disappointment and who, in a burst of senile rebellion, was quite capable of uprooting the foundations of the house. When her husband decided to give their first son the name of his great-grandfather, she did not dare oppose him because she had been there only a year. But when the first daughter was bom she expressed her unreserved determination to name her Renata after her mother. ?rsula had decided to call her Remedios. After a tense argument, in which Aureliano Segundo acted as the laughing go-between, they baptized her with the name Renata Remedios, but Fernanda went on calling her just Renata while her husband’s family and everyone in town called her Meme, a diminutive of Remedios.
At first Fernanda did not talk about her family, but in time she began to idealize her father. She spoke of him at the table as an exceptional being who had renounced all forms of vanity and was on his way to becoming a saint. Aureliano Segundo, startled at that unbridled glorification of his father-in-law, could not resist the temptation to make small jokes behind his wife’s back. The rest of the family followed his example. Even ?rsula, who was extremely careful to preserve family harmony and who suffered in secret from the domestic friction, once allowed herself the liberty of saying that her little great-great-grandson had his pontifical future assured because he was “the grandson of a saint and the son of a queen and a rustler.” In spite of that conspiracy of smiles, the children became accustomed to think of their grandfather as a legendary being who wrote them pious verses in his letters and every Christmas sent them a box of gifts that barely fitted through the outside door. Actually they were the last remains of his lordly inheritance. They used them to build an altar of life-size saints in the children’s bedroom, saints with glass eyes that gave them a disquietingly lifelike look, whose artistically embroidered clothing was better than that worn by any inhabitant of Macondo. Little by little the funereal splendor of the ancient and icy mansion was being transformed into the splendor of the House of Buend?a. “They’ve already sent us the whole family cemetery,” Aureliano Segundo commented one day. “All we need now are the weeping willows and the tombstones.” Although nothing ever arrived in the boxes that the children could play with, they would spend all year waiting for December because, after all, the antique and always unpredictable gifts were something, new in the house. On the tenth Christmas, when little Jos? Arcadio was getting ready to go to the seminary, the enormous box from their grandfather arrived earlier than usual, nailed tight and protected with pitch, and addressed in the usual Gothic letters to the Very Distinguished Lady Do?a Fernanda del Carpio de Buend?a. While she read the letter in her room the children hastened to open the box. Aided as was customary by Aureliano Segundo, they broke the seals, opened the cover, took out the protective sawdust, and found inside a long lead chest closed by copper bolts. Aureliano Segundo took out the eight bolts as the children watched impatiently, and he barely had time to give a cry and push the children aside when be raised the lead cover and saw Don Fernando, dressed in black and with a crucifix on his chest, his skin broken out in pestilential sores and cooking slowly in a frothy stew with bubbles like live pearls.
A short time after the birth of their daughter, the unexpected jubilee for Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a, ordered by the government to celebrate another anniversary of the Treaty of Neerlandia, was announced. It was a decision so out of line with official policy that the colonel spoke out violently against it and rejected the homage. “It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of the word ‘jubilee,’ ” he said. “But whatever it means, it has to be a trick.” The small goldsmith shop was filled with emissaries. Much older and more solemn, the lawyers in dark suits who in other days had flapped about the colonel like crows had returned. When he saw them appear the same as the other time, when they came to put a stop to the war, he could not bear the cynicism of their praise. He ordered them to leave him in peace, insisting that he was not a hero of the nation as they said but an artisan without memories whose only dream was to die of fatigue in the oblivion and misery of his little gold fishes. What made him most indignant was the word that the president of the republic himself planned to be present at the ceremonies in Macondo in order to decorate him with the Order of Merit. Colonel Aureliano, Buend?a had him told, word for word, that he was eagerly awaiting that tardy but deserved occasion in order to take a shot at him, not as payment for the arbitrary acts and anachronisms of his regime, but for his lack of respect for an old man who had not done anyone any harm. Such was the vehemence with which he made the threat that the president of the republic canceled his trip at the last moment and sent the decoration with a personal representative. Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, besieged by pressures of all kinds, left his bed of a paralytic in order to persuade his former companion in arms. When the latter saw the rocking chair carried by four men appear and saw the friend who had shared his victories and defeats since youth sitting in it among some large pillows, he did not have a single doubt but that he was making that effort in order to express his solidarity. But when he discovered the real motive for his visit he had them take him out of the workshop.
“Now I’m convinced too late,” he told him, “that I would have done you a great favor if I’d let them shoot you.”
So the jubilee was celebrated without the attendance of any members of the family. Chance had it that it also coincided with carnival week, but no one could get the stubborn idea out of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s head that the coincidence had been foreseen by the government in order to heighten the cruelty of the mockery. From his lonely workshop he could hear the martial music, the artillery salutes, the tolling of the Te Deum, and a few phrases of the speeches delivered in front of the house as they named the street after him. His eyes grew moist with indignation, with angry impotence, and for the first time since his defeat it pained him not to have the strength of youth so that he could begin a bloody war that would wipe out the last vestiges of the Conservative regime. The echoes of the homage had not died down when ?rsula knocked at the workshop door.
“Don’t bother me,” he said. “I’m busy.”
“Open up,” ?rsula insisted in a normal voice. “This has nothing to do with the celebration.”
Then Colonel Aureliano Buend?a took down the bar and saw at the door seventeen men of the most varied appearance, of all types and colors, but all with a solitary air that would have been enough to identify them anywhere on earth. They were his sons. Without any previous agreement, without knowing each other, they had arrived from the most distant corners of the coast, captivated by the talk of the jubilee. They all bore with pride the name Aureliano and the last name of their mothers. The three days that they stayed in the house, to the satisfaction of ?rsula and the scandal of Fernanda, were like a state war. Amaranta searched among old papers for the ledger where ?rsula had written down the names and birth and baptism dates of all of them, and beside the space for each one she added his present address. That list could well have served as a recapitulation of twenty years of war. From it the nocturnal itinerary of the colonel from the dawn he left Macondo at the head of twenty-one men on his way to a fanciful rebellion until he returned for the last time wrapped in a blanket stiff with blood could have been reconstructed. Aureliano Segundo did not let the chance go by to regale his cousins with a thunderous champagne and accordion party that was interpreted as a tardy adjustment of accounts with the carnival, which went awry because of the jubilee. They smashed half of the dishes, they destroyed the rose bushes as they chased a bull they were trying to hog-tie, they killed the hens by shooting them, they made Amaranta dance the sad waltzes of Pietro Crespi, they got Remedios the Beauty to put on a pair of men’s pants and climb a greased pole, and in the dining room they turned loose a pig daubed with lard, which prostrated Fernanda, but no one regretted the destruction because the house shook with a healthy earthquake. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a who at first received them with mistrust and even doubted the parentage of some, was amused by their wildness, and before they left he gave each one a little gold fish. Even the withdrawn Jos? Arcadio Segundo offered them an afternoon of cockfights, which was at the point of ending in tragedy because several of the Aurelianos were so expert in matters of the cockpit that they spotted Father Antonio Isabel’s tricks at once. Aureliano Segundo, who saw the limitless prospect of wild times offered by those mad relatives, decided that they should all stay and work for him. The only one who accepted was Aureliano Triste, a big mulatto with the drive and explorer’s spirit of his grandfather. He had already tested his fortune in half the world and it did not matter to him where he stayed. The others, even though they were unmarried, considered their destinies established. They were all skillful craftsmen, the men of their houses, peace-loving people. The Ash Wednesday before they went back to scatter out along the coast, Amaranta got them to put on Sunday clothes and accompany her to church. More amused than devout, they let themselves be led to the altar rail where Father Antonio Isabel made the sign of the cross in ashes on them. Back at the house, when the youngest tried to clean his forehead, he discovered that the mark was indelible and so were those of his brothers. They tried soap and water, earth and a scrubbing brush, and lastly a pumice stone and lye, but they could not remove the crosses. On the other hand, Amaranta and the others who had gone to mass took it off without any trouble. “It’s better that way,” ?rsula stated as she said goodbye to them. “From now on everyone will know who you are.” They went off in a troop, preceded by a band of musicians and shooting off fireworks, and they left behind in the town an impression that the Buend?a line had enough seed for many centuries. Aureliano Triste, with the cross of ashes on his forehead, set up on the edge of town the ice factory that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a had dreamed of in his inventive delirium.
Some months after his arrival, when he was already well-known and well-liked, Aureliano Triste went about looking for a house so that he could send for his mother and an unmarried sister (who was not the colonel’s daughter), and he became interested in the run-down big house that looked abandoned on a corner of the square. He asked who owned it. Someone told him that it did not belong to anyone, that in former times a solitary widow who fed on earth and whitewash from the walls had lived there, and that in her last years she was seen only twice on the street with a hat of tiny artificial flowers and shoes the color of old silver when she crossed the square to the post office to mail a letter to the Bishop. They told him that her only companion was a pitiless servant woman who killed dogs and cats and any animal that got into the house and threw their corpses into the middle of the street in order to annoy people with the rotten stench. So much time had passed since the sun had mummified the empty skin of the last animal that everybody took it for granted that the lady of the house and the maid had died long before the wars were over, and that if the house was still standing it was because in recent years there had not been a rough winter or destructive wind. The hinges had crumbled with rust, the doors were held up only by clouds of cobwebs, the windows were soldered shut by dampness, and the floor was broken by grass and wildflowers and in the cracks lizards and all manner of vermin had their nests, all of which seemed to confirm the notion that there had not been a human being there for at least half a century. The impulsive Aureliano Triste did not need such proof to proceed. He pushed on the main door with his shoulder and the worm-eaten wooden frame fell down noiselessly amid a dull cataclysm of dust and termite nests. Aureliano Triste stood on the threshold waiting for the dust to clear and then he saw in the center of the room the squalid woman, still dressed in clothing of the past century, with a few yellow threads on her bald head, and with two large eyes, still beautiful, in which the last stars of hope had gone out, and the skin of her face was wrinkled by the aridity of solitude. Shaken by that vision from another world, Aureliano Triste barely noticed that the woman was aiming an antiquated pistol at him.
“I beg your pardon,” he murmured.
She remained motionless in the center of the room filled with knickknacks, examining inch by inch the giant with square shoulders and with a tattoo of ashes on his forehead, and through the haze of dust she saw him in the haze of other times with a double-barreled shotgun on his shoulder and a string of rabbits in his hand.
“For the love of God,” she said in a low voice, it’s not right for them to come to me with that memory now.”
“I want to rent the house,” Aureliano Triste said.
The woman then raised the pistol, aiming with a firm wrist at the cross of ashes, and she held the trigger with a determination against which there was no appeal.
“Get out,” she ordered.
That night at dinner Aureliano Triste told the family about the episode and ?rsula wept with consternation. “Holy God!” she exclaimed, clutching her head with her hands. “She’s still alive!” Time, wars, the countless everyday disasters had made her forget about Rebeca. The only one who had not lost for a single minute the awareness that she was alive and rotting in her wormhole was the implacable and aging Amaranta. She thought of her at dawn, when the ice of her heart awakened her in her solitary bed, and she thought of her when she soaped her withered breasts and her lean stomach, and when she put on the white stiff-starched petticoats and corsets of old age, and when she changed the black bandage of terrible expiation on her hand. Always, at every moment, asleep and awake, during the most sublime and most abject moments, Amaranta thought about Rebeca, because solitude had made a selection in her memory and had burned the dimming piles of nostalgic waste that life had accumulated in her heart, and had purified, magnified and eternalized the others, the most bitter ones. Remedios the Beauty knew about Rebeca’s existence from her. Every time they passed the run-down house she would tell her about an unpleasant incident, a tale of hate, trying in that way to make her extended rancor be shared by her niece and consequently prolonged beyond death, but her plan did not work because Remedios was immune to any kind of passionate feelings and much less to those of others. ?rsula, on the other hand, who had suffered through a process opposite to Amaranta’s, recalled Rebeca with a memory free of impurities, for the image of the pitiful child brought to the house with the bag containing her parents’ bones prevailed over the offense that had made her unworthy to be connected to the family tree any longer. Aureliano Segundo decided that they would have to bring her to the house and take care of her, but his good intentions were frustrated by the firm intransigence of Rebeca, who had needed many years of suffering and misery in order to attain the privileges of solitude and who was not disposed to renounce them in exchange for an old age disturbed by the false attractions of charity.
In February, when the sixteen sons of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a returned, still marked with the cross of ashes, Aureliano Triste spoke to them about Rebeca in the tumult of the celebration and in half a day they restored the appearance of the house, changing doors and windows, painting the front with gay colors, bracing walls and pouring fresh cement on the floor, but they could not get any authorization to continue the work inside. Rebeca did not even come to the door. She let them finish the mad restoration, then calculated what it had cost and sent Arg?nida, her old servant who was still with her, to them with a handful of coins that had been withdrawn from circulation after the last war and that Rebeca thought were still worth something it was then that they saw to what a fantastic point her separation from the world had arrived and they understood that it would be impossible to rescue her from her stubborn enclosure while she still had a breath of life in her.
On the second visit by the sons of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a to Macondo, another of them, Aureliano Centeno, stayed on to work with Aureliano Triste. He was one of the first who had been brought to the house for baptism and ?rsula and Amaranta remembered him very well because in a few hours he had destroyed every breakable object that passed through his hands. Time had moderated his early impulse for growth and he was a man of average height marked by smallpox scars, but his amazing power for manual destruction remained intact. He broke so many plates, even without touching them, that Fernanda decided to buy him a set of pewterware before he did away with the last pieces of her expensive china, and even the resistant metal plates were soon dented and twisted. But to make up for that irremediable power, which was exasperating even for him, he had a cordiality that won the immediate confidence of others and a stupendous capacity for work. In a short time he had increased the production of ice to such a degree that it was too much for the local market and Aureliano Triste had to think about the possibility of expanding the business to other towns in the swamp. It was then that he thought of the decisive step, not only for the modernization of his business but to link the town with the rest of the world.
“We have to bring in the railroad,” he said.
That was the first time that the word had ever been heard in Macondo. Looking at the sketch that Aureliano Triste drew on the table and that was a direct descendent of the plans with which Jos? Arcadio Buend?a had illustrated his project for solar warfare, ?rsula confirmed her impression that time was going in a circle. But unlike his forebear, Aureliano Triste did not lose any sleep or appetite nor did he torment anyone with crises of ill humor, but he considered the most harebrained of projects as immediate possibilities, made rational calculations about costs and dates, and brought them off without any intermediate exasperation. If Aureliano Segundo had something of his great-grandfather in him and lacked something of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, it was an absolute indifference to mockery, and he gave the money to bring the railroad with the same lighthearted air with which he had given it for his brother’s absurd navigation project. Aureliano Triste consulted the calendar and left the following Wednesday, planning to return after the rains had passed. There was no more news of him. Aureliano Centeno, overwhelmed by the abundance of the factory, had already begun to experiment with the production of ice with a base of fruit juices instead of water, and without knowing it or thinking about it, he conceived the essential fundamentals for the invention of sherbet. In that way he planned to diversify the production of an enterprise he considered his own, because his brother showed no signs of returning after the rains had passed and a whole summer had gone by with no news of him. At the start of another winter, however, a woman who was washing clothes in the river during the hottest time of the day ran screaming down the main street in an alarming state of commotion.
“It’s coming,” she finally explained. “Something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it.”
At that moment the town was shaken by a whistle with a fearful echo and a loud, panting respiration. During the previous weeks they had seen the gangs who were laying ties and tracks and no one paid attention to them because they thought it was some new trick of the gypsies, coming back with whistles and tambourines and their age-old and discredited song and dance about the qualities of some concoction put together by journeyman geniuses of Jerusalem. But when they recovered from the noise of the whistles and the snorting, all the inhabitants ran out into the street and saw Aureliano Triste waving from the locomotive, and in a trance they saw the flower-bedecked train which was arriving for the first time eight months late. The innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo.