DAZZLED BY SO MANY and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo did not know where their amazement began. They stayed up all night looking at the pale electric bulbs fed by the plant that Aureliano Triste had brought back when the train made its second trip, and it took time and effort for them to grow accustomed to its obsessive toom-toom. They be. came indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for the character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many felt that they had been the victims of some new and showy gypsy business and they decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings. Something similar happened with the cylinder phonographs that the merry matrons from France brought with them as a substitute for the antiquated hand organs and that for a time had serious effects on the livelihood of the band of musicians. At first curiosity increased the clientele on the forbidden street and there was even word of respectable ladies who disguised themselves as workers in order to observe the novelty of the phonograph from first hand, but from so much and such close observation they soon reached the conclusion that it was not an enchanted mill as everyone had thought and as the matrons had said, but a mechanical trick that could not be compared with something so moving, so human, and so full of everyday truth as a band of musicians. It was such a serious disappointment that when phonographs became so popular that there was one in every house they were not considered objects for amusement for adults but as something good for children to take apart. On the other hand, when someone from the town had the opportunity to test the crude reality of the telephone installed in the railroad station, which was thought to be a rudimentary version of the phonograph because of its crank, even the most incredulous were upset. It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of Jos? Arcadio Buend?a under the chestnut tree with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight. Ever since the railroad had been officially inaugurated and had begun to arrive with regularity on Wednesdays at eleven o’clock and the primitive wooden station with a desk, a telephone, and a ticket window had been built, on the streets of Macondo men and women were seen who had adopted everyday and normal customs and manners but who really looked like people out of a circus. In a town that had chafed under the tricks of the gypsies there was no future for those ambulatory acrobats of commerce who with equal effrontery offered a whistling kettle and a daily regime that would assure the salvation of the soul on the seventh day; but from those who let themselves be convinced out of fatigue and the ones who were always unwary, they reaped stupendous benefits. Among those theatrical creatures, wearing riding breeches and leggings, a pith helmet and steel-rimmed glasses, with topaz eyes and the skin of a thin rooster, there arrived in Macondo on one of so many Wednesdays the chubby and smiling Mr. Herbert, who ate at the house.
No one had noticed him at the table until the first bunch of bananas had been eaten. Aureliano Segundo had come across him by chance as he protested In broken Spanish because there were no rooms at the Hotel Jacob, and as he frequently did with strangers, he took him home. He was in the captive-balloon business, which had taken him halfway around the world with excellent profits, but he had not succeeded in taking anyone up in Macondo because they considered that invention backward after having seen and tried the gypsies’ flying carpets. He was leaving, therefore, on the next train. When they brought to the table the tiger-striped bunch of bananas that they were accustomed to hang in the dining room during lunch, he picked the first piece of fruit without great enthusiasm. But he kept on eating as he spoke, tasting, chewing, more with the distraction of a wise man than with the delight of a good eater, and when he finished the first bunch he asked them to bring him another. Then he took a small case with optical instruments out of the toolbox that he always carried with him. With the auspicious attention of a diamond merchant he examined the banana meticulously, dissecting it with a special scalpel, weighing the pieces on a pharmacist’s scale, and calculating its breadth with a gunsmith’s calipers. Then he took a series of instruments out of the chest with which he measured the temperature, the level of humidity in the atmosphere, and the intensity of the light. It was such an intriguing ceremony that no one could eat in peace as everybody waited for Mr. Herbert to pass a final and revealing judgment, but he did not say anything that allowed anyone to guess his intentions.
On the days that followed he was seen with a net and a small basket hunting butterflies on the outskirts of town. On Wednesday a group of engineers, agronomists, hydrologists, topographers, and surveyors arrived who for several weeks explored the places where Mr. Herbert had hunted his butterflies. Later on Mr. Jack Brown arrived in an extra coach that had been coupled onto the yellow train and that was silver-plated all over, with seats of episcopal velvet, and a roof of blue glass. Also arriving on the special car, fluttering around Mr. Brown, were the solemn lawyers dressed in black who in different times had followed Colonel Aureliano Buend?a everywhere, and that led the people to think that the agronomists, hydrologists, topographers, and surveyors, like Mr. Herbert with his captive balloons and his colored butterflies and Mr. Brown with his mausoleum on wheels and his ferocious German shepherd dogs, had something to do with the war. There was not much time to think about it, however, because the suspicious inhabitants of Macondo barely began to wonder what the devil was going on when the town had already become transformed into an encampment of wooden houses with zinc roofs inhabited by foreigners who arrived on the train from halfway around the world, riding not only on the seats and platforms but even on the roof of the coaches. The gringos, who later on brought their languid wives in muslin dresses and large veiled hats, built a separate town across the railroad tracks with streets lined with palm trees, houses with screened windows, small white tables on the terraces, and fans mounted on the ceilings, and extensive blue lawns with peacocks and quails. The section was surrounded by a metal fence topped with a band of electrified chicken wire which during the cool summer mornings would be black with roasted swallows. No one knew yet what they were after, or whether they were actually nothing but philanthropists, and they had already caused a colossal disturbance, much more than that of the old gypsies, but less transitory and understandable. Endowed with means that had been reserved for Divine Providence in former times, they changed the pattern of the rams, accelerated the cycle of harvest, and moved the river from where it had always been and put it with its white stones and icy currents on the other side of the town, behind the cemetery. It was at that time that they built a fortress of reinforced concrete over the faded tomb of Jos? Arcadio, so that the corpses smell of powder would not contaminate the waters. For the foreigners who arrived without love they converted the street of the loving matrons from France into a more extensive village than it had been, and on one glorious Wednesday they brought in a trainload of strange whores, Babylonish women skilled in age-old methods and in possession of all manner of unguents and devices to stimulate the unaroused, to give courage to the timid, to satiate the voracious, to exalt the modest man, to teach a lesson to repeaters, and to correct solitary people. The Street of the Turks, enriched by well-lit stores with products from abroad, displacing the old bazaars with their bright colors, overflowed on Saturday nights with the crowds of adventurers who bumped into each other among gambling tables, shooting galleries, the alley where the future was guessed and dreams interpreted, and tables of fried food and drinks, and on Sunday mornings there were scattered on the ground bodies that were sometimes those of happy drunkards and more often those of onlookers felled by shots, fists, knives, and bottles during the brawls. It was such a tumultuous and intemperate invasion that during the first days it was impossible to walk through the streets because of the furniture and trunks, and the noise of the carpentry of those who were building their houses in any vacant lot without asking anyone’s permission, and the scandalous behavior of couples who hung their hammocks between the almond trees and made love under the netting in broad daylight and in view of everyone. The only serene corner had been established by peaceful West Indian Negroes, who built a marginal street with wooden houses on piles where they would sit in the doors at dusk singing melancholy hymns in their disordered gabble. So many changes took place in such a short time that eight months after Mr. Herbert’s visit the old inhabitants had a hard time recognizing their own town.
“Look at the mess we’ve got ourselves into,” Colonel Aureliano Buend?a said at that time, “just because we invited a gringo to eat some bananas.”
Aureliano Segundo, on the other hand, could not contain his happiness over the avalanche of foreigners. The house was suddenly filled with unknown guests, with invincible and worldly carousers, and it became necessary to add bedrooms off the courtyard, widen the dining room, and exchange the old table for one that held sixteen people, with new china and silver, and even then they had to eat lunch in shifts. Fernanda had to swallow her scruples and their guests of the worst sort like kings as they muddied the porch with their boots, urinated in the garden. laid their mats down anywhere to take their siesta, and spoke without regard for the sensitivities of ladies or the proper behavior of gentlemen. Amaranta, was so scandalized with the plebeian invasion that she went back to eating in the kitchen as in olden days. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, convinced that the majority of those who came into his workshop to greet him were not doing it because of sympathy or regard but out of the curiosity to meet a historical relic, a museum fossil, decided to shut himself in by barring the door and he was not seen any more except on very rare occasions when he would sit at the street door. ?rsula, on the other hand, even during the days when she was already dragging her feet and walking about groping along the walls, felt a juvenile excitement as the time for the arrival of the train approached. “We have to prepare some meat and fish,” she would order the four cooks, who hastened to have everything ready under the imperturbable direction of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad. “We have to prepare everything,” she insisted, “because we never know what these strangers like to eat.” The train arrived during the hottest time of day. At lunchtime the house shook with the bustle of a marketplace, and the perspiring guests—who did not even know who their hosts were—trooped in to occupy the best places at the table, while the cooks bumped into each other with enormous kettles of soup, pots of meat, large gourds filled with vegetables, and troughs of rice, and passed around the contents of barrels of lemonade with inexhaustible ladles. The disorder was such that Fernanda was troubled by the idea that many were eating twice and on more than one occasion she was about to burst out with a vegetable hawker’s insults because someone at the table in confusion asked her for the check. More than a year had gone by since Mr. Herbert’s visit and the only thing that was known was that the gringos were planning to plant banana trees in the enchanted region that Jos? Arcadio Buend?a and his men had crossed in search of the route to the great inventions. Two other sons of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a, with the cross of ashes on their foreheads, arrived, drawn by that great volcanic belch, and they justified their determination with a phrase that may have explained everybody’s reasons.
“We came,” they said, “because everyone is coming.”
Remedios the Beauty was the only one who was immune to the banana plague. She was becalmed in a magnificent adolescence, more and more impenetrable to formality, more and more indifferent to malice and suspicion, happy in her own world of simple realities. She did not understand why women complicated their lives with corsets and petticoats, so she sewed herself a coarse cassock that she simply put over her and without further difficulties resolved the problem of dress, without taking away the feeling of being naked, which according to her lights was the only decent way to be when at home. They bothered her so much to cut the rain of hair that already reached to her thighs and to make rolls with combs and braids with red ribbons that she simply shaved her head and used the hair to make wigs for the saints. The startling thing about her simplifying instinct was that the more she did away with fashion in a search for comfort and the more she passed over conventions as she obeyed spontaneity, the more disturbing her incredible beauty became and the more provocative she became to men. When the sons of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a were in Macondo for the first time, ?rsula remembered that in their veins they bore the same blood as her great-granddaughter and she shuddered with a forgotten fright. “Keep your eyes wide open,” she warned her. “With any of them your children will come out with the tail of a pig.” The girl paid such little attention to the warning that she dressed up as a man and rolled around in the sand in order to climb the greased pole, and she was at the point of bringing on a tragedy among the seventeen cousins, who were driven mad by the unbearable spectacle. That was why none of them slept at the house when they visited the town and the four who had stayed lived in rented rooms at ?rsula’s insistence. Remedios the Beauty, however, would have died laughing if she had known about that precaution. Until her last moment on earth she was unaware that her irreparable fate as a disturbing woman was a daily disaster. Every time she appeared in the dining room, against ?rsula’s orders, she caused a panic of exasperation among the outsiders. It was all too evident that she was completely naked underneath her crude nightshirt and no one could understand that her shaved and perfect skull was not some kind of challenge, and that the boldness with which she uncovered her thighs to cool off was not a criminal provocation, nor was her pleasure when she sucked her fingers after. eating. What no member of the family ever knew was that the strangers did not take long to realize that Remedios the Beauty gave off a breath of perturbation, a tormenting breeze that was still perceptible several hours after she had passed by. Men expert in the disturbances of love, experienced all over the world, stated that they had never suffered an anxiety similar to the one produced by the natural smell of Remedios the Beauty. On the porch with the begonias, in the parlor, in any place in the house, it was possible to point out the exact place where she had been and the time that had passed since she had left it. It was a definite, unmistakable trace that no one in the family could distinguish because it had been incorporated into the daily odors for a long time, but it was one that the outsiders identified immediately. They were the only ones, therefore, who understood how the young commander of the guard had died of love and how a gentleman from a faraway land had been plunged into desperation. Unaware of the restless circle in which she moved, of the unbearable state of intimate calamity that she provoked as she passed by, Remedios the Beauty treated the men without the least bit of malice and in the end upset them with her innocent complaisance. When ?rsula succeeded in imposing the command that she eat with Amaranta in the kitchen so that the outsiders would not see her, she felt more comfortable, because, after all, she was beyond all discipline. In reality, it made no difference to her where she ate, and not at regular hours but according to the whims of her appetite. Sometimes she would get up to have lunch at three in the morning, sleep all day long, and she spent several months with her timetable all in disarray until some casual incident would bring her back into the order of things. When things were going better she would get up at eleven o’clock in the morning and shut herself up until two o’clock, completely nude, in the bathroom, killing scorpions as she came out of her dense and prolonged sleep. Then she would throw water from the cistern over herself with a gourd. It was an act so prolonged, so meticulous, so rich in ceremonial aspects that one who did not know her well would have thought that she was given over to the deserved adoration of her own body. For her, however, that solitary rite lacked all sensuality and was simply a way of passing the time until she was hungry. One day, as she began to bathe herself, a stranger lifted a tile from the roof and was breathless at the tremendous spectacle of her nudity. She saw his desolate eyes through the broken tiles and had no reaction of shame but rather one of alarm.
“Be careful,” she exclaimed. “You’ll fall.”
“I just wanted to see you,” the foreigner murmured.
“Oh, all right,” she said. “But be careful, those tiles are rotten.”
The stranger’s face had a pained expression of stupor and he seemed to be battling silently against his primary instincts so as not to break up the mirage. Remedios the Beauty thought that he was suffering from the fear that the tiles would break and she bathed herself more quickly than usual so that the man would not be in danger. While she was pouring water from the, cistern she told him that the roof was in that state because she thought that the bed of leaves had been rotted by the rain and that was what was filling the bathroom with scorpions. The stranger thought that her small talk was a way of covering her complaisance, so that when she began to soap herself he gave into temptation and went a step further.
“Let me soap you,” he murmured.
“Thank you for your good intentions,” she said, “but my two hands are quite enough.”
“Even if it’s just your back,” the foreigner begged.
“That would be silly,” she said. “People never soap their backs.”
Then, while she was drying herself, the stranger begged her, with his eyes full of tears, to marry him. She answered him sincerely that she would never marry a man who was so simple that he had wasted almost an hour and even went without lunch just to see a woman taking a bath. Finally, when she put on her cassock, the man could not bear the proof that, indeed, she was not wearing anything underneath, as everyone had suspected, and he felt himself marked forever with the white-hot iron of that secret. Then he took two more tiles off in order to drop down into the bathroom.
“It’s very high,” she warned him in fright. “You’ll kill yourself!”
The rotten tiles broke with a noise of disaster and the man barely had time to let out a cry of terror as he cracked his skull and was killed outright on the cement floor. The foreigners who heard the noise in the dining room and hastened to remove the body noticed the suffocating odor of Remedios the Beauty on his skin. It was so deep in his body that the cracks in his skull did not give off blood but an amber-colored oil that was impregnated with that secret perfume, and then they understood that the smell of Remedios the Beauty kept on torturing men beyond death, right down to the dust of their bones. Nevertheless, they did not relate that horrible accident to the other two men who had died because of Remedios the Beauty. A victim was still needed before the outsiders and many of the old inhabitants of Macondo would credit the legend that Remedios Buend?a did not give off a breath of love but a fatal emanation. The occasion for the proof of it came some months later on one afternoon when Remedios the Beauty went with a group of girl friends to look at the new plantings. For the girls of Macondo that novel game was reason for laughter and surprises, frights and jokes, and at night they would talk about their walk as if it had been an experience in a dream. Such was the prestige of that silence that ?rsula did not have the heart to take the fun away from Remedios the Beauty, and she let her go one afternoon, providing that she wore a hat and a decent dress. As soon as the group of friends went into the plantings the air became impregnated with a fatal fragrance. The men who were working along the rows felt possessed by a strange fascination, menaced by some invisible danger, and many succumbed to a terrible desire to weep. Remedios the Beauty and her startled friends managed to take refuge in a nearby house just as they were about to be assaulted by a pack of ferocious males. A short time later they were rescued by the flour Aurelianos, whose crosses of ash inspired a sacred respect, as if they were caste marks, stamps of invulnerability. Remedios the Beauty did not tell anyone that one of the men, taking advantage of the tumult, had managed to attack her stomach with a hand that was more like the claw of an eagle clinging to the edge of a precipice. She faced the attacker in a kind of instantaneous flash and saw the disconsolate eyes, which remained stamped on her heart like the hot coals of pity. That night the man boasted of his audacity and swaggered over his good luck on the Street of the Turks a few minutes before the kick of a horse crushed his chest and a crowd of outsiders saw him die in the middle of the street, drowned in his own bloody vomiting.
The supposition that Remedios the Beauty Possessed powers of death was then borne out by four irrefutable events. Although some men who were easy with their words said that it was worth sacrificing one’s life for a night of love with such an arousing woman, the truth was that no one made any effort to do so. Perhaps, not only to attain her but also to conjure away her dangers, all that was needed was a feeling as primitive and as simple as that of love, but that was the only thing that did not occur to anyone. ?rsula did not worry about her any more. On another occasion, when she had not yet given up the idea of saving her for the world, she had tried to get her interested in basic domestic affairs. “Men demand much more than you think,” she would tell her enigmatically. “There’s a lot of cooking, a lot of sweeping, a lot of suffering over little things beyond what you think.” She was deceiving herself within, trying to train her for domestic happiness because she was convinced that once his passion was satisfied them would not be a man on the face of the earth capable of tolerating even for a day a negligence that was beyond all understanding. The birth of the latest Jos? Arcadio and her unshakable will to bring him up to be Pope finally caused her to cease worrying about her great-granddaughter. She abandoned her to her fate, trusting that sooner or later a miracle would take place and that in this world of everything there would also be a man with enough sloth to put up with her. For a long time already Amaranta had given up trying to make her into a useful woman. Since those forgotten afternoons when her niece barely had enough interest to turn the crank on the sewing machine, she had reached the conclusion that she was simpleminded. “Were going to have to raffle you off,” she would tell her, perplexed at the fact that men’s words would not penetrate her. Later on, when ?rsula insisted that Remedios the Beauty go to mass with her face covered with a shawl, Amaranta thought that a mysterious recourse like that would turn out to be so provoking that soon a man would come who would be intrigued enough to search out patiently for the weak point of her heart. But when she saw the stupid way in which she rejected a pretender who for many reasons was more desirable than a prince, she gave up all hope. Fernanda did not even make any attempt to understand her. When she saw Remedios the Beauty dressed as a queen at the bloody carnival she thought that she was an extraordinary creature. But when she saw her eating with her hands, incapable of giving an answer that was not a miracle of simplemindedness, the only thing that she lamented was the fact that the idiots in the family lived so long. In spite of the fact that Colonel Aureliano Buend?a kept on believing and repeating that Remedios the Beauty was in reality the most lucid being that he had ever known and that she showed it at every moment with her startling ability to put things over on everyone, they let her go her own way. Remedios the Beauty stayed there wandering through the desert of solitude, bearing no cross on her back, maturing in her dreams without nightmares, her interminable baths, her unscheduled meals, her deep and prolonged silences that had no memory until one afternoon in March, when Fernanda wanted to fold her brabant sheets in the garden and asked the women in the house for help. She had just begun when Amaranta noticed that Remedios the Beauty was covered all over by an intense paleness.
“Don’t you feel well?” she asked her.
Remedios the Beauty, who was clutching the sheet by the other end, gave a pitying smile.
“Quite the opposite,” she said, “I never felt better.”
She had just finished saying it when Fernanda felt a delicate wind of light pull the sheets out of her hands and open them up wide. Amaranta felt a mysterious trembling in the lace on her petticoats and she tried to grasp the sheet so that she would not fall down at the instant in which Remedios the Beauty began to rise. ?rsula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.
The outsiders, of course, thought that Remedios the Beauty had finally succumbed to her irrevocable fate of a queen bee and that her family was trying to save her honor with that tale of levitation. Fernanda, burning with envy, finally accepted the miracle, and for a long time she kept on praying to God to send her back her sheets. Most people believed in the miracle and they even lighted candles and celebrated novenas. Perhaps there might have been talk of nothing else for a long time if the barbarous extermination of the Aurelianos had not replaced amazement with honor. Although he had never thought of it as an omen, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had foreseen the tragic end of his sons in a certain way. When Aureliano Serrador and Aureliano Arcaya, the two who arrived during the tumult, expressed a wish to stay in Macondo, their father tried to dissuade them. He could not understand what they were going to do in a town that had been transformed into a dangerous place overnight. But Aureliano Centeno and Aureliano Triste, backed by Aureliano Segundo. gave them work in their businesses. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a had reasons that were still very confused and were against that determination. When he saw Mr. Brown in the first automobile to reach Macondo—an orange convertible with a horn that frightened dogs with its bark—the old soldier grew indignant with the servile excitement of the people and he realized that something had changed in the makeup of the men since the days when they would leave their wives and children and toss a shotgun on their shoulders to go off to war. The local authorities, after the armistice of Neerlandia, were mayors without initiative, decorative judges picked from among the peaceful and tired Conservatives of Macondo. “This is a regime of wretches,” Colonel Aureliano Buend?a would comment when he saw the barefoot policemen armed with wooden clubs pass. “We fought all those wars and all of it just so that we didn’t have to paint our houses blue.” When the banana company arrived, however, the local functionaries were replaced by dictatorial foreigners whom Mr. Brown brought to live in the electrified chicken yard so that they could enjoy, as he explained it, the dignity that their status warranted and so that they would not suffer from the heat and the mosquitoes and the countless discomforts and privations of the town. The old policemen were replaced by hired assassins with machetes. Shut up in his workshop, Colonel Aureliano Buend?a thought about those changes and for the first time in his quiet years of solitude he was tormented by the definite certainty that it had been a mistake not to have continued the war to its final conclusion. During that time a brother of the forgotten Colonel Magn?fico Visbal was taking his seven-year-old grandson to get a soft drink at one of the pushcarts on the square and because the child accidentally bumped into a corporal of police and spilled the drink on his uniform, the barbarian cut him to pieces with his machete, and with one stroke he cut off the head of the grandfather as he tried to stop him. The whole town saw the decapitated man pass by as a group of men carried him to his house, with a woman dragging the head along by its hair, and the bloody sack with the pieces of the child.
For Colonel Aureliano Buend?a it meant the limits of atonement. He suddenly found himself suffering from the same indignation that he had felt in his youth over the body of the woman who had been beaten to death because she had been bitten by a rabid dog. He looked at the groups of bystanders in front of the house and with his old stentorian voice, restored by a deep disgust with himself, he unloaded upon them the burden of hate that he could no longer bear in his heart.
“One of these days,” he shouted, I’m going to arm my boys so we can get rid of these shitty gringos!”
During the course of that week, at different places along the coast, his seventeen sons were hunted down like rabbits by invisible criminals who aimed at the center of their crosses of ash. Aureliano Triste was leaving the house with his mother at seven in the evening when a rifle shot came out of the darkness and perforated his forehead. Aureliano Centeno was found in the hammock that he was accustomed to hang up in the factory with an icepick between his eyebrows driven in up to the handle. Aureliano Serrador had left his girl friend at her parents’ house after having taken her to the movies and was returning through the well-lighted Street of the Turks when someone in the crowd who was never identified fired a revolver shot which knocked him over into a caldron of boiling lard. A few minutes later someone knocked at the door of the room where Aureliano Arcaya was shut up with a woman and shouted to him: “Hurry up, they’re killing your brothers.” The woman who was with him said later that Aureliano Arcaya jumped out of bed and opened the door and was greeted with the discharge of a Mauser that split his head open. On that night of death, while the house was preparing to hold a wake for the four corpses, Fernanda ran through the town like a madwoman looking for Aureliano Segundo, whom Petra Cotes had locked up in a closet, thinking that the order of extermination included all who bore the colonel’s name. She would not let him out until the fourth day, when the telegrams received from different places along the coast made it clear that the fury of the invisible enemy was directed only at the brothers marked with the crosses of ash. Amaranta fetched the ledger where she had written down the facts about her nephews and as the telegrams arrived she drew lines through the names until only that of the eldest remained. They remembered him very well because of the contrast between his dark skin and his green eyes. His name was Aureliano Amador and he was a carpenter, living in a village hidden in the foothills. After waiting two weeks for the telegram telling of his death, Aureliano Segundo sent a messenger to him in order to warn him, thinking that he might not know about the threat that hung over him. The emissary returned with the news that Aureliano Amador was safe. The night of the extermination two men had gone to get him at his house and had shot at him with their revolvers but they had missed the cross of ashes. Aureliano Amador had been able to leap over the wall of the courtyard and was lost in the labyrinth of the mountains, which he knew like the back of his hand thanks to the friendship he maintained with the Indians, from whom he bought wood. Nothing more was heard of him.
Those were dark days for Colonel Aureliano Buend?a. The president of the republic sent him a telegram of condolence in which he promised an exhaustive investigation and paid homage to the dead men. At his command, the mayor appeared at the services with four funeral wreaths, which he tried to place on the coffins, but the colonel ordered him into the street. After the burial he drew up and personally submitted to the president of the republic a violent telegram, which the telegrapher refused to send. Then he enriched it with terms of singular aggressiveness, put it in an envelope, and mailed it. As had happened with the death of his wife, as had happened to him so many times during the war with the deaths of his best friends, he did not have a feeling of sorrow but a blind and directionless rage, a broad feeling of impotence. He even accused Father Antonio Isabel of complicity for having marked his sons with indelible ashes so that they-could be identified by their enemies. The decrepit priest, who could no longer string ideas together and who was beginning to startle his parishioners with the wild interpretations he gave from the pulpit, appeared one afternoon at the house with the goblet in which he had prepared the ashes that Wednesday and he tried to anoint the whole family with them to show that they could be washed off with water. But the horror of the misfortune had penetrated so deeply that not even Fernanda would let him experiment on her and never again was a Buend?a seen to kneel at the altar rail on Ash Wednesday.
Colonel Aureliano Buend?a did not recover his calm for a long time. He abandoned the manufacture of little fishes, ate with great difficulty, and wandered all through the house as if walking in his sleep, dragging his blanket and chewing on his quiet rage. At the end of three months his hair was ashen, his old waxed mustache poured down beside his colorless lips, but, on the other hand, his eyes were once more the burning coals that had startled those who had seen him born and that in other days had made chairs rock with a simple glance. In the fury of his torment he tried futilely to rouse the omens that had guided his youth along dangerous paths into the desolate wasteland of glory. He was lost, astray in a strange house where nothing and no one now stirred in him the slightest vestige of affection. Once he opened Melqu?ades’ room, looking for the traces of a past from before the war, and he found only rubble, trash, piles of waste accumulated over all the years of abandonment. Between the covers of the books that no one had ever read again, in the old parchments damaged by dampness, a livid flower had prospered, and in the air that had been the purest and brightest in the house an unbearable smell of rotten memories floated. One morning he found ?rsula weeping under the chestnut tree at the knees of her dead husband. Colonel Aureliano Buend?a was the only inhabitant of the house who still did not see the powerful old man who had been beaten down by half a century in the open air. “Say hello to your father,” ?rsula told him. He stopped for an instant in front of the chestnut tree and once again he saw that the empty space before him did not arouse an affection either.
“What does he say?” he asked.
“He’s very sad,” ?rsula answered, “because he thinks that you’re going to die.”
“Tell him,” the colonel said, smiling, “that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”
The omen of the, dead father stirred up the last remnant of pride that was left in his heart, but he confused it with a sudden gust of strength. It was for that reason that he hounded ?rsula to tell him where in the courtyard the gold coins that they had found inside the plaster Saint Joseph were buried. “You’ll never know,” she told him with a firmness inspired by an old lesson. “One day,” she added, “the owner of that fortune will appear and only he can dig it up.” No one knew why a man who had always been so generous had begun to covet money with such anxiety, and not the modest amounts that would have been enough to resolve an emergency, but a fortune of such mad size that the mere mention of it left Aureliano Segundo awash in amazement. His old fellow party members, to whom he went asking for help, hid so as not to receive him. It was around that time that he was heard to say. “The only difference today between Liberals and Conservatives is that the Liberals go to mass at five o’clock and the Conservatives at eight.” Nevertheless he insisted with such perseverance, begged in such a way, broke his code of dignity to such a degree, that with a little help from here and a little more from there, sneaking about everywhere, with a slippery diligence and a pitiless perseverance, he managed to put together in eight months more money than ?rsula had buried. Then he visited the ailing Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez so that he would help him start the total war.
At a certain time Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez was really the only one who could have pulled, even from his paralytics chair, the musty strings of rebellion. After the armistice of Neerlandia, while Colonel Aureliano Buend?a took refuge with his little gold fishes, he kept in touch with the rebel officers who had been faithful to him until the defeat. With them he waged the sad war of daily humiliation, of entreaties and petitions, of come-back-tomorrow, of any-time-now, of we’re-studying-your-case-with-the-proper-attention; the war hopelessly lost against the many yours-most-trulys who should have signed and would never sign the lifetime pensions. The other war, the bloody one of twenty years, did not cause them as much damage as the corrosive war of eternal postponements. Even Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez, who escaped three attempts on his life, survived five wounds, and emerged unscathed from innumerable battles, succumbed to that atrocious siege of waiting and sank into the miserable defeat of old age, thinking of Amaranta among the diamond-shaped patches of light in a borrowed house. The last veterans of whom he had word had appeared photographed in a newspaper with their faces shamelessly raised beside an anonymous president of the republic who gave them buttons with his likeness on them to wear in their lapels and returned to them a flag soiled with blood and gunpowder so that they could place it on their coffins. The others, more honorable. were still waiting for a letter in the shadow of public charity, dying of hunger, living through rage, ratting of old age amid the exquisite shit of glory. So that when Colonel Aureliano Buend?a invited him to start a mortal conflagration that would wipe out all vestiges of a regime of corruption and scandal backed by the foreign invader, Colonel Gerineldo M?rquez could not hold back a shudder of compassion.
“Oh, Aureliano,” he sighed. “I already knew that you were old, but now I realize that you’re a lot older than you look.”