AURELIANO DID NOT leave Melqu?ades’ room for a long time. He learned by heart the fantastic legends of the crumbling books, the synthesis of the studies of Hermann the Cripple, the notes on the science of demonology, the keys to the philosopher’s stone, the Centuries of Nostradamus and his research concerning the plague, so that he reached adolescence without knowing a thing about his own time but with the basic knowledge of a medieval man. Any time that Santa Sof?a de la Piedad would go into his room she would find him absorbed in his reading. At dawn she would bring him a mug of coffee without sugar and at noon a plate of rice and slices of fried plantain, which were the only things eaten in the house since the death of Aureliano Segundo. She saw that his hair was cut, picked off the nits, took in to his size the old clothing that she found in forgotten trunks, and when his mustache began to appear the brought him Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s razor and the small gourd he had used as a shaving mug. None of the latter’s children had looked so much like him, not even Aureliano Jos?, particularly in respect to the prominent cheekbones and the firm and rather pitiless line of the lips. As had happened to ?rsula with Aureliano Segundo when the latter was studying in the room, Santa Sof?a de la Piedad thought that Aureliano was talking to himself. Actually, he was talking to Melqu?ades. One burning noon, a short time after the death of the twins, against the light of the window he saw the gloomy old man with his crow’s-wing hat like the materialization of a memory that had been in his head since long before he was born. Aureliano had finished classifying the alphabet of the parchments, so that when Melqu?ades asked him if he had discovered the language in which they had been written he did not hesitate to answer.
“Sanskrit,” he said.
Melqu?ades revealed to him that his opportunities to return to the room were limited. But he would go in peace to the meadows of the ultimate death because Aureliano would have time to learn Sanskrit during the years remaining until the parchments became one hundred years old, when they could be deciphered. It was he who indicated to Aureliano that on the narrow street going down to the river, where dreams had been interpreted during the time of the banana company, a wise Catalonian had a bookstore where there was a Sanskrit primer, which would be eaten by the moths within six years if he did not hurry to buy it. For the first time in her long life Santa Sof?a de la Piedad let a feeling show through, and it was a feeling of wonderment when Aureliano asked her to bring him the book that could be found between Jerusalem Delivered and Milton’s poems on the extreme right-hand side of the second shelf of the bookcases. Since she could not read, she memorized what he had said and got some money by selling one of the seventeen little gold fishes left in the workshop, the whereabouts of which, after being hidden the night the soldiers searched the house, was known only by her and Aureliano.
Aureliano made progress in his studies of Sanskrit as Melqu?ades’ visits became less and less frequent and he was more distant, fading away in the radiant light of noon. The last time that Aureliano sensed him he was only an invisible presence who murmured: “I died of fever on the sands of Singapore.” The room then became vulnerable to dust, heat, termites, red ants, and moths, who would turn the wisdom of the parchments into sawdust.
There was no shortage of food in the house. The day after the death of Aureliano Segundo, one of the friends who had brought the wreath with the irreverent inscription offered to pay Fernanda some money that he had owed her husband. After that every Wednesday a delivery boy brought a basket of food that was quite sufficient for a week. No one ever knew that those provisions were being sent by Petra Cotes with the idea that the continuing charity was a way of humiliating the person who had humiliated her. Nevertheless, the rancor disappeared much sooner than she herself had expected, and then she continued sending the food out of pride and finally out of compassion. Several times, when she had no animals to raffle off and people lost interest in the lottery, she went without food so that Fernanda could have something to eat, and she continued fulfilling the pledge to herself until she saw Fernanda’s funeral procession pass by.
For Santa Sof?a de la Piedad the reduction in the number of inhabitants of the house should have meant the rest she deserved after more than half a century of work. Never a lament had been heard from that stealthy, impenetrable woman who had sown in the family the angelic seed of Remedios the Beauty and the mysterious solemnity of Jos? Arcadio Segundo; who dedicated a whole life of solitude and diligence to the rearing of children although she could barely remember whether they were her children or grandchildren, and who took care of Aureliano as if he had come out of her womb, not knowing herself that she was his great-grandmother. Only in a house like that was it conceivable for her always to sleep on a mat she laid out on the pantry floor in the midst of the nocturnal noise of the rats, and without telling anyone that one night she had awakened with the frightened feeling that someone was looking at her in the darkness and that it was a poisonous snake crawling over her stomach. She knew that if she had told ?rsula, the latter would have made her sleep in her own bed, but those were times when no one was aware of anything unless it was shouted on the porch, because with the bustle of the bakery, the surprises of the war, the care of the children, there was not much room for thinking about other peoples happiness. Petra Cotes whom she had never seen, was the only one who remembered her. She saw to it that she had a good pair of shoes for street wear, that she always had clothing, even during the times when the raffles were working only through some miracle. When Fernanda arrived at the house she had good reason to think that she was an ageless servant, and even though she heard it said several times that she was her husband’s mother it was so incredible that it took her longer to discover it than to forget it. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad never seemed bothered by that lowly position. On the contrary, one had the impression that she liked to stay in the corners, without a pause, without a complaint, keeping clean and in order the immense house that she had lived in ever since adolescence and that, especially during the time of the banana company, was more like a barracks than a home. But when ?rsula died the superhuman diligence of Santa Sof?a de la Piedad, her tremendous capacity for work, began to fall apart. It was not only that she was old and exhausted, but overnight the house had plunged into a crisis of senility. A soft moss grew up the walls. When there was no longer a bare spot in the courtyard, the weeds broke through the cement of the porch, breaking it like glass, and out of the cracks grew the same yellow flowers that ?rsula had found in the glass with Melqu?ades’ false teeth a century before. With neither the time nor the resources to halt the challenge of nature, Santa Sof?a de la Piedad spent the day in the bedrooms driving out the lizards who would return at night. One morning she saw that the red ants had left the undermined foundations, crossed the garden, climbed up the railing, where the begonias had taken on an earthen color, and had penetrated into the heart of the house. She first tried to kill them with a broom, then with insecticides, and finally with lye, but the next day they were back in the same place, still passing by, tenacious and invincible. Fernanda, writing letters to her children, was not aware of the unchecked destructive attack. Santa Sof?a de la Piedad continued struggling alone, fighting the weeds to stop them from getting into the kitchen, pulling from the walls the tassels of spider webs which were rebuilt in a few hours, scraping off the termites. But when she saw that Melqu?ades’ room was also dusty and filled with cobwebs even though she swept and dusted three times a day, and that in spite of her furious cleaning it was threatened by the debris and the air of misery that had been foreseen only by Colonel Aureliano Buend?a and the young officer, she realized that she was defeated. Then she put on her worn Sunday dress, some old shoes of ?rsula’s, and a pair of cotton stockings that Amaranta ?rsula had given her, and she made a bundle out of the two or three changes of clothing that she had left.
“I give up,” she said to Aureliano. “This is too much house for my poor bones.”
Aureliano asked her where she was going and she made a vague sign, as if she did not have the slightest idea of her destination. She tried to be more precise, however, saying that she was going to spend her last years with a first cousin who lived in Riohacha. It was not a likely explanation. Since the death of her parents she had not had contact with anyone in town or received letters or messages, nor had she been heard to speak of any relatives. Aureliano gave her fourteen little gold fishes because she was determined to leave with only what she had: one peso and twenty-five cents. From the window of the room he saw her cross the courtyard with her bundle of clothing, dragging her feet and bent over by her years, and he saw her reach her hand through an opening in the main door and replace the bar after she had gone out. Nothing was ever heard of her again.
When she heard about the flight, Fernanda ranted for a whole day as she checked trunks, dressers, and closets, item by item, to make sure that Santa Sof?a de la Piedad had not made off with anything. She burned her fingers trying to light a fire for the first time in her life and she had to ask Aureliano to do her the favor of showing her how to make coffee. Fernanda would find her breakfast ready when she arose and she would leave her room again only to get the meal that Aureliano had left covered on the embers for her, which she would carry to the table to eat on linen tablecloths and between candelabra, sitting at the solitary head of the table facing fifteen empty chairs. Even under those circumstances Aureliano and Fernanda did not share their solitude, but both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves. It was as if things, especially those for everyday use, had developed a faculty for changing location on their own. Fernanda would waste time looking for the shears that she was sure she had put on the bed and after turning everything upside down she would find them on a shelf in the kitchen, where she thought she had not been for four days. Suddenly there was no fork in the silver chest and she would find six on the altar and three in the washroom. That wandering about of things was even more exasperating when she sat down to write. The inkwell that she had placed at her right would be on the left, the blotter would be lost and she would find it two days later under her pillow, and the pages written to Jos? Arcadio would get mixed up with those written to Amaranta ?rsula, and she always had the feeling of mortification that she had put the letters in opposite envelopes, as in fact happened several times. On one occasion she lost her fountain pen. Two weeks later the mailman, who had found it in his bag, returned it. He had been going from house to house looking for its owner. At first she thought it was some business of the invisible doctors, like the disappearance of the pessaries, and she even started a letter to them begging them to leave her alone, but she had to interrupt it to do something and when she went back to her room she not only did not find the letter she had started but she had forgotten the reason for writing it. For a time she thought it was Aureliano. She began to spy on him, to put things in his path trying to catch him when he changed their location, but she was soon convinced that Aureliano never left Melqu?ades’ room except to go to the kitchen or the toilet, and that he was not a man to play tricks. So in the end she believed that it was the mischief of elves and she decided to secure everything in the place where she would use it. She tied the shears to the head of her bed with a long string. She tied the pen and the blotter to the leg of the table, and the glued the inkwell to the top of it to the right of the place where she normally wrote. The problems were not solved overnight, because a few hours after she had tied the string to the shears it was not long enough for her to cut with, as if the elves had shortened it. The same thing happened to her with the string to the pen and even with her own arm which after a short time of writing could not reach the inkwell. Neither Amaranta ?rsula in Brussels nor Jos? Arcadio in Rome ever heard about those insignificant misfortunes. Fernanda told them that she was happy and in reality she was, precisely because she felt free from any compromise, as if life were pulling her once more toward the world of her parents, where one did not suffer with day-to-day problems because they were solved beforehand in one’s imagination. That endless correspondence made her lose her sense of time, especially after Santa Sof?a de la Piedad had left. She had been accustomed to keep track of the days, months, and years, using as points of reference the dates set for the return of her children. But when they changed their plans time and time again, the dates became confused, the periods were mislaid, and one day seemed so much like another that one could not feel them pass. Instead of becoming impatient, she felt a deep pleasure in the delay. It did not worry her that many years after announcing the eve of his final vows, Jos? Arcadio was still saying that he was waiting to finish his studies in advanced theology in order to undertake those in diplomacy, because she understood how steep and paved with obstacles was the spiral stairway that led to the throne of Saint Peter. On the other hand, her spirits rose with news that would have been insignificant for other people, such as the fact that her son had seen the Pope. She felt a similar pleasure when Amaranta ?rsula wrote to tell her that her studies would last longer than the time foreseen because her excellent grades had earned her privileges that her father had not taken into account in his calculations.
More than three years had passed since Santa Sof?a de la Piedad had brought him the grammar when Aureliano succeeded in translating the first sheet. It was not a useless chore. but it was only a first step along a road whose length it was impossible to predict, because the text in Spanish did not mean anything: the lines were in code. Aureliano lacked the means to establish the keys that would permit him to dig them out, but since Melqu?ades had told him that the books he needed to get to the bottom of the parchments were in the wise Catalonian’s store, he decided to speak to Fernanda so that she would let him get them. In the room devoured by rubble, whose unchecked proliferation had finally defeated it, he thought about the best way to frame the request, but when he found Fernanda taking her meal from the embers, which was his only chance to speak to her, the laboriously formulated request stuck in his throat and he lost his voice. That was the only time that he watched her. He listened to her steps in the bedroom. He heard her on her way to the door to await the letters from her children and to give hers to the mailman, and he listened until late at night to the harsh, impassioned scratching of her pen on the paper before hearing the sound of the light switch and the murmur of her prayers in the darkness. Only then did he go to sleep, trusting that on the following day the awaited opportunity would come. He became so inspired with the idea that permission would be granted that one morning he cut his hair, which at that time reached down to his shoulders, shaved off his tangled beard, put on some tight-fitting pants and a shirt with an artificial collar that he had inherited from he did not know whom, and waited in the kitchen for Fernanda to get her breakfast. The woman of every day, the one with her head held high and with a stony gait, did not arrive, but an old woman of supernatural beauty with a yellowed ermine cape, a crown of gilded cardboard, and the languid look of a person who wept in secret. Actually, ever since she had found it in Aureliano Segundo’s trunks, Fernanda had put on the moth-eaten queen’s dress many times. Anyone who could have seen her in front of the mirror, in ecstasy over her own regal gestures, would have had reason to think that she was mad. But she was not. She had simply turned the royal regalia into a device for her memory. The first time that she put it on she could not help a knot from forming in her heart and her eyes filling with tears because at that moment she smelled once more the odor of shoe polish on the boots of the officer who came to get her at her house to make her a queen, and her soul brightened with the nostalgia of her lost dreams. She felt so old, so worn out, so far away from the best moments of her life that she even yearned for those that she remembered as the worst, and only then did she discover how much she missed the whiff of oregano on the porch and the smell of the roses at dusk, and even the bestial nature of the parvenus. Her heart of compressed ash, which had resisted the most telling blows of daily reality without strain, fell apart with the first waves of nostalgia. The need to feel sad was becoming a vice as the years eroded her. She became human in her solitude. Nevertheless, the morning on which she entered the kitchen and found a cup of coffee offered her by a pale and bony adolescent with a hallucinated glow in his eyes, the claws of ridicule tore at her. Not only did she refuse him permission, but from then on she carried the keys to the house in the pocket where she kept the unused pessaries. It was a useless precaution because if he had wanted to, Aureliano could have escaped and even returned to the house without being seen. But the prolonged captivity, the uncertainty of the world, the habit of obedience had dried up the seeds of rebellion in his heart. So that he went back to his enclosure, reading and rereading the parchments and listening until very late at night to Fernanda sobbing in her bedroom. One morning he went to light the fire as usual and on the extinguished ashes he found the food that he had left for her the day before. Then he looked into her bedroom and saw her lying on the bed covered with the ermine cape, more beautiful than ever and with her skin turned into an ivory casing. Four months later, when Jos? Arcadio arrived, he found her intact.
It was impossible to conceive of a man more like his mother. He was wearing a somber taffeta suit, a shirt with a round and hard collar, and a thin silk ribbon tied in a bow in place of a necktie. He was ruddy and languid with a startled look and weak lips. His black hair, shiny and smooth, parted in the middle of his head by a straight and tired line, had the same artificial appearance as the hair on the saints. The shadow of a well-uprooted beard on his paraffin face looked like a question of conscience. His hands were pale, with green veins and fingers that were like parasites, and he wore a solid gold ring with a round sunflower opal on his left index finger. When he opened the street door Aureliano did not have to be told who he was to realize that he came from far away. With his steps the house filled up with the fragrance of the toilet water that ?rsula used to splash on him when he was a child in order to find him in the shadows, in some way impossible to ascertain, after so many years of absence. Jos? Arcadio was still an autumnal child, terribly sad and solitary. He went directly to his mother’s bedroom, where Aureliano had boiled mercury for four months in his grandfather’s grandfather’s water pipe to conserve the body according to Melqu?ades’ formula. Jos? Arcadio did not ask him any questions. He kissed the corpse on the forehead and withdrew from under her skirt the pocket of casing which contained three as yet unused pessaries and the key to her cabinet. He did everything with direct and decisive movements, in contrast to his languid look. From the cabinet he took a small damascene chest with the family crest and found on the inside, which was perfumed with sandalwood, the long letter in which Fernanda unburdened her heart of the numerous truths that she had hidden from him. He read it standing up, avidly but without anxiety, and at the third page he stopped and examined Aureliano with a look of second recognition.
“So,” he said with a voice with a touch of razor in it, “You’re the bastard.”
“I’m Aureliano Buend?a.”
“Go to your room,” Jos? Arcadio said.
Aureliano went and did not come out again even from curiosity when he heard the sound of the solitary funeral ceremonies. Sometimes, from the kitchen, he would see Jos? Arcadio strolling through the house, smothered by his anxious breathing, and he continued hearing his steps in the ruined bedrooms after midnight. He did not hear his voice for many months, not only because Jos? Arcadio never addressed him, but also because he had no desire for it to happen or time to think about anything else but the parchments. On Fernanda’s death he had taken out the next-to-the-last little fish and gone to the wise Catalonian’s bookstore in search of the books he needed. Nothing he saw along the way interested him, perhaps because he lacked any memories for comparison and the deserted streets and desolate houses were the same as he had imagined them at a time when he would have given his soul to know them. He had given himself the permission denied by Fernanda and only once and for the minimum time necessary, so without pausing he went along the eleven blocks that separated the house from the narrow street where dreams had been interpreted in other days and he went panting into the confused and gloomy place where there was barely room to move. More than a bookstore, it looked like a dump for used books, which were placed in disorder on the shelves chewed by termites, in the corners sticky with cobwebs, and even in the spaces that were supposed to serve as passageways. On a long table, also heaped with old books and papers, the proprietor was writing tireless prose in purple letters, somewhat outlandish, and on the loose pages of a school notebook. He had a handsome head of silver hair which fell down over his forehead like the plume of a cockatoo, and his blue eyes, lively and close-set, revealed the gentleness of a man who had read all of the books. He was wearing short pants and soaking in perspiration, and he did not stop his writing to see who had come in. Aureliano had no difficulty in rescuing the five books that he was looking for from that fabulous disorder, because they were exactly where Melqu?ades had told him they would be. Without saying a word he handed them, along with the little gold fish, to the wise Catalonian and the latter examined them, his eyelids contracting like two clams. “You must be mad,” he said in his own language, shrugging his shoulders, and he handed back to Aureliano the five books and the little fish.
“You can have them” he said in Spanish. “The last man who read these books must have been Isaac the Blindman, so consider well what you’re doing.”
Jos? Arcadio restored Meme’s bedroom and had the velvet curtains cleaned and mended along with the damask on the canopy of the viceregal bed, and he put to use once more the abandoned bathroom where the cement pool was blackened by a fibrous and rough coating. He restricted his vest-pocket empire of worn, exotic clothing, false perfumes, and cheap jewelry to those places. The only thing that seemed to worry him in the rest of the house were the saints on the family altar, which he burned down to ashes one afternoon in a bonfire he lighted in the courtyard. He would sleep until past eleven o’clock. He would go to the bathroom in a shabby robe with golden dragons on it and a pair of slippers with yellow tassels, and there he would officiate at a rite which for its care and length recalled Remedios the Beauty. Before bathing he would perfume the pool with the salts that he carried in three alabaster flacons. He did not bathe himself with the gourd but would plunge into the fragrant waters and remain there for two hours floating on his back, lulled by the coolness and by the memory of Amaranta. A few days after arriving he put aside his taffeta suit, which in addition to being too hot for the town was the only one that he had, and he exchanged it for some tight-fitting pants very similar to those worn by Pietro Crespi during his dance lessons and a silk shirt woven with thread from living caterpillars and with his initials embroidered over the heart. Twice a week he would wash the complete change in the tub and would wear his robe until it dried because he had nothing else to put on. He never ate at home. He would go out when the heat of siesta time had eased and would not return until well into the night. Then he would continue his anxious pacing, breathing like a cat and thinking about Amaranta. She and the frightful look of the saints in the glow of the nocturnal lamp were the two memories he retained of the house. Many times during the hallucinating Roman August he had opened his eyes in the middle of his sleep and had seen Amaranta rising out of a marble-edged pool with her lace petticoats and the bandage on her hand, idealized by the anxiety of exile. Unlike Aureliano Jos? who tried to drown that image in the bloody bog of war, he tried to keep it alive in the sink of concupiscence while he entertained his mother with the endless fable of his pontifical vocation. It never occurred either to him or to Fernanda to think that their correspondence was an exchange of fantasies. Jos? Arcadio, who left the seminary as soon as he reached Rome, continued nourishing the legend of theology and canon law so as not to jeopardize the fabulous inheritance of which his mother’s delirious letters spoke and which would rescue him from the misery and sordidness he shared with two friends in a Trastevere garret. When he received Fernanda’s last letter, dictated by the foreboding of imminent death, he put the leftovers of his false splendor into a suitcase and crossed the ocean in the hold of a ship where immigrants were crammed together like cattle in a slaughterhouse, eating cold macaroni and wormy cheese. Before he read Fernanda’s will, which was nothing but a detailed and tardy recapitulation of her misfortunes, the broken-down furniture and the weeds on the porch had indicated that he had fallen into a trap from which he would never escape, exiled forever from the diamond light and timeless air of the Roman spring. During the crushing insomnia brought on by his asthma he would measure and remeasure the depth of his misfortune as he went through the shadowy house where the senile fussing of ?rsula had instilled a fear of the world in him. In order to be sure that she would not lose him in the shadows, she had assigned him a corner of the bedroom, the only one where he would be safe from the dead people who wandered through the house after sundown. “If you do anything bad,” ?rsula would tell him, “the saints will let me know.” The terror-filled nights of his childhood were reduced to that corner where he would remain motionless until it was time to go to bed, perspiring with fear on a stool under the watchful and glacial eyes of the tattletale saints. It was useless torture because even at that time he already had a terror of everything around him and he was prepared to be frightened at anything he met in life: women on the street, who would ruin his blood; the women in the house, who bore children with the tail of a pig; fighting cocks, who brought on the death of men and remorse for the rest of one’s life; firearms, which with the mere touch would bring down twenty years of war; uncertain ventures, which led only to disillusionment and madness—everything, in short, everything that God had created in His infinite goodness and that the devil had perverted. When he awakened, pressed in the vise of his nightmares, the light in the window and the caresses of Amaranta in the bath and the pleasure of being powdered between the legs with a silk puff would release him from the terror. Even ?rsula was different under the radiant light in the garden because there she did not talk about fearful things but would brush his teeth with charcoal powder so that he would have the radiant smile of a Pope, and she would cut and polish his nails so that the pilgrims who came to Rome from all over the world would be startled at the beauty of the Pope’s hands as he blessed them, and she would comb his hair like that of a Pope, and she would sprinkle his body and his clothing with toilet water so that his body and his clothes would have the fragrance of a Pope. In the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo he had seen the Pope on a balcony making the same speech in seven languages for a crowd of pilgrims and the only thing, indeed, that had drawn his attention was the whiteness of his hands, which seemed to have been soaked in lye, the dazzling shine of his summer clothing, and the hidden breath of cologne.
Almost a year after his return home, having sold the silver candlesticks and the heraldic chamberpot—which at the moment of truth turned out to have only a little gold plating on the crest—in order to eat, the only distraction of Jos? Arcadio was to pick up children in town so that they could play in the house. He would appear with them at siesta time and have them skip rope in the garden, sing on the porch, and do acrobatics on the furniture in the living room while he would go among the groups giving lessons in good manners. At that time he had finished with the tight pants and the silk shirts and was wearing an ordinary suit of clothing that he had bought in the Arab stores, but he still maintained his languid dignity and his papal air. The children took over the house just as Meme’s schoolmates had done in the past. Until well into the night they could be heard chattering and singing and tap-dancing, so that the house resembled a boarding school where there was no discipline. Aureliano did not worry about the invasion as long as they did not bother him in Melqu?ades’ room. One morning two children pushed open the door and were startled at the sight of a filthy and hairy man who was still deciphering the parchments on the worktable. They did not dare go in, but they kept on watching the room. They would peep in through the cracks, whispering, they threw live animals in through the transom, and on one occasion they nailed up the door and the window and it took Aureliano half a day to force them open. Amused at their unpunished mischief, four of the children went into the room one morning while Aureliano was in the kitchen, preparing to destroy the parchments. But as soon as they laid hands on the yellowed sheets an angelic force lifted them off the ground and held them suspended in the air until Aureliano returned and took the parchments away from them. From then on they did not bother him.
The four oldest children, who wore short pants in spite of the fact that they were on the threshold of adolescence, busied themselves with Jos? Arcadio’s personal appearance. They would arrive earlier than the others and spend the morning shaving him, giving him massages with hot towels, cutting and polishing the nails on his hands and feet, and perfuming him with toilet water. On several occasions they would get into the pool to soap him from head to toe as he floated on his back thinking about Amaranta. Then they would dry him, powder his body, and dress him. One of the children, who had curly blond hair and eyes of pink glass like a rabbit, was accustomed to sleeping in the house. The bonds that linked him to Jos? Arcadio were so strong that he would accompany him in his asthmatic insomnia, without speaking, strolling through the house with him in the darkness. One night in the room where ?rsula had slept they saw a yellow glow coming through the crumbling cement as if an underground sun had changed the floor of the room into a pane of glass. They did not have to turn on the light. It was sufficient to lift the broken slabs in the corner where ?rsula’s bed had always stood and where the glow was most intense to find the secret crypt that Aureliano Segundo had worn himself out searching for during the delirium of his excavations. There were the three canvas sacks closed with copper wire, and inside of them the seven thousand two hundred fourteen pieces of eight, which continued glowing like embers in the darkness.
The discovery of the treasure was like a deflagration. Instead of returning to Rome with the sudden fortune, which had been his dream maturing in misery, Jos? Arcadio converted the house into a decadent paradise. He replaced the curtains and the canopy of the bed with new velvet, and he had the bathroom floor covered with paving stones and the walls with tiles. The cupboard in the dining room was filled with fruit preserves, hams, and pickles, and the unused pantry was opened again for the storage of wines and liqueurs which Jos? Arcadio himself brought from the railroad station in crates marked with his name. One night he and the four oldest children had a party that lasted until dawn. At six in the morning they came out naked from the bedroom, drained the pool, and filled it with champagne. They jumped in en masse, swimming like birds flying through a sky gilded with fragrant bubbles, while Jos? Arcadio, floated on his back on the edge of the festivities, remembering Amaranta with his eyes open. He remained that way, wrapped up in himself, thinking about the bitterness of his equivocal pleasures until after the children had become tired and gone in a troop to the bedroom. where they tore down the curtains to dry themselves, and in the disorder they broke the rock crystal mirror into four pieces and destroyed the canopy of the bed in the tumult of lying down. When Jos? Arcadio came back from the bathroom, he found them sleeping in a naked heap in the shipwrecked bedroom. Inflamed, not so much because of the damage as because of the disgust and pity that he felt for himself in the emptiness of the saturnalia, he armed himself with an ecclesiastical cat-o-nine-tails that he kept in the bottom of his trunk along with a hair-shirt and other instruments of mortification and penance, and drove the children out of the house, howling like a madman and whipping them without mercy as a person would not even have done to a pack of coyotes. He was done in, with an attack of asthma that lasted for several days and that gave him the look of a man on his deathbed. On the third night of torture, overcome by asphyxiation, he went to Aureliano’s room to ask him the favor of buying some powders to inhale at a nearby drugstore. So it was that Aureliano, went out for a second time. He had to go only two blocks to reach the small pharmacy with dusty windows and ceramic bottles with labels in Latin where a girl with the stealthy beauty of a serpent of the Nile gave him the medicine the name of which Jos? Arcadio had written down on a piece of paper. The second view of the deserted town, barely illuminated by the yellowish bulbs of the street lights, did not awaken in Aureliano any more curiosity than the first. Jos? Arcadio, had come to think that he had run away, when he reappeared, panting a little because of his haste, dragging legs that enclosure and lack of mobility had made weak and heavy. His indifference toward the world was so certain that a few days later Jos? Arcadio violated the promise he had made to his mother and left him free to go out whenever he wanted to.
“I have nothing to do outside,” Aureliano answered him.
He remained shut up, absorbed in the parchments, which he was slowly unraveling and whose meaning, nevertheless, he was unable to interpret. Jos? Arcadio would bring slices of ham to him in his room, sugared flowers which left a spring-like aftertaste in his mouth, and on two occasions a glass of fine wine. He was not interested in the parchments, which he thought of more as an esoteric pastime, but his attention was attracted by the rare wisdom and the inexplicable knowledge of the world that his desolate kinsman had. He discovered then that he could understand written English and that between parchments he had gone from the first page to the last of the six volumes of the encyclopedia as if it were a novel. At first he attributed to that the fact that Aureliano could speak about Rome as if he had lived there many years, but he soon became aware that he knew things that were not in the encyclopedia, such as the price of items. “Everything is known,” was the only reply he received from Aureliano when he asked him where he had got that information from. Aureliano, for his part, was surprised that Jos? Arcadio when seen from close by was so different from the image that he had formed of him when he saw him wandering through the house. He was capable of laughing, of allowing himself from time to time a feeling of nostalgia for the past of the house, and of showing concern for the state of misery present in Melqu?ades’ room. That drawing closer together of two solitary people of the same blood was far from friendship, but it did allow them both to bear up better under the unfathomable solitude that separated and united them at the same time. Jos? Arcadio could then turn to Aureliano to untangle certain domestic problems that exasperated him. Aureliano, in turn, could sit and read on the porch, waiting for the letters from Amaranta ?rsula, which still arrived with the usual punctuality, and could use the bathroom, from which Jos? Arcadio had banished him when he arrived.
One hot dawn they both woke up in alarm at an urgent knocking on the street door. It was a dark old man with large green eyes that gave his face a ghostly phosphorescence and with a cross of ashes on his forehead. His clothing in tatters, his shoes cracked, the old knapsack on his shoulder his only luggage, he looked like a beggar, but his bearing had a dignity that was in frank contradiction to his appearance. It was only necessary to look at him once, even in the shadows of the parlor, to realize that the secret strength that allowed him to live was not the instinct of self-preservation but the habit of fear. It was Aureliano Amador, the only survivor of Colonel Aureliano Buend?a’s seventeen sons, searching for a respite in his long and hazardous existence as a fugitive. He identified himself, begged them to give him refuge in that house which during his nights as a pariah he had remembered as the last redoubt of safety left for him in life. But Jos? Arcadio and Aureliano did not remember him. Thinking that he was a tramp, they pushed him into the street. They both saw from the doorway the end of a drama that had began before Jos? Arcadio had reached the age of reason. Two policemen who had been chasing Aureliano Amador for years, who had tracked him like bloodhounds across half the world, came out from among the almond trees on the opposite sidewalk and took two shots with their Mausers which neatly penetrated the cross of ashes.
Ever since he had expelled the children from the house, Jos? Arcadio was really waiting for news of an ocean liner that would leave for Naples before Christmas. He had told Aureliano and had even made plans to set him up in a business that would bring him a living, because the baskets of food had stopped coming since Fernanda’s burial. But that last dream would not be fulfilled either. One September morning, after having coffee in the kitchen with Aureliano, Jos? Arcadio was finishing his daily bath when through the openings in the tiles the four children he had expelled from the house burst in. Without giving him time to defend himself, they jumped into the pool fully clothed, grabbed him by the hair, and held his head under the water until the bubbling of his death throes ceased on the surface and his silent and pale dolphin body dipped down to the bottom of the fragrant water. Then they took out the three sacks of gold from the hiding place which was known only to them and their victim. It was such a rapid, methodical, and brutal action that it was like a military operation. Aureliano, shut up in his room, was not aware of anything. That afternoon, having missed him in the kitchen, he looked for Jos? Arcadio all over the house and found him floating on the perfumed mirror of the pool, enormous and bloated and still thinking about Amaranta. Only then did he understand how much he had began to love him.