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EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
JUST RUFINO BARRIOS
LA> 7- 0jnI
BRACE AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1947, BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.
a eeeserved, including
the rig o produce this book
or portions thereof in any form.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMERICA
BORN IN THE SHADOW OF THE VOLCANO
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO 3
2 THE OUTCAST 15
3 MULETEER DAYS 21
4 STUDENT DAYS 33
5 MEN, NOT ANGELS 46
6 THE RESCUE OF CHICO 53
7 EXILE 66
8 EL MALACATE 72
9 THE FRUIT IS RIPE 80
IO DISASTER AT SAN PEDRO 9
II FAILURE AND DEFEAT 107
12 THE TIDE TURNS 1"7
13: GOVERNOR OF QUEZALTENANGO 127
14 SOLDIER AND STATESMAN 139
15 THE EAGLE SOARS 148
16 FRANCISCA AND JUST 155
17 MAN OF VISION iz6
18 CONSPIRACY 176
19 THE PEOPLE SPEAK 186
20 BOUNDARY TROUBLES 194
21 CENTRAL AMERICAN UNION 202
22 THE EAGLE FALLS 211
South of Texas is Mexico and south of Mexico is Guate-
mala. Its capital is Guatemala City. In size the country is
about as big as Pennsylvania and its population today is three
and a quarter millions.
Guatemala is one of the five original Central American
republics which, with British Honduras and the Mexican
state of Chiapas, comprised the lands of the old Captaincy
General of Guatemala. In 1824 representatives of these five
provinces declared their joint independence from Spain as the
United Provinces, or Federation of Central America. When
discord arose among the provinces, only the ability and
moderation of President Francisco Morazan held the Union
together. Despite his best efforts it soon began to disintegrate
and all attempts to re-establish it, attempts which continue
even today, have failed.
This book attempts to give a picture of Guatemala through
the person of its outstanding hero, Barrios. It is a fictionalized
biography, accurate in its broad implications, of the man who
is as important to and as beloved in Guatemala as Lincoln in
the United States. Justo Rufino Barrios, who rose from
beginnings as humble as those of Lincoln, is called by his
countrymen the Reformador, which is not easily translated
into English. He changed the political and social life of his
country from an antiquated, personal system guided by men
with selfish interests, to the liberal, democratic government
it is becoming today.
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
JUST RUFINO BdRRIOS
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
JUSTO RUFINO BARRIOS, eight years old on this
day in 1843, awoke feeling impatient and restless. The
rancho of San Lorenzo, where his parents and brother
and sisters were already finishing breakfast, seemed crowded
and airless. He did not take time to eat more than one tortilla
and ignored the black beans and eggs in tomato sauce which
Estella was cooking over the open fireplace in the corer of the
large room. Still chewing, he ran outside. In the paved court-
yard he stopped and scratched his head. His black hair had
been clipped short only yesterday and the cool morning air
made his scalp tingle. He stood on one bare foot and then the
other wondering what he should do with this long, glorious
day which lay untouched before him. He wanted to go down
to the stables to try out the new horse which his father had
brought down from his ranch, El Malacate, yet he also
wanted to go with Mariano, his older brother, to visit his
grandparents. Or perhaps he should run up to the village and
get some of the boys together for one of their games.
It was a beautiful day with only a few white clouds hang-
ing motionless against the eastern horizon. Beyond the house
Tajumulco, the twin-peaked volcano, stood serene. The yel-
low-green of its meadows was a bright background for dark
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
clusters of pines, and along one side of the mountain a herd
of cattle was slowly grazing upward. Justo wrinkled his fore-
head as he tried to see whether this was his father's herd. Then
his gaze moved higher to the smaller of the two volcano peaks.
Indian witch doctors and shamans were said to perform their
weird, century-old ceremonies on it.
The early morning was filled with sounds. Chickens and
guinea hens were noisily scratching for the grain his mother
had dealt out to them, a donkey brayed from the pasture, and
from the village came the staccato bark of dogs. From the
stable, where Justo's father, Don Josi, was overseeing a cara-
van of mules which was about to leave, the peons' curses, as
they loaded the animals, broke the air. A woman's laughter
floated up from the brook below. It was washing day and the
women had met down there where the large boulders made
good drying places for clothes and the overhanging willows
hid the women from the road when they bathed.
And suddenly Justo knew what he would do. He quickly
ran back into the house. It was lucky that his mother had also
gone down to wash, for though Justo was allowed to do as
he pleased so long as he returned to the rancho by dark, his
mother did ask so many questions. Only Estella was indoors,
cooking the meat for the midday meal. Justo wished he dared
tell her what he was setting out to do. But from experience
he had learned that she would only try to dissuade him and
perhaps even run to his mother if she disapproved of his plan.
That would not do.
"Give me some tortillas!" he called, his eyes shining with
anticipation. "And hurry. I'm going on an excursion," and
with his chin he pointed vaguely in the direction of the road.
"But you've only just finished breakfast," the young servant
girl exclaimed. "You can't be hungry again!"
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
'Didn't you see that I ate only a little'" he retorted, wait-
ing impatiently for her to wrap some tortillas in fresh banana
leaves. "And this is only in case I'm not back by lunch time.
Tell my mother."
"And why not tell her yourself? That would be better,
But Justo was busy stuffing the food into his pockets. As
with all his clothes he had inherited these trousers from Mari-
ano and they were too small for him. Ignoring Estella's ad-
monitions, he ran out into the courtyard. The sunlight blinded
him for a moment after the rancho's darkness.
Tajumulco stood serene and distant as ever. The summit
seemed as far away as the clouds, and for a second Justo lost
heart at his daring undertaking. Then he spied one of his
father's horses, grazing in the high zacate grass. It had come
at just the right moment. Justo would ride for the first part
of the trek, then when the climb became too steep he would
turn the horse loose to find its own way back. That way he
would save a lot of time.
It was easy to capture the grazing animal. Luckily there was
a rope wound around its neck which Justo could use as a
bridle. He had learned to ride almost as soon as he could
walk, so riding bareback was easy for him. This horse particu-
larly was old and tame and well-fed, so that the sharp back-
bone did not stick out too much. Justo cut a switch from the
elderberry hedge to set the horse going.
The morning air was cool and they started off at a canter.
.They crossed the wide pasture and the cattle stopped grazing
to look curiously at them. When they reached the first up-
ward slope the horse slowed down to a jog trot, and soon fell
into a deliberate walk out of which Justo could not stir it.
The ground was stony here and the horse stepped carefully
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
so as not to hurt its feet. Its hoofs were not shod and they
caught on ragged bits of rock which stuck out of the ground.
Riding through the clumps of pines also slowed its pace and
the horse seemed to stumble on purpose over each exposed
root, or so it seemed to Justo who finally stopped using the
switch and decided to continue on foot.
When he dismounted he had a good view of San Lorenzo
which lay directly below him, and he was surprised that he
had already come so far.
The low thatched and tiled roofs of the houses looked like
lost brown baby chicks in the vast landscape. From up here
he could trace the curves of the winding brown road along
which his father's mule caravans carried their precious wares
to San Marcos, Quezaltenango and all the other cities of
Guatemala. Glancing toward the horizon he saw the sharp
outlines of the mountain ranges, one beyond the other, inter-
rupted again and again by volcanic cones.
But there was no volcano like Tajumulco, his own! It was
the most beautiful he had ever known and it was the highest
in all of Central America. Justo, like all the people born in
its shadow, felt that he had had a hand in making it so.
He turned away from the view and wound the rope around
the horse's neck. Then, with a farewell switch, he started it
Justo climbed uphill and down, crossing unexpected deep
barrancas which cut the flanks of the volcano that had looked
so smooth from below. Trees hid his view now and he did not
know if he were really getting any higher. When he stopped
he could hear the brilliant notes of the guarda-barranca bird
whistling its warning. His leg muscles were aching and he
was beginning to feel tired, but he would not give in so easily
and continued upwards, thrusting his hand into his pocket once
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
in a while to break off a piece of tortilla, for he was also get-
ting very hungry. Estella had put some white cheese on the
tortillas and it was good to think of her kindness. The pungent,
slightly smoky taste of the cheese lingered in his mouth.
Soon the way became so steep he often had to use his hands
to keep going. Every time he thought he was really getting
higher another barranca slowed his progress. Sometimes he
had to make long detours around them, or if he slid down into
them he would emerge with scratched knees and feet. At last,
after a particularly hard climb, he was too tired to go on. A
little wood of pine trees grew here and there was soft earth
underneath them. He flopped down on it, pulled out the tor-
tillas and ate them ravenously. He wished he had thought of
bringing some water along. The cool morning air had given
way now to a heavy humidity and as he lay back and looked
up through the branches of the pine trees he noticed vaguely
that the sky's color had changed to a hazy white. He tried to
keep his eyes open by staring at the sky, but somehow the soft
murmur of the pine trees, though there was no breeze discern-
ible, made him feel very drowsy. If only he weren't so sleepy!
He almost wished he were back in the rancho with his mother.
He woke up with a start and it took him a few seconds to
realize where he was. The blue sky had disappeared and
everything was gray. Wisps of cloud floated through the pine
trees like shadows. All of a sudden he felt a hand on his shoul-
der. Looking up he saw before him an old Indian's deeply-
creased face. Justo had never seen him before; he was not one
of the Indians from San Lorenzo. He tried to squirm away
from underneath this hand but now it grasped his shirt tightly.
The old Indian said something, but his Spanish was so in-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
termingled with the dialect of his tribe that Justo could not
understand him well. His voice was very hoarse. "Son," he
said. "You cannot stay here."
As if he, Justo, had any desire to do that! All he wanted
was to shake off that heavy hand on his shoulder and run-
run faster than he ever had in his life. He no longer wanted
to climb Tajumulco, and he could think only of getting ba&k
to his home. It was growing darker by the second. Black,
heavy rain clouds were burying the mountain, and gray wisps
of fog and clouds were hugging the ground and drifting
through the trees. The deep rumble of approaching thunder
was like a puma growling.
"Let me go," he said, and his voice seemed barely audible.
"Let me go!"
"You cannot go alone, son," the old man said, and there
was another rumble of thunder very near. "We will take you
home with us."
Justo again tried to jerk his arm away. He wondered if he
should kick the old man. He would probably let him go then,
yet there was something awe-inspiring about him so that he
did not quite dare.
"I know how to get home," he said in that same voice
which seemed to be swallowed up by the clouds passing before
him. "I came by myself. I know how to get back."
"Is this not the second son of Don Jose Barrios?" another
voice now inquired from out of the mist. Justo turned and
saw a second Indian squatting on the ground, leaning against
a tree trunk in the Indians' age-old position. And then he
realized that there were others, all old and all squatting in
that same position, forming a circle around him. They seemed
to be quietly waiting for something, oblivious of the thunder-
storm which would break loose in a moment. Now Justo no-
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
ticed that these old men were not wearing their usual dark
homespun work-clothes, but had bright scarves wrapped
around their waists to hold up their short, embroidered, black
woolen pants. Their heads were covered with caps on which
red, green, and yellow symbols had been woven. They were
carrying silver-topped staffs and held strangely-shaped bun-
dles in their hands. Justo wondered what was in those bun-
dles and shuddered as he remembered stories of the Indian
customs. And suddenly he also remembered something the
padre had preached when he had come to the church of San
Lorenzo a few weeks ago. Justo had not understood every-
thing, but the boy in the sermon had been named Saul. Saul's
father had taken him onto a mountain to sacrifice to God.
Kneeling on the hard tiles of the church floor, Justo had
imagined the mountainside to be like Tajumulco, and branches
of trees like these here would furnish the sacrificial fire. All
this returned to his mind in a flash, and his knees grew so
weak he could not have run away even if he had been al-
The first Indian, as if he sensed that, let him go. Justo did
"Is he Don Jose Barrios', the landowner's, son9" His small
bleak eyes looked questioningly at the boy.
Justo was just able to nod. The full meaning of what was
happening came to him only now. He had often enough heard
people talk about the Indians' ceremonies. In the old days they
used to sacrifice humans and cut their hearts out. Now that
was against the law. But what if no one knew about it?
"Don Jose is a good man," the other Indian continued. "He
is good to Ladinos and Indians alike. My wife has been at his
house many times."
Then Justo recognized him. He was old Ana's man, old Ana
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
who had brought Justo into the world, him and his brother and
sisters . surely he would not let any harm come to him!
Quickly he ran to this Indian who got up slowly. "You know
me," Justo said wildly. "You know my father. He will repay
you. You will let me go, won't you? Don't hurt me!"
The Indian's sad, withdrawn face seemed to break into a
half-forgotten smile. "Are you afraid of us Indians because
our skin is brown and yours is white? Why should you be
afraid?" Then he walked over to the other Indian. And
though Justo could have run away now the clouds were so
thick and the whole mountainside looked so strange and fear-
ful that he did not know which way to turn. He remembered
that the gossips in San Lorenzo had whispered that old Ana's
husband was a shaman, a witch doctor; but surely he meant
him no harm.
"When this man-child was born," Justo heard him say to
the first Indian, who seemed to be the leader, "his mother saw
an eagle arise out of Tajumulco's mouth . his nahual?"
Justo started at the word. He knew what it meant: a living
animal guardian, his counterpart in the animal world, who
would live while he lived and die with him. His heart beat
with excitement. His fears were forgotten. A nahual? Did he
have a nahual?
The head-shaman almost imperceptibly motioned to Justo
to come closer again. When he stood in front of him, Justo
saw the shaman's eyes stare without blinking into his own.
The other witch doctors, as if by some secret, unspoken agree-
ment, had all risen and now stood round him and the old man
so closely that Justo felt their breath on his neck. But the
hypnotizing stare of the Indian did not frighten him. Instead,
he felt as if something inside him were being opened up and
that strange questions were being asked which would be an-
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
swered. The old Indian was speaking; sometimes his voice
would rise, becoming shrill and high, and there were words
of prayer and strange incantations, and then again it would
fall and seem to be one with the thunder's rumbling.
"Do you know what I am?" the Indian cried, but all his
questions were rhetorical and he did not wait for Justo to
answer. "I am the ilum k'inal! My eyes .have been granted
great power by Tzult'aca to protect a man, a beast, a field,
a village by looking at it. If I want it, if you are worth it, I
can protect you from all disaster. Tzult'aca and To'jil, Dios
Mundo and the God of the Cross are in my eyes and will de-
fend you from all the evil of the world-if you are worth
it, you son of the white man, you virgin plant in an old soil."
And now he began to chant a rhythmic song whose melody
rose and fell on three notes. The other shamans joined in and
Justo felt that they were moving, dancing around him. He was
not sure; his mind was strangely empty, waiting expectantly.
Then the old Indian's voice rose again and it seemed as if he
were calling to someone hiding in the pines or in the restless
clouds. "Nahual, nahual. This boy is not an Indian, but he
grew from this land of ours. Are you his nahual, fierce and
proud eagle, who rose from Tajumulco when his mother bore
him? If you are, great eagle, and your life is tied to this boy's,
and if you will be his animal guardian while he lives and
die when he dies, speak to us now, so that we may know!
When Tecum-Uman, our last Indian chief, led his armies
against the horsemen, the Conquistadores, his nahual, the
great Quetzal, was killed by Alvarado and that is why we
have lost for all eternity. Great eagle, free and untamed spirit,
are you this boy's nahual? Will you protect him? Come, eagle,
the thunder is calling, the rain will fall on us. Answer, an-
swer. . "
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
And the Indian lifted his heavy brown hands from the boy's
shoulders and stretched them out toward the heavens. The
other shamans followed his example and continued to walk
around Justo in measured steps.
Suddenly there was a brilliant flash and a heavy explosion
of thunder. As if this had been the command the clouds had
been awaiting, the rains poured forth. From a pine tree not
far from them, came a sudden heavy swishing, as if great
wings were starting out in flight.
The leader cried, "He answered, he answered! It is this
boy's nahual; the boy will be great one day. He is blessed,
blessed among all others. . ." Like a sinister chorus the
other medicine men chanted wild, weird words which Justo
did not understand.
And only now the'old Indian lifted his eyes from Justo's
and, trembling a little, Justo emerged from his hypnotic state.
He was not trembling with fear, nor because of the cold rain
which soaked him to the skin in a few seconds, but with some
inner emotion, the like of which he had never felt before.
Old Ana's husband took his hand as if he were a small child.
"We must go; your father will be worried and that is not
They started out on a path down which the rain water was
already gushing. And after a while, as Justo hurried along
with them down the mountainside, the Indians seemed again
just simple people, and he wondered if what had happened
up there, near the summit, had not all been a dream. Yet the
sound of the wings rising from the tree near by still rang in
his ears and he still felt the strange exaltation inside himself.
The descent was terrifying. Later, when Justo dared remem-
ber this adventure, he never understood how he had gotten
home alive. Certainly, without the Indian's guiding hands, he
THE EAGLE OF TAJUMULCO
would never have made it. When they finally got to the pas-
ture across which he had galloped so blithely that morning
the Indians disappeared. They were simply gone, swallowed
by the rain and the swirling mist. Justo, walking along with
his eyes on the ground, half-asleep, did not wonder how they
had gone. His one thought was to get home, to get warm, to
eat and sleep. The village already lay before him and beyond
it, on a slight elevation, his father's house. He shuddered, feel-
ing his wet clothes clinging against his skin, and started to
run with his last ounce of strength.
As soon as he saw the rancho he knew that something was
wrong. Despite the rain a great fire was smoldering in the
courtyard and from the open door a beam of light shone out.
From the ranchos near by, where some of his father's men
lived, light also came, an unusual thing at this time of evening.
Justo ran faster, panting with the exertion, his head light and
dizzy. He crossed the little footbridge and stumbled up to the
house. But before he reached it, from the shadows of the euca-
lyptus, a man came out and grasped him-his father.
Before Justo knew what was happening, he had been
pressed tightly against his father in a warm embrace. But al-
most in the same instant he found himself on the ground again
and then his father's heavy hand descended on him. He was
too tired, too exhausted emotionally to feel any pain. He just
stood bent over, held up by one of his father's hands and
beaten with the other. Then he heard his father calling and a
shadow crossed the light which came from the rancho's door.
A second later he lay in his mother's arms. She was sobbing,
berating and kissing him at the same time.
Later Justo lay on the bed which belonged to his parents.
His brother and sisters, wrapped in thick woolen blankets,
were asleep on straw mats on the floor. He felt the warmth
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
of soup mixed with aguardiente course through his veins.
Though he tried to stay awake he could see and hear only
dimly and the voices of his parents came to him as if from
very far away.
"If you were more severe," he heard his father saying,
"these things would not happen. None of the others ever ran
"He is different; I do not know how to manage him, Jos,,"
his mother replied and now her voice was calm again, not trem-
bling with tears as it had been when she had sponged him with
hot, spicy water, and fed him.
"I am too busy with the land," his father grumbled. "I can-
not be a nursemaid too."
"I never ran away," Justo heard his older brother Mariano
murmur sleepily, and Justo wished for a second that he did
not feel so drowsy so that he could get up and beat him.
His parents, he gratefully noticed, did not reply to Mari-
ano. His own ears had begun to ring loudly; he could not
follow the conversation any more. Only once he thought that
his father said something about sending him out with the mule-
teers, that that would make a man of him. Justo, half-feverish,
did not believe they could mean that. He was the son of Don
Jose, the landowner and finquero; certainly he would not go
with the mule caravans! His teeth began to chatter then,
he threw off the blankets, feeling suffocatingly hot. His mother
was bending over him, her smooth face tender and sad. She
forced something between his lips and he swallowed the bit-
ter stuff, wanting to see her smile. Suddenly he sank into a
deep, dreamless sleep.
T HE rain had stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The
wide, clean-swept sky flashed in newly washed blue-
ness. The last raindrops fell from the leaves, where
they had hung precariously, and splashed into the puddles on
the clay ground. Everything smelled fresh and new. Taju-
mulco stood serene and clear against the cloudless sky.
Justo came to the door of the whitewashed low house. Ten
years old now, he was a sturdy fellow, his sunburnt arms and
legs sticking out of his outgrown clothes. When Mariano had
worn this shirt it had been a bright blue, but by the time
Justo had inherited it, it had turned a faded gray-white color.
He looked up at the sky and smiled. It was going to be a good
day after all! His white teeth sparkled in sharp contrast to
his clipped black hair and deep black eyes. Leaning against
the adobe wall of the house he stuck his strong square hands
into his pockets while his feet luxuriously dug into the warm
rain puddle. The reddish clay squeezed up juicily between his
How dreary life had looked to him a little while ago. Be-
fore the rain he and his friends from the village-Chico,
Estella's brother, and two others-had just managed to es-
cape a thrashing from his father. Justo had gone into his fa-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
their's almacen, the store which took up part of their rancho,
and had gotten some of the sweet panel to pay a debt he
owed the boys. He had bet on the wrong fighting cock. He
thought that his father had already left for San Marcos with
the mule caravan, but he had suddenly appeared in the door-
way of the store. Justo had to thank the threatening thunder-
clouds, which bade his father hurry on his trip, for not getting
a lashing right then. The rain had come soon after that and
he had gone into the rancho and sat there, listening to the
raindrops pattering on the thatched roof. The gloomy interior
had been lighted only by the candles his mother set up in front
of the house altar, and there had been nothing to do.
But now the sun was out again and Justo hoped that his
father would not try to hurry back from San Marcos this same
day. If he waited till tomorrow he might forget his anger!
The shadows of the acacia trees had lengthened and in the
distance some cows mooed, waiting to be milked. Tajumulco
had changed its color in the late afternoon light; the smooth
cone of the volcano was blue and there was a soft haze around
its top. Looking across their land Justo's bitter thoughts evap-
orated. Maybe there was some reason, some reason he could
not figure out yet, why his father insisted on treating him as
if he were just any boy from the village and not the second
son of Don Jose Barrios, finquero, storekeeper, and probably
wealthiest citizen of San Lorenzo.
"Sefiorito!" a voice called from the stable just then. "Come
and look at the new donkey."
Justo ran toward the stable, a low building with only one
wall along the side whence the rain usually came. Inside horses
and pack mules were tied up when needed, though most of
the time they stayed out to graze in the pasture. A flamboyant
tree, its branches thickly covered with bright red blossoms,
stood near by. The chickens and guinea hens were already
climbing it, cackling noisily, getting ready to roost for the
night. Three cows, well-fed on the fresh grass which had
sprouted since the first rains, had wandered up from the
meadow and were waiting patiently at the gate to the pasture.
"Where is he?" Justo asked Juan, the old Indian who had
called him. "I knew one would be born soon."
"He is already a few days old," the man replied, pointing
toward the wooly, unsteady baby donkey which was nuzzling
its mother in a corer of the stable, "but his mama went away
from here when she felt him coming. The animals prefer their
children to be born in liberty. She only brought him back
Justo only half listened. He had gone up to the donkey and
put his arms around its long neck with the much too heavy
head. He loved its fresh, clean smell and breathed it in with
his eyes closed. The little donkey stamped its feet and Justo,
feeling his own strength and protectiveness, lifted it up and
carried it into the yard. "How beautiful!" he exclaimed with
the air of a connoisseur. "I shall call him Miguel, in honor
of San Miguel whose day this is."
Juan laughed. "The young gentleman is blasphemous; only
children are named after their saints."
One of the cargo mules had broken loose and strolled over
to Justo and the baby donkey. It sniffed at the donkey and
pushed it with its black nose.
Suddenly Justo laughed. "Ai, Juan, I have an idea," he
shouted. "Come and help me."
Juan hesitated a moment before he did the young master's
bidding.. He had been in the family so long that he was al-
most part of it and, as such, was much too proud to carry out
any request in a hurry. By being slow about orders, as Justo
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
knew very well, the old man felt he was preserving some of
"What is it, Justo Rufino?" he asked.
"Here, grab this chain." Justo handed him the mule's halter
and chain. "And just hold it while I put Miguelito on the
mule's back. I'm going to teach the donkey to ride; you
The Indian hesitated. "I don't know, I don't think your fa-
ther would like it."
But Justo had made up his mind. "Go on," he ordered an-
grily now. "Do as you're told."
Juan took the chain and mumbled under his breath while
Justo lifted up the little donkey and heaved it onto the mule's
back. There it sat, its four thin little legs sticking out stiffly,
its head hanging against the surprised mule's neck.
"Good, good!" Justo cried in delight. "I wish the boys
were here to see my circo. Give me the chain; I'll lead the
mule up to the house." He was so excited about this adven-
ture that all his foreboding had disappeared and he could
think only of his sisters' surprised and admiring faces when
they saw him.
He had gone only a few steps when it happened. The mule
balked and the little donkey slid over its head onto the ground.
Neither animal had made a sound and when Justo quickly
turned to catch the donkey, he was too late. The young thing
was already on the ground, and, strangely enough, did not
"An accident," Justo called back, laughing, to Juan who
had watched them go and now came up at a trot. He bent
down to help the baby donkey back onto its feet, thinking
that the ride must have frightened it and that was the reason
for its strange behavior. But as Justo picked up the little
body it seemed much heavier than before and setting the
donkey on its legs now, they buckled. Aghast, Justo let the
donkey slide back onto the ground.
"Juan," he said. "I think its legs are broken."
Juan bent down, passed his hands along the thin gray legs
and felt jagged bones inside the skin. "Ai, Juan," Justo ex-
claimed. "I didn't mean to do this. What can we do"?' He
looked around wildly and turning toward the house, saw his
father coming down the path in long strides. He felt a com-
pelling urge to run away, far away, but his feet seemed nailed
to the ground. His father had taken off his heavy riding boots
and was wearing Indian sandals. His shirt was open, sleeves
flapping about him. His black hair was mussed as if he had
rubbed his hands through it. All of this Justo noticed clearly,
as though he were seeing him for the first time. And now he
pushed Justo roughly aside, looked at the donkey's legs and
picked up the animal. "Come, help me, Juan," he said. "Bring
some straight splints; the sefiora will have some cloth for
bandages. Tell Carlos to fix some clay with jacal, and hurry."
He ignored Justo who stood in the high grass off the path,
with his head sunk on his chest. The donkey mare trotted
past him, neighing softly, to follow her child.
When it was dark Justo ventured to the house. The good
smell of tortillas and coffee greeted him at the open door.
There was only one lamp on the table; the fire from the
kitchen stove threw a flickering light over the rest of the room.
His parents, Mariano and the sisters had begun to eat. They
were silent when he came in, looking at their plates. Only
Antolina and Maria threw him a quick, secretive glance.
He took his place on the bench. Because he had come in
late he had missed the prayer, so he crossed himself quickly
and said it, almost inaudibly. Estella filled his plate with
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
fragrant soup and set a cup of coffee beside it. Then on bare
feet, she retreated to the stove and the room was very quiet.
His father's loud smacking as he took in his soup seemed to
have an ominous sound.
"How is the donkey?" Justo asked after a long while.
No one answered. Then suddenly his father had finished
with his soup, pushed the empty plate away from him, wiped
his lips and leaned back in his chair.
"Justo Rufino Barrios," he said in a composed tone of voice
underneath which his anger rumbled. "Your mother and I
have made a decision. You have done too much mischief. To-
day's is the last straw, as the Bible says. Mariano and other
boys at your age have more sense. We did not have to take
rough measures with him, but you cannot be taught. Today
you hurt an animal, tomorrow you may hurt a man. Tomorrow
morning, when the sun comes up, you will leave with Carlos
and his men for Retalhuleu. You will go with the muleteers,
as one of them."
He was silent and the other children, who had stopped eat-
ing, began again. Justo heard his mother sob once, then saw
her quickly cover her mouth and look apologetically at her
husband. Justo dared not lift his eyes again. He had been so
hungry when he came in, but now he could not finish his soup
and the coffee turned cold in his cup.
F OR four years Justo lived the life of a muleteer. The
days soon became familiar, though ever-changing, but
Justo could never forget that gray, threatening dawn
when his father's anger had sent him from his house. It was
bitter punishment then, that day and the weeks and months
that followed. He felt that Carlos and the muleteers were
laughing at him, sneering about the son of the owner who
had to be a muleteer. He did not try to make friends with
them but kept away from their talk and laughter as much as
he could, trying to emphasize his superiority. And physically,
too, he had suffered, for though he was a tough boy of ten
when he set out on this life, a muleteer's days were hard.
But he had only cried once. And that was the first morning.
Sleepy, cold, unhappy, only his pride and will power kept him
from hanging onto his mother's skirt and from bursting into
tears right there with the entire household looking on. Carlos
had been very kind to him. It was not the first time in his ex-
perience that he had to break in a mule or a child and he be-
lieved in doing it with kindness. When Justo's beloved white-
washed rancho had disappeared from sight Carlos had picked
him up and seated him on top of the lead mare who always
traveled ahead of the mules. Then, with the cheerful tinkle
~ ____ ~
of her little silver bell in his ears, Justo had cried.
But when, after the first year, his father had told him that
he could stay at home again, Justo had not wanted to. By that
time the vagabond life of the muleteer was in his blood and,
despite the physical hardships, he had begun to love these
long trips through all of Guatemala, from the borders of
Mexico to those of Salvador. There was so much to see, new
things were constantly happening, and life at home began to
look dull. Then, too, there seemed nothing for him to do at
home, and to return to his make-believe games with his friends
did not appeal to him any more. Mariano already acted too
proprietary about the house and the almacen at San Lorenzo.
He would inherit it all one day, while Justo would probably
get one of the coastal fincas. Meanwhile Justo might as well
continue with the muleteers.
Now, in the summer of his fourth year on the road, the mule
caravan was in Jacaltenango. They had finished their buying
and selling the day before; palm-leaf hats, heavy woolen
capixays and baskets were stacked along one side of the rancho
which belonged to Don Jose Barrios and was used by his trad-
ers and muleteers when they came through. Francisco, the
head muleteer, had agreed to stay an extra day or two so
they could be present at the ceremony of the Year Bearer, the
most important feast in this part of Guatemala. Alberto, one
of the muleteers-a pure Indian with high cheekbones and a
low forehead over a strong, squat nose-had offered to take
them to his sister's rancho near by for the festivities. He him-
self came from the village of Chichicastenango and had at-
tached himself as a child to Don Jose's caravan where he had
finally become a full-fledged muleteer.
"We will catch up with the extra day," Francisco was tell-
ing Justo, who was stretched out in one of the bright-colored
hammocks which hung across a comer of the rancho. "The
mules will go faster with the light load. The weather too will
remain good from now on. The rainy season is past, but the
grass is still green and the dust has not yet begun to rise.
That's when it's best to travel."
"That's true," Justo nodded. He knew very well that Fran-
cisco, though a Ladino, still had enough Indian blood in him
to feel it almost his duty to stay over a day or more for this
great ceremony. He himself did not care whether they stayed
on or left this night. He had broken off a piece of chicle from
the gray bulk stacked in the corner with the other wares and
was chewing it contentedly. Time did not mean anything to
him; there were only days and nights and the change of
"We will all go to Alberto's sister," Francisco continued.
"Her husband is a member of the cofradia, the brotherhood
of Saint Thomas. She has announced the feast, and all mem-
bers of the family must attend or something bad will befall
them. These past three days Alberto has already been pray-
ing more than working." Francisco got up from his squatting
position against the rancho's wall and took an ember from
the fire that was slowly dying out on the floor. He held his
leaf-wrapped cigarette against it and inhaled the smoke
"It'll mean staying awake all night," Justo replied closing
his eyes sleepily. One of his legs was hanging out of the ham-
mock and with the tip of his sandal he gave himself a push.
The hammock swung lightly back and forth and the beams of
the rancho, to which it was tied, sighed. His shadow flew
crazily up and down the crude adobe walls in the flickering
"Ai, not all night," Francisco replied. "Only some of them
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
stay up that long. We will stay up till the fowl is cooked
good and tender with young onions and fresh corn and toma-
toes and chile . ."
"You make my mouth water," Justo said, sitting up. "Pepe,
we have not had good food lately."
"You are thinking of your mother's pots, young master,"
Francisco smiled. He rarely addressed Justo thus, but Justo
was pleased when he did. "Food never tastes as good as at
home. Maybe you will stay there when we get back this time."
Justo shook his head. "No, not me. Life there seems dull
after traveling all over the country. I had never imagined that
Guatemala, our country, was as big and beautiful as it is."
He hesitated, wondering if he could put into words what he
meant. Surely Pepe wouldn't understand! He hardly did him-
self. It was only that sometimes, at the most unexpected mo-
ments, he would feel something like a lump come to his throat
so that he wanted to cry out in gratitude that this was his
country. But surely Pepe would not understand.
"When do we start for Ernestina's rancho?" he asked after
"Soon we can go." Yet suddenly the muleteer seemed to
hesitate. "You do not have to go if you don't want to. If you
prefer to stay here . ." he finished lamely.
Justo looked closely at Francisco. Often it seemed easier to
guess men's true thoughts from their eyes rather than from
their words. "What is it, Pepe?" he asked sharply. "Don't
you want me to come?"
Francisco seemed to have found something underneath his
nail that required all his attention. "Ai, no, Rufino," he an-
swered evasively, shrugging his shoulders.
"Then what is it? First you tell me to get ready, then you
tell me I need not go. Speak now!" And Justo fixed the older
man with imperious black eyes.
"It is just," Francisco replied at last, "that you might not
like it. Or they might not like it. They are all Indians, or
Ladinos like myself. I don't think any Spanish .. ."
Justo did not let him finish and stamped his foot in anger.
"Spanish," he hissed. "We drove the Spaniards out of here
more than twenty years ago. Ladinos or Indians or pure-
blooded descendants of the conquerors, we are all the same
"You know best," Francisco said and picked up his mule-
teer stick. "Let us go then."
Stepping outdoors Justo shivered in the night. He drew his
woolen poncho tighter and pulled the triangular scarf, which
he always wore around his neck, up over his mouth. Justo,
like all Guatemalans, believed that diseases travel at night
and if one did have to go out in the dark, this was the way
to protect oneself.
The rancho lay on a slight elevation at the edge of Jacalte-
nango so that they could see the village before them as they
came out. At first it seemed as if it were asleep in the gray
night air. The low huts looked like dark boulders, nestling
against the earth. The sweeping outline of the mountain range
could be felt rather than seen against the starless sky. From
somewhere, from the woods maybe, the weeping cry of a night
bird pierced the silence for a sharp second. The soft earth of
the village streets, laid out centuries ago by the conquista-
dores, swallowed the sound of their feet. Approaching the
center of the village they could already see the white facade
of the church, towering over the low huts. An eerie light came
from it. And now the subdued voices of the Indians could be
heard, their simple prayers rising to heaven, intermingled with
the incense which they swung back and forth in front of the
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
church, with the sweet scent of crushed pine needles and
flower petals, and the melting beeswax of the yellow and black
Alberto awaited them in front of the church and led the
way to his sister's. Her rancho lay outside the village, in the
midst of cornfields where the young plants were just pushing
up. Candles flickered through the fields and orchards to re-
ceive the Year Bearer well and light his way.
"At dawn the Year Bearer will be here," Alberto whispered
excitedly to Justo as they reached the rancho. "The shamans
will go out to the secret cave and look into a pool of blood
and make their prophecy for the year to come . ."
When they entered the rancho no one looked up, and Justo
realized that he need not have worried about being wanted or
not. He almost wished he had not come: kneeling Indians and
Ladinos were packed so tightly, one next to the other on the
floor, that there was hardly room for them, and the air was
heavy with the smell of incense, candles, Indian bodies, and
homespun clothes, as well as with aguardiente and the slightly
sour smell of fresh tortillas.
Everyone knelt facing the house altar where a great fat
turkey hen was tied to one of the altar's legs. She had ob-
viously been made drunk and she lay there, her eyes glazed,
her wings hanging away from her body, spread-eagled. On the
altar stood a primitive statue of Saint Thomas with two per-
fect cobs of corn, tips of evergreens, and the ugly squat stone
figure of a Mayan god beside it. Spanish and Latin words of
prayer mingled with the old Indian dialects. The black can-
dles on the altar gave off a golden glow and the bowed black
heads of the Indians reflected their light.
Justo soon was tired of kneeling. Every time he looked up,
wanting to move, he encountered the hypnotic stare of the
spread-eagled turkey's glazed eyes. Finally he roused himself
and with an effort got up and stepped out onto the porch. As
the fresh mountain air filled his lungs, he felt almost dizzy.
He sat down outside, leaning back against the adobe wall.
Half-awake, half-dreaming, he heard the Indian voices go on
and on and then a sudden complete silence when the shaman
severed the turkey's head and let the blood drain into husks
of corn. Then the voices resumed, swelling in sound.
Suddenly Justo was not sleepy any longer. His mind seemed
sharp and clear and he began to think all kinds of thoughts
which usually did not touch him at all. He wondered about
San Lorenzo and what he would do when the caravan got
back this time. He wondered why he was a muleteer, travel-
ing up and down the Quiche mountains. He wondered what
others of his age did, those for example who grew up in the
cities? He wondered about the fact that some people went to
schools and learned mysterious things. Of course schools were
only for those who wanted to become priests or lawyers, or
for rich people. As for him.? When his father died he would
probably be given one of the fincas, then he would be a
finquero and breed cattle and grow corn. Was that all there
was to it?
Behind him the voices swelled into a three-beat rhythm.
A few minutes later a very small Indian girl stood before
him, her tiny brown hand pulling his poncho. Her doll-like
quality was enhanced by the bright-colored costume she wore,
an exact replica of her mother's. The old symbols of the
double-headed eagle and the plumed serpent were embroidered
on her huipil and a bright-colored faja was wound tightly
around her waist.
"The cena is ready, senior," she said. "The turkey is steam-
ing in the pot and there will be sweet guacamole "
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
Justo, young enough to be hungry at any time, followed her
into the rancho. He did not notice that the first promise of
dawn was already streaking the night sky with light fingers.
Three weeks later the mule caravan arrived at San Marcos
from where it was only a short day's trip to San Lorenzo.
Justo's feelings about returning were mixed this time. He
yearned for his mother's affection, for his father's serious
words as he spoke to him now man to man, for the good food,
for his own cot. But whereas before he had looked forward
to setting out again, after a few weeks of rest, he could not
help experiencing now a certain emptiness in his life, a cer-
tain dissatisfaction which he could not explain. Yet he knew
that remaining behind in San Lorenzo would not cure that.
It was like searching for someone whose name he did not
Juan, his face darker and also much more wrinkled, and
with a greater sense of independence than ever, met the cara-
van in front of San Marcos' church. He had come on an er-
rand and had been permitted to use one of Don Jose's best
horses. Justo's heart went out to the red mare who tossed
her head playfully as he patted her broad neck. "Let me ride
her back," he begged. "Whatever it is you came here for, I
But Juan refused. "I was sent to get a paper that has ar-
rived for your father from the capital. What's in it I don't
know. Maybe it is greetings from the President himself. Your
father said it would probably be something about more taxes;
ai, ai. Here is the paper, see, I got it from the intendente. I
must therefore ride the horse back."
Justo took the circular, which was enclosed in a sort of en-
velope, and looked at the black markings on the white paper
which to him looked like the tracks birds leave on muddy
ground. "I can take it just as well; you know I can ride, and
better than you."
Juan laughed. "So you can ride better than I can, that is
a good joke," and he leaned over and held his nonexistent
stomach in silent glee. "The young sefiorito can ride better
than the old man who has never been away from a horse. Next
thing, he'll say he can read the letter too."
At these last words Justo felt sudden waves of hot anger
well up in him. He grasped the letter tighter in his hand and
strained his eyes, as if by this physical effort he would be able
to decipher the words on the envelope. His breath came in
panting sounds as he shouted, "I can read, you insolente, I
can read!' But, hard as he strained his eyes, the black marks
on the paper did not gain any meaning and Justo suddenly
felt tears of rage and humiliation rise in him. Francisco, Al-
berto and the other muleteers surrounding the little group
on the sunny plaza in front of the church were all smiling
"Fourteen years old," Juan laughed aloud, not fathoming
Justo's anger, "and he cannot read, yet he says he can ride
better than an old man. . ." But before he could continue
Justo had torn the mare's reins from Juan's hands, swung
himself into the saddle, and, the printed circular clenched be-
tween his teeth, galloped off in the direction of San Lorenzo.
He did not look back. If he had, he would have seen Juan
cross himself, even his Indian imperturbability touched by this
outburst. All the others followed his example.
At the speed with which the mare galloped along the road
to San Lorenzo it did not take Justo long to get there. The
mare's red skin was flecked with white. Her nostrils were
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
dilated and she was nervously twitching her fine ears. Justo,
entering the village, reined her in roughly and, jumping off,
threw her reins across the rail in front of the sacristan's house.
He knocked sharply against the flimsy door. San Lorenzo, too
small to afford a priest, had only a sacristan. He was the
wisest man of the village.
Don Lazaro opened his door and looked with surprise at
Justo, disheveled and breathless as he was, and at his sweat-
ing horse. "What is wrong?" he exclaimed in his strange,
falsetto voice. "Who is dying?"
Despite the passionate seriousness of his intention Justo
could not help smiling. "No one, Don Lazaro," he said and
then his words fell over each other. "It is just that I have
come to beg of you a great favor. Please, please, Don Lazaro,
teach me how to read!"
Now it was the old man's turn to smile. "No one has come
to me with such a request in such a hurry. Is it for that you
rode your father's horse almost to death?"
Justo turned to look at the horse but hardly noticed her.
"She will be all right." He pushed the letter toward the
sacristan. "Tell me, please, can you read this, and if you
teach me how to read, could I read it too?"
Don Lazaro took his time. He grasped the circular, turned
it back and forth and held it up against the sunlight. Then he
drew it close to his eyes, and very slowly pronounced each
word on the envelope. "To be delivered to Don Jos6 Ignacio
Barrios, San Lorenzo, Departamento de San Marcos, Los
Altos, Guatemala." He stopped and looked intently at Justo.
Despite his many years the old sacristan still enjoyed seeing
admiration in the eyes of those to whom reading and writing
was a miraculous gift. And Justo was not stingy; his eyes were
wide open and even his mouth and his nose seemed to breathe
"Please, Don Lazaro, please," he begged. "Teach that to
me too. I'll give you all I have; one day I will inherit many
things, only please teach me to read now."
Don Lazaro smiled. "You are young and I am old. By the
time you inherit the riches, I shall be sleeping in my grave.
And may God let me rest in peace."
Justo refused to give in easily and cried passionately, "You
will live long yet, and maybe my father will pay you now.
The sacristan put his hand on Justo's shoulder. "Don't
worry, my son. I shall teach you for the love of God alone. I
wish every boy would come to me so all could grow up know-
ing how to read the catechism. That is a wonderful book.
Everyone should learn to read just for that."
"Then you will!" Justo exclaimed, half delirious with joy,
and he took the old man's hand and pressed it to his lips, as
he had learned to do at the annual visits of the village priest.
"Come, let us begin now."
"But how about your trips? If you want to study you must
"I don't care about them, Don Lazaro." He meant it then
and had already forgotten the past four years. "I just want
to learn to read. And then, maybe to write?"
The old man nodded. "Surely, surely, we will see. But the
horse now, you have just returned from a long trip. Won't
your parents be expecting you?"
"That does not matter," Justo said, but he did look up and
down the street, wondering how he could get the horse to the
stable and rubbed down. Just then his old friend Chico, who
was now working in one of the sugar refineries, ambled around
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
"Chico," Justo called with all his might. "Hurry up, come
- Chico came, but did not hurry. "Que tal, Justo. Are you
"Can't you see that, Chico? You are surely getting dumber
every day." Justo laughed, overflowing with good spirits.
"But I have no time to talk now. Take the yegua to my fa-
ther's stable, and here, take this letter to my father."
"Why can't you go?" Chico asked logically, slowly unty-
ing the mare.
"Tell my parents that I am learning to read with Don
Lazaro. He is giving me lessons free. I will be home by and
by." And he quickly turned from the street and brushed past
Don Lazaro into the rancho. "Let us begin," he called breath-
T HE historical and political background of the period
in which Justo Rufino Barrios was born was one of the
most turbulent in the history of Central America. In
1835 the Central American Union under Morazin still ex-
isted and Justo therefore was born a citizen of Central Amer-
ica. Mariano Galvez, a liberal Guatemalan, was chief of state
of Guatemala under Morazin, and introduced democratic
laws which his country had never known till then. The Louisi-
ana Code was accepted in Guatemala replacing the Spanish
colonial laws; habeas corpus and trial by jury were estab-
lished; the death penalty, except for treason, was abolished;
civil marriage was introduced; cemeteries were secularized,
and various other laws were passed limiting the power of the
Church. It looked for a while as if the Central American
Union, which had been established in 1824, would remain a
reality. This Union had been the logical outcome of Central
America's independence from Spain in 1821. But soon na-
tional differences, lust for power, personal dislikes and jeal-
ousies began to break it up, and only Francisco Morazin's
personal magnetism and leadership held it together.
Galvez of Guatemala was unable to remain long in power-
His liberal measures may have been too advanced to be intro-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
danced into a country where the great majority of people could
neither read nor write and had no interests except their
own small ones. Reactionaries and some liberals, as well as
the Catholic party, turned against him. Morazin was too busy
elsewhere in Central America to be able to help his hard-
In 1835, a twenty-three-year-old swineherd and outlaw,
Rafael Carrera, distinguished himself as a guerilla fighter
against Galvez' troops. He was pure Indian, could neither
read nor write, but was worshiped by his men. There was
open warfare now between the government and the strange
coalition of so-called liberals, reactionaries and clergy who
had chosen Carrera as their leader. In 1839 the besieged capi-
tal fell into his hands. Those who had employed Carrera gave
him the rank of general and paid him off. But Carrera had
tasted power and did not want to return to his mountainside.
Two months later he besieged the capital again and years of
turmoil and bloodshed followed. Finally, realizing the dan-
gerous situation in Guatemala, Morazin himself arrived on
the scene, but though he won the battles he could not rid
Guatemala of Carrera and his bands. In 1840 Morazin had
to leave the battlefield and return to San Salvador where the
Federal Congress was meeting to decide on the fate of the
Union. Despite strong opposition it was decided to dissolve
the Union and Morazin was thus left stranded, without a
country and without an army.
Carrera re-entered the capital of Guatemala and, except for
two short periods when he had to relinquish his power, re-
mained as undisputed dictator of the country till 1865,
During this turbulent period the province of Los Altos,
where San Marcos and San Lorenzo were located, revolted
and declared itself independent from Guatemala. But in 1839
Carrera entered its chosen capital of Quezaltenango, sacked it,
and executed a great number of people. Despite this cruel les-
son, Los Altos revolted once more in 1848 but was soon sub-
jugated again by Carrera's forces. The people of "The High-
lands," however, gained the reputation of being staunch ad-
herents to their ideals of independence and liberty.
Carrera's policies, during all the time he was dictator, were
those of any tyrant bent on keeping himself in power. The
liberal laws and reforms instituted by Galvez were abolished.
There was no freedom of speech or press, hardly even of
thought. Carrera was omnipotent and the only authority he
would acknowledge above his own was that of the Catholic
church. The Jesuits and other orders whom Galvez had ex-
pelled from the country for political activity, were reinstated
with more temporal power than they had ever possessed be-
fore. The conservatives and reactionaries, on whose shoulders
he had risen so high, feared but obeyed him. The true liberals
were driven into hiding, were killed or exiled. Foreigners
were suspected and had no more rights in Guatemala than
the downtrodden natives. Diplomats and their representa-
tions were ignored. Free enterprise did not exist and even to
discuss the right of free assembly, habeas corpus, or liberty
of worship was treason. The dictator's political spies were
everywhere. Friendships broke up in suspicion; wives and
husbands dared not discuss anything beyond small matters
of family and household; sons spied on their parents; employ-
ees on their employers. Those who came to Carrera with ru-
mors and tales were rewarded, their stories were always be-
lieved and, without further questioning, the accused were
cruelly punished. All Guatemala had become a great whis-
pering gallery. Like a shroud the former Indian swineherd's
hand lay, over the country, stifling all thought and initiative,
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
and Guatemala settled down into the grave-like stillness of
a total dictatorship which is sometimes mistaken for peace.
Justo, absorbed in learning to read and to write, was not
aware of this political turmoil. He studied with the sacristan
of San Lorenzo for one year. By the end of that time he was
able to read through the whole catechism and was able to write
a little as well. Don Lazaro then decided that he had taught
the boy all he could and suggested he go to Don Leandro
Rodas' school in San Marcos. Justo's father finally agreed and
Justo spent most of the next four years in that little town
only a few miles distant from San Lorenzo. Since he was not
the only one who at fifteen had to start in the first grade, the
fact that there were little children sitting on the narrow
benches next to him did not disturb him too much. Now, ever
since he had discovered that there was something beyond the
knowledge of a finquero or a muleteer, he was eager to drink
it all in, and he learned the fundamentals with ease. Only
once in a while, when the sky was blue and the air smelled
good, would he have sudden attacks of despondency when he
wondered what he was doing in school when all his instincts
called him to the land. But he usually could get over his de-
pression by racing one of his horses down to San Lorenzo or
taking his string of fighting cocks to compete at a fair.
It was strange indeed that during these years, when Carrera
was at the height of his despotism, there was a teacher in San
Marcos who believed deeply in the ideas for which the War
of Independence and the French Revolution had been fought.
Leandro Rodas and his son Ciriaco planted in the mind of
Justo those seeds which later grew into his belief in freedom,
individual rights, justice, and equal laws for rich and poor,
politico and peon alike. Both father and son became fast
friends of Justo's and remained so till his death.
It was Leandro Rodas who encouraged him to go on to
Guatemala City and continue his studies. After a long period
of indecision Justo followed his advice and, bolstered with a
meager allowance from his father, he set out for the capital.
Though his mother wanted him to be a priest he decided that
he would study law.
The capital of Guatemala has the almost unique distinction
of having been moved three times since its foundation. Each
time before, it had been destroyed by earthquakes and the en-
tire population had to be settled on a new site. Finally the
great high-plateau, at whose edge three volcanoes stood guard,
had been selected, and, because of its rather recent origin, the
actual capital had none of the narrow, crooked streets, the
overwhelming churches and convents of other Latin cities.
Justo's first view of the capital, when he rode down the steep
path from the surrounding mountainsides, reminded him of
Quezaltenango, and the tiled roofs were much like an over-
grown San Marcos. There were many empty lots among the
city houses where vegetation grew in untamed wildness and
where horses and cattle grazed, and most of the houses had
large patios. It was only after Justo had lived for a while
in Guatemala City that he began to dislike it. The streets of
cobblestones reverberated as he walked along them and seemed
strange to his feet, accustomed only to the yielding brown
earth. He could not bear living surrounded, as it seemed to
him, by stone, and finally he found a place in the outskirts
of the capital with a family by the name of Velasquez. Their
house reminded him of his own in San Lorenzo and because,
beyond the trees, he could see the silhouettes of the volcanoes
Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, he did not miss Tajumulco's
serene cone as much. At night the stars were near and familiar.
Best of all he could keep the horses he had brought along
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
and soon he infected Senfor Velasquez with his own passion
for fighting cocks so that before long from every free branch
and in every corner around the house and garden hung a cage
with a strutting cock inside. Thus, having surrounded himself
with as much of his home life as he could, Justo could begin
to apply himself to his studies.
His studies progressed very slowly. Justo hated every hour
he spent at the university. Most of the teachers, frightened
hirelings of Carrera, talked only the official jargon and inter-
preted the law according to the dictator's ever-changing
whims. Once in a while, at rare intervals, a professor would
speak his own free mind and would strike a spark of response
and understanding in Justo's heart. But with discouraging
regularity such brave souls would disappear, and more faith-
ful followers of Carrera would take their places.
But worse than the boredom of the classes was the attitude
of the student body. The young men believed themselves to be
the flower of Guatemalan society and did not admit Justo
readily into their circles. Justo came from the provinces and
no one had ever heard of his family-he was therefore an out-
There was many a day when he decided to give up and re-
turn to San Lorenzo, when only the memory of Don Leandro
Rodas who had encouraged him so much, kept him going.
During his second year at the university an incident took
place which, minor though it was in itself, increased his bit-
terness about the class of rich, young Guatemalans.
Justo, at nineteen, had fallen in love, and this time, he
thought, it was the real thing. The girl's name was Miranda
and her brother, Luis Gomez, considered himself the head of
the university's aristocratic young gentlemen and as such
completely ignored Justo.
And then one day Luis' attitude changed. One morning he
greeted Justo in a very friendly way and insisted on sitting
next to him at lunchtime when they ate their tortillas on a
grassy lot next to the university. He admired Justo's horse and
finally asked for the loan of a certain book on mathematics
which Justo owned and which the bookstores did not carry
any more. Justo, taken completely aback, promised to bring
Luis the book that same afternoon. Of course Justo knew
where he lived. Hadn't he walked by that house many a time,
hoping for a glimpse of Miranda! But he didn't tell Luis that!
Back at the Velasquez' house in the early afternoon Justo
picked up the book. It was one of those which Leandro Rodas
had given to him when he left San Marcos. It was an old book,
but it explained the problems of mathematics and geometry in
such a sharp, clear way that, coupled with his own aptitude
in this subject, Justo never had any trouble with it and even
managed to keep up with the best in the class. He tried to be
indifferent about what this afternoon might bring, but he
could not help feeling excited, as he brushed his black hair
till it shone. In his wildest dreams he had never imagined that
he and Luis might become friends. Yet here he was, taking a
book to the Gomez' house. He would be invited in. He would
see Miranda, touch her hand maybe, talk to her. The thought
of her dark beauty thrilled him and he remembered the many
Sunday when he had watched her in church, seating himself
in a pew across the aisle from the Gomez family so that he
could watch her undisturbed.
"Sefiorito," Seiiora Velasquez called after him as he was
leaving. "You are going to walk into town? You will be
caught in the rain. Better take this," and she hurried to him
as fast as her stoutness permitted, carrying one of the native
raincoats in her outstretched arms.
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
"No, no, Senora," Justo exclaimed. "I cannot take this into
town. I will look like a, a .." he wondered if he should
say it and thus maybe exorcize the name that was surely ap-
plied to him, "like a country yokel." And unwilling to listen
to her motherly advice, he hurried down the path which led
to the city. He sighed with relief at having escaped the ig-
nominy of arriving at Miranda's house covered with the tent-
like straw mat which Indians and country people wore during
the rains. No, he'd prefer to arrive soaking wet rather than
Guatemala City seemed beautiful as it lay before him now
with its red-brown tile roofs gleaming against the dark clumps
of trees in patios and parks, the gleaming cupolas of the Ca-
thedral and the fine spire of the Iglesia de Concepci6n. Beyond
the conglomeration of houses and huts, beyond the wide plain,
the three volcanoes stood guard. Now, in the darkening light
of the approaching rain, they were a deep cobalt blue and the
sky beyond them was slate gray. The sun, sinking in their di-
rection, sent sharp beacons of light over the countryside, giv-
ing it an almost unearthly beauty. This was the capital of his
country, his Guatemala! He had not felt like this for a long
time, could hardly remember when the reality of his country
had been so close to him and he so proud of it. If only Ciriaco
were here! He was the only friend he had ever known to
whom he could express such feelings, who understood even
when he did not find the right words. But Ciriaco was studying
in Quezaltenango and it was months since he had seen him.
Maybe this evening, when he returned from the city, he would
write Ciriaco a letter. He rarely wrote, but he wanted some-
one now whom he could tell of the blue volcanoes and the bea-
cons of sunlight and of his walking along quickly in the
scented air, walking to see a girl. . .
The rain waited just long enough for him to reach the city;
then the heavens opened. It did not rain in a fine spray; the
water fell in heavy gushes as if tubs were being emptied some-
where above. Justo hurried along the streets, hugging the walls
of the houses, trying to find a little protection under the over-
hanging eaves, and speeding across the open spaces. His boots
were splashed with the mud which churned in the gutters and
his hair was plastered around his face. He dared not think how
he looked. His best coat, his only black, flowing bow tie! Ai,
Sefiora Velasquez, how stupid he had been. He could at least
have carried that straw tent as far as the house, then dropped
it behind a wall somewhere. Even appearing in it would have
been better than facing Miranda thus; she would not know
him from a drowned cat . .
But despite these dire thoughts he could not subdue his
inner elation. He imagined Miranda standing in the open
door, anxiously waiting for him, since, of course, it must have
been she who had asked Luis to think up some pretext to get
Justo to the house. She would give him a towel that still had
the scent of her hands on it and wait till he had rubbed his
face dry. Then she would bid him sit in the salon with her
brother and parents and they would talk as equals and she
would ask him about San Lorenzo. He would tell her, not of
the straw-thatched house they lived in, but of the great pas-
tures, the sugar plantations, the herds of cattle and horses.
. . Her great dark eyes which had never yet met his would
look at him proudly and she would smile, a small secretive
smile. And Justo even went so far as to wonder what his
father would say to such a daughter-in-law.
The handle on the Gomez' house door was a bronze lion's
head. Justo hesitated a moment, then lifted it and let it fall
heavily onto the re-echoing wood. He had the book cramped
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
tightly under his arm, underneath his jacket, and while he
waited for the door to open he tried vainly to get some pro-
tection from the streams of water which fell from the roof.
But there was not enough space to escape the water and he
waited uncomfortably for a few moments before banging the
door handle again.
He thought he heard hurrying footsteps and afterwards
even believed that he had heard suppressed giggles. But now
he only cursed impatiently at the servants' slowness.
Only after he had knocked for the third time did the door
open a narrow slit. Justo's heart beat faster. It was ridiculous
to have imagined for a moment that Miranda herself might
come to the door. She was a lady and would be sitting in the
salon, waiting for the guest.
"What do you want?" an Indian servant girl asked him
Justo started. Hadn't Luis told the girl he was expecting
a friend? "I brought the book for Don Luis," he said, still
dodging the streams from the roof. "I have it here."
"Wait a moment," the girl replied, and closed the door.
From her dress Justo could see that she was a native of the
village of Mixco from which the best servants were supposed
to come. Well, exceptions proved the rule. Leaving him to
stand out here in the rain . .
He still did not get angry, or rather his anger was di-
rected only against the stupidity of servants. The strong sus-
picions about Luis' motive in asking for the book, which he
had felt that morning, had completely evaporated. During the
walk into the city Luis had turned into Justo's best friend and
Miranda-well, Miranda . .
The door opened a crack again. It was the same girl. Her
humble .eyes seemed to look almost compassionately at him.
He surely was a sight, but that was no reason . .
"Don Luis is very sorry, but he is in bed with a cold. He
asks if you would be kind enough to give me the book. It
is raining too hard and it has gotten too cold for him to come
to the door."
Later Justo remembered only that he had handed the book
to the girl as in a trance. He had wandered around the city
before returning to the finca and the cloudburst had suddenly
stopped. The sun had come out again and had painted the
countryside in breathtaking colors. But there was no beauty
in Justo's heart; he hated himself bitterly for having been
such a fool, but he hated even more those who had made him
Justo did not go to school for a few days, but slept and
roamed around the countryside, curried his horses and rebuilt
some of the fighting cocks' cages. Whether Luis had really
been sick or not Justo never found out, for later-when a
sort of friendship developed between them-he never asked
Again and again Justo brooded about staying where he was
often slighted and where his studies did not interest him par-
ticularly nor help to clarify the muddle in his mind. He longed
for San Lorenzo, for his mother, Ciriaco, and even Mariano.
He thought bitterly about Miranda, sure now that she had
urged her brother into shaming him because he, Justo Rufino
Barrios, had dared to look at her.
When he finally returned to school, Luis came up to him
and handed him the book, thanking him for the loan. There
was no word of apology or explanation.
That night Justo dreamt of his nahual, the eagle which had
risen from the flanks of Tajumulco during the storm. But in
the dream the eagle looked like a half-drowned chicken as he
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
sat sadly on the bare branch of a dead tree. His feathers were
dripping with water and his wings hung down over the
branch. It seemed very important, in the dream, that the
feathers should be dry again and full of luster. Riding to
school the next morning Justo tried to laugh off the dream as
well as the entire preposterous idea of a nahual. He had often
rejected this superstition consciously, but subconsciously it re-
turned to him again and again. Even while Don Escobar was
drilling Latin verbs into the students' brains Justo continued
to see the eagle, sitting miserable, dripping wet, on the bare
branch of the dead tree.
During these years the political life of Guatemala was at a
complete standstill, but Justo's generation, growing up with-
out knowing anything different, did not feel the total lack of
liberty as much as the older ones who still remembered the
liberal administration of Galvez. Youth was not taught any-
thing that might give them ideas about freedom and justice,
except by a few brave teachers.
Justo himself did notften think about the larger aspects
of politics now that he had left Rodas' stimulating influence.
Among the many officials and dignitaries in the capital there
were hardly any who stood out against the dictatorial power
and personality that was Carrera's. Among the representatives
of the so-called Assembly there was only one man who some-
times dared lift his voice against the tyrant's harsh measures,
who spoke in the name of liberty and justice. His name was
Miguel Garcia Granados and his parents had brought him to
Guatemala from Spain when he was only a few years old.
How this man had so far escaped Carrera's wrath was difficult
to understand. Perhaps Carrera thought him too unimportant
to bother with, perhaps he thought that one vote against his
measures and his regime would make him seem democratic,
perhaps he needed this man's family affiliation, or perhaps he
realized that Granados had become an idol of the intellectuals
and the students and that it would be dangerous to destroy
him. Justo had seen him only once, walking alone, unpro-
tected across the Plaza Central-a man in the fullness of his
years, with a high intellectual forehead over passionate eyes.
Justo, too, admired him. He would have liked to hear him
talk, but somehow he did not quite get around to it. He was
so deeply immersed in the problems of his own life that every-
thing else, unless it concerned him directly, seemed to flow by
outside his consciousness. It was so important for him to keep
up his own personality and self-respect that the larger issues
faded into the background. There was one incident, however,
which touched Justo at this time and which crystallized his
feelings against certain factions of the Church.
MEN, NOT ANGELS
A YOUNG Ladino girl who had been working in the
kitchen at the Velasquez' finca was going to have a
child. Maria was a pretty girl, reminding Justo of
Estella, their young maid at home who had always seemed a
part of the family. Maria was very young. She had come from
one of the neighboring villages and had changed her native
costume for a cheap cotton dress. She was always barefoot
and did her duties in a quiet, passive way, never lifting her
heavy, golden-brown lids from her dark eyes. She spoke only
when spoken to and then murmured so that you had to lean
close to understand her. Now she was going to have a child.
It was on a Sunday when Justo was sleeping late that the
old woman with whom Maria lived came knocking wildly at
the shutters of his window. When he woke up she told him in
shrill, hurried whispers, that Maria had given birth to a boy
the night before and that they both seemed to be dying. She,
the old woman, had in vain tried to get the priest to come
and give her the extreme unction and baptize the child-she
did not have enough money to pay his fees. Could the young
gentleman help her ?
Justo's first impulse had been to send the wizened old
woman away, but instead he found himself hurrying to saddle
MEN, NOT ANGELS
Barril to ride in search of the priest. He did not have the neces-
sary five pesos but he thought that he might talk the padre
into coming for less.
As he rode up the wide avenue of acacias to the priest's
house a little later he clenched his teeth in anger at what the
old woman had told him. The priest, so she said, had insisted
that five pesos was the minimum fee for which he could go
on that long ride to her rancho. Carrera, "our great and good
president," had ordered it so, he said. Justo wished that the
sacristan from San Lorenzo were here. He was kind and poor
and would give his last tortilla to whoever asked him for it,
Indian or white. And other padres too-he had met many
during his muleteer days who gladly sacrificed for their fel-
low men. But things seemed to be different now, especially
here in the capital where the rich churchmen were worldly, not
spiritual. Carrera's lawlessness had influenced even the clergy
and they were powerful and deeply entrenched in all phases of
the national life. They now acted according to their own inter-
pretation of the Bible; they blessed for money and condemned
the poor. They grew rich in land and property and influence,
but the people remained in cowed ignorance. Money and
power, not love, had become their watchword.
The acacias along the road were in bloom, sending their
sweet fragrance into the air. The road itself was smooth and
well-kept, better than almost any road in town, except those
leading to the Presidential palace. Well-tended fields stretched
to the right and left, and experimental gardens and orchards
had been planted. Indians were walking through these fields,
carrying big, flat earthenware dishes. At the irrigation ditches
they would fill them and pour the water onto the plants. With
all this care, despite the fact that this was the end of the dry
season when the entire countryside was burnt to a yellow-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
brown color, the fields here were clad in soft, springlike green,
and flowers were blooming everywhere.
Justo reined in his horse and rode more slowly up this ave-
nue. What a brilliant idea these irrigation ditches! What har-
vests one would be able to produce if one could thus control
the water supply! He would like to try that himself some-
time. Those trees, their branches bending under the weight of
apples, pears and peaches-he had never seen the like in
Guatemala. And he rebelled again at the thought of having to
keep on filling his mind with useless Latin words and mathe-
matical formulas when he could be out in the country, doing
this kind of work. Why didn't he go back to San Lorenzo and
ask his father to give him some part of his land to do with as
he wished? He too would have irrigation like this priest's, and
plant new trees to bear lovely fruit. And he would breed
fleeter horses than those which he could see grazing in an
enclosure here, and fatter cattle.
The house was large and the ornamental gardens around it
were kept up beautifully. It was a stone house with a slanting
tile roof and stone pillars'supporting the eaves. The wide
porch was spotlessly clean; already at this early hour of a
Sunday the servants must have swept and polished it. No
He dismounted, strode up the steps, and pounded the bronze
door knocker hard against the mahogany door. An old servant
glided up from somewhere outside and asked him what he
"I want the padre," he said. "Someone is dying and he must
go with me."
The old Indian crossed himself. "May God bless him," he
said piously, "but the padre is not here. He has gone to
MEN, NOT ANGELS
"He has gone to mass?" Justo repeated. "But he never
reads the early masses; Padre Teobaldo reads those."
The Indian was impassive. "Sometimes, sometimes," he
murmured. "But tell me who it is who needs the padre?
Then when he returns I shall tell him and he will come."
"It is only a Ladino girl," Justo said, feeling ill at ease at
having to explain, "and her aunt has already been here twice.
They cannot pay what the padre asks."
The Indian shrugged his shoulders. "Then you will pay
for them, young senior?"
Justo had to admit shamefacedly that he did not have that
much money either, but added, "I thought the padre would
come for less. It is a Christian who is dying."
The Indian's head hung low. "The padre knows best. It is
not for me to say. Come back this evening and the padre will
surely speak to you."
"This evening!" Justo exclaimed and he lifted his riding
whip, but caught himself in the motion. "Do you think death
waits for the padre to find time to talk, maybe to bargain for
the price of a soul He looked around furiously, searching
for something to say, to do. And then he noticed one of the
shutters of the house close quietly. "The padre!" he shouted,
striding toward the entrance again. "He is in here. He is not
at mass. Open it up, or I'll break it in!"
The servant moved between him and the door. "I would not
do that, sefiorito," he said calmly, in that same humble tone.
"The padre is high up among the friends of our great and good
President. It is against the law to break in doors."
Justo struck his forehead with his fists. "Against the law,"
he murmured in angry frustration, and turned and almost ran
down the steps. "Against the law!"
Only when Barril was racing along the road back to the
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
finca did he manage to control himself somewhat. The wind
rushing past his face calmed him, and his furious anger gave
way to bitter and clear thinking. That's how it stood in his
country. Maybe the Indian, exploited by everyone, had only
himself to blame if he stood it all humbly. No wonder the
priests prospered and could choose whom to bless and whom
to condemn. No wonder, too, that men like Carrera stayed
in power, defying all laws of humanity and decency while all
groveled in the dust before him instead of standing up to him,
as equals, the way God had created them.
Then what was there to do? Leandro Rodas had always
said that salvation lay in education. If the people learned,
could be taught that they had rights, would they then rise
against men like these? What was the answer, if there was
one to all this? Was that maybe why he was staying here,
against his will, studying things which seemed to have noth-
ing to do with his country? Was that it?
When he got back he let his horse run in the pasture and
went in to eat breakfast. He was glad that the Velasquez had
gone to mass. He did not want to talk to anyone just now.
The house was quiet and the tile floors re-echoed his foot-
steps. In the kitchen the hot water for the coffee was simmer-
ing on the stove and there were eggs with tomato and onion
sauce in a frying pan. He put the pan closer to the fire and
broke some pieces of tortilla into it. He ate slowly. Once he
was finished he would have to decide whether or not to go
down to Maria's rancho and tell her and the old woman and
all the others, who were surely assembled there, that he had
failed. He had broken his word. The priest had not come and
he himself did not have the five miserable pesos. Nor, despite
all his education and learning to which these people looked up,
had he been able to talk him into coming.
MEN, NOT ANGELS
He went back into his room, stretched out on his cot and
banged with his whip against the side of the bed. The word
failure stood out starkly in his thought. Luis would not re-
ceive him and Miranda did not deign to look at him. The
priest would not talk to him and the servant dared threaten
him with Carrera's retribution. And those who asked for his
help, the humble and the poor, he failed. Was that to be the
meaning of his life?
That evening he dared not inquire of the other servants
how Maria and her newborn child were getting along, or
whether the priest had come after all. He could not help feel-
ing that he had not tried hard enough. Maybe he should have
squatted down in front of the priest's house till he came out.
He could not go down to the rancho and face the girl and the
Late that evening, when Sefior Velasquez and he were sit-
ting on the porch whittling away at pieces of wood which
were to be used for the handles of new machetes, Sefiora Velas-
quez came up to them. Her trundling, heavy walk seemed
slower than usual.
"The poor Maria died today," she said, speaking into the
falling night. "She and her child."
"A child ?" Don Velasquez inquired.
Dofia Velasquez nodded. "May their souls rest in peace."
"May their souls rest in peace," her husband repeated, and
Justo too whispered the words after them.
"She was very young, pobrecita," Sefiora Velasquez said.
Suddenly a strong emotion swept Justo. But he stifled it
and sat motionless in the scented evening air.
No one spoke. Sefior Velasquez had fallen asleep and his
blustering snores joined the orchestra of cicadas.
"Did the padre come'?" Justo ventured at last.
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
'The old woman told me about your efforts. You should
have told me. Maybe I could have gotten the money from
Justo's brow was deeply furrowed from trying to think this
thing out dearly. Sefora Velasquez was good and kind and
very religious. Never did she let a Sunday go by without go-
ing to mass, never did she consciously go against the rules of
the Church. At first, when he had moved in with them, she had
been shocked because he did not go to church every Sunday,
and had tried to get him to go with her. Maybe she could
help him to understand.
"Do you approve of his refusing to come because the full
fee could not be paid?"
"They have to charge. The money is used for good causes
Justo bit his lips. "For that then two Christian souls have
to die without fulfillment of their last wish?"
A great sigh came from Sefiora Velasquez. "Justo, mi hijo,"
she said tenderly. "The Catholic Church is our holy guide,
but angels do not serve her, only men, with all the weaknesses
and faults of men. Do not forget that in your bitterness to-
And suddenly it seemed to Justo as if this simple woman
had with one sentence explained to him the problem he had
been trying to solve. Of course, that was it, that was what he
must never forget. Men served the Church, not angels.
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
S"THEN Justo was twenty-six he decided that he
\WV was ready to take the degree of "Bachelor of Phi-
S losophy" which would give him the right to
practice as a notary public. Even though this meant the
end of his rather fruitless years of study, he did not particu-
larly look forward to the day when he would be "free." The
idea of a little office off the plaza central somewhere, a house,
wife and children, clients and friends did not attract him
much. His greatest love was still the land itself-a finca,
cattle, horses, crops, the life of a country gentleman. But he
did not own a foot of land and his father had so far given
no sign of what he intended to do with his. So a notario
public it would have to be. ..
Once in a while Justo did feel that being a lawyer of sorts
might not be too bad. That was during certain classes when
a teacher emphasized the reality of "law," making it stand
out as something greater than man, immutable-the yardstick
by which right and wrong were measured. But soon again he
would be filled with hopelessness when he thought of the way
in which law was practiced in his own country. It was one
thing in books, but in Guatemala it was twisted to further
one man's ambition,
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
Justo's position in the small but exclusive world comprised
of the university students had changed considerably with the
years. At first he had been accepted only because of his fleet
horses which won many a prize at the racing meets. Now he
seemed to be accepted as an equal. He wore the same sort of
clothes, though he had only one suit to the others' three or
four;.he wore sideburns and courted the sefioritas; he wore a
flower in his buttonhole. He was an average student, so that
in later years his teachers could never remember which of
their many students had been Justo Rufino Barrios.
A month or so before his final examinations Justo was walk-
ing through the poorest part of Guatemala City where white
dust covered everything so thickly it seemed as if some mon-
strous joker had spilled barrels of flour over people, animals,
plants and houses. A cloud of dust hung over the entire city,
but here it was so thick it was choking. Justo walked fast, try-
ing to ignore the squalor and poverty, covering his mouth with
a handkerchief against the bad air.
Someone had told him that among the conscripted soldiers
recently brought to the capital by Carrera was a levy from
San Lorenzo. They usually stayed over night on the Campo
de Marte and Justo was on his way there to see if any of his
childhood friends might be among the unlucky soldiers.
Carrera's recruits were sitting with drooping heads or,lying
like corpses on the ground of the Campo de Marte. Uniformed
soldiers, whose uniforms were often only one piece of military
clothing and a gun, stood guard over them. The entire picture
was one of hopelessness and despair and Justo hesitated a
moment, dreading to find a friend among these whom he was
unable to help. As he was about to give up, relieved not to
know any of these miserable recruits, a voice called,
"Don Rufino Barrios!"
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
He started and, turning around, saw Chico leaning against
one of the stunted trees of the field.
"Ai, hombre!" he called back and, with a glance at the
guards who did not seem to mind, crossed over to Chico and
"You poor man!" he said at last, still holding Chico's arm
in a tight grasp. "How did you get here, how did it happen?"
Chico sank down against the tree. His face was desolate
and hopeless. His shirt was stiff with sweat and dirt and his
bare feet showed deep cracks from forced marches. There was
not much to tell, of course. Carrera's soldiers had made a
foray for recruits into the San Marcos-San Lorenzo area,-had
caught Chico in the field where he was planting his corn, and
neither the pleas of his wife nor the fact that she would be
unable to support their five children if he went away, could
secure his release. Justo knew that Carrera ordered a certain
number of "volunteers" to be recruited occasionally and only
drastic measures served to get the required number of men.
No one volunteered, for too many soldiers were never heard
of again. Shot in the back "trying to escape," left to die by
the roadside on forced marches was a usual fate. Never paid
so that they foraged the countryside for their keep, they
were hated by all Guatemalans.
Justo knew that it would be useless to try to console Chico.
He sat next to the friend who had been his constant compan-
ion before he himself had been sent out as a muleteer. Was
this justice, he thought bitterly? Was it for this that he was
Chico soon stopped speaking of his own misery, realizing
that it was useless to complain. Instead he began to tell Justo
about the village, giving him news of his parents and other
friends. His father had bought some more land.
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
"And Estella?" Justo asked about Chico's sister who had
been one of their maids.
"She and her boy are well. Venancio is a strong little fel-
"I know that," Justo smiled. "Estella is a fine girl."
"He already rides almost as well as you used to, but they
still talk about your horsemanship."
A blanket-covered heap on the ground near them moved and
turned into the stocky figure of an Indian. He was wearing
the costume of the San Marcos Indians but Justo did not re-
member him, though Chico told him that he was one of old
Ana's sons. It was difficult to keep on talking to Chico with
this Jose Tomis silently nodding his head at everything they
said. Soon Justo got up to go.
"I brought you some money, Chico," he said, reaching into
his pocket for his meager savings. "I don't need it and it might
make things a little easier for you."
But Chico shook his head sadly. "You are kind, Justo. But
I don't want money. Freedom, yes, that I would take from
your hands. But you cannot give it to me, so keep the money."
Justo knew that there was no use in urging his friend to
accept it. "I'm leaving now, Chico," he said. "I will be back
in the morning, before you leave. Meanwhile I am going to
try . ." His voice faded to a whisper.
But Chico's resignation was too deep to grasp at this un-
spoken hope. "No one can get away," he whispered. "It is no
use. If you try, you will be shot, Justo. Don't do anything that
might endanger you."
"We will see," Justo said.
As he was about to cross the line of guards he felt someone
tug at his coat. It was Jose Tom~s, and now his face was not
silent and withdrawn but strangely alive.
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
"Don Justo Rufino," he whispered harshly. "My father
died. But before he died, he told me about you. I too am a
shaman, though now I am caught here among the soldiers and
must suffer my fate. The secrets of our race are transmitted
from mouth to mouth, from father to son. I know yours."
"My secret?" Justo asked rather annoyed. "I have no se-
"Then you have forgotten," the Indian continued in the
same staccato whisper. "You have forgotten Tajumulco and
the thunderstorm, and the shamans who woke you? Don't you
believe in the signs?"
But Justo still could not fathom what the Indian was talk-
ing about. "What do you want?" he said irritably, feeling the
eyes of soldiers and recruits on him. "If it is money . and
he thrust his hand into his pocket which held the pesos Chico
The Indian stepped back a little. "You know we do not
ask for money," he said. "You white men-money, that is all
you can think of."
"Then what? What secret are you talking about?"
"Your nahual," the Indian whispered. "I know which ani-
mal is your nahual. He has not been well, but he is growing
now . ." He stopped and lifted his head and looked into
Justo's eyes. "And those who know your nahual . ." but
he did not finish his sentence. Instead he turned and with the
Indians' rapid, shuffling gait disappeared among the recruits.
Justo crossed the line of guards and returned slowly to the
city. A whirlwind twisted around him, filling his eyes and
lungs with dust. His black hair was powdered with it. But
that did not hasten his pace; he hardly noticed where he was
walking. The Indian's words had carried him back into his
childhood, into the adventure of Tajumulco, the rainstorm,
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
the chanted words and the heavy beating of unseen wings.
"He has not been well. . ." He remembered the stories of
his childhood, the stories which servants would whisper to one
another. They dealt with nahuals and mysterious deaths.
Those who knew your nahual held your fate in their hands.
If they harmed your nahual, they harmed you. Stories of
dreams and wax figures, of mountain lions who turned into
women, and strange happenings in the dark of the night.
"But he is growing now. . ." What did Jose Tomis want?
Why did he warn him, or was he threatening him? Justo
shook himself. It was ridiculous to even think about these old
superstitions! Maybe Jos6 Tomais thought Justo could free
him from his fate as a soldier, but why, if he was such a pow-
erful shaman, could he not free himself?
When Justo looked up he found himself in the street where
Edilmirio lived. Edilmirio had taken some of the same courses
at the university and they had become fairly good friends.
Now Edilmirio had become a lawyer, taking his profession
lightly though, and coming often to the university to gossip
with his former classmates. He had married Miranda, Luis
Gomez' sister, that spring and Justo had been at the wedding.
He had not felt heartbroken, though he had expected to, re-
membering his bitter experience. But in her white wedding
gown Miranda was a stranger and he was not able to recapture
the memory of his love. This evening he did not feel like re-
turning to his room. He wanted to talk to someone, though
ever since Edilmirio's father had been given a high post in
Carrera's government, Justo trusted him less than ever. Still
he would be someone to talk to; so Justo knocked at the door.
Miranda's face appeared behind the iron grille of one of the
"Que tal, Justo," she called. "Come in." Justo pushed open
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
the door while the still-bitter memory of a rainy afternoon
flashed through his mind. Edilmirio's oficina was near the
main entrance of the house and he led Justo in.
"It is good to see you, viejo. What brings you into this part
of town? I thought you never left your country house will-
Justo laughed. "Well, once in a while. Anyway, I've been
down to the Campo de Marte and was walking back. I looked
up and there was your door."
"Miranda will bring us some chocolate. Or do you want
Justo shook his head. He didn't drink, though he had often
been teased because of his abstinence.
"Ai," Edilmirio sighed, falling into the deep leather chair
behind his great mahogany desk. "How I miss school. What
good times I had there! Now I am settled, I can see all my
life stretching out before me. No adventures, no more good
times. Just work, work to make a living."
"I did not know that you were working so hard." Justo
smiled, remembering all the times that Edilmirio had boasted
of not working. "When did this drudgery start?"
Edilmirio shrugged his shoulders. The carefree expression
on his plump face slowly changed to one of seriousness. "You
are lucky that you are not in politics. You will pass your ex-
aminations in a little while; then you will return to San
Lorenzo and live in peace and quiet. But with me it is dif-
ferent. Ever since my father has been given that high office,
I have been worried. I think of Miranda and the children we
will have one day." His voice dropped to a whisper and he
leaned closer to Justo. "You know, 'he' can't stay in power
forever. He has already been President longer than anyone
else in the history of this part of the world. When he falls
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
those who worked with him will suffer. We are all hated."
The last words were spoken in such a low whisper that Justo
could hardly hear them. He was taken aback by his friend's
sudden outburst. Was Edilmirio trying to lead him into a
trap? But why should he? What would he gain by Justo's
Edlmirio straightened himself and continued in his natural
voice. "You see, Justo, you are surprised. But the other day
I read a book. I borrowed it from the British consul. We did
not have it in school. It was by a Frenchman named Voltaire.
He writes a lot about human rights and a government's du-
ties. You know, we really did not learn much in school."
Just then Miranda came in carrying a tray of steaming
chocolate and he fell silent immediately and did not ask her
to join them. When the door closed behind her again his eyes
were angry. "You see how it is. I dare not even talk in front
of my wife!"
Justo was sient. Something was taking shape in his mind.
He wanted to speak but did not quite dare. He thought of
Chico, of Jos Tomrs. "The nahual is growing. . ." Chico
was his friend. Should he enlist Edilmirio's helpY It was only
a few weeks, now till his examinations. If Edilmirio should
give him away tlw years here would have been wasted, he
wowld swvvr get a degree. Worse yet, they might take it out
wt his pArents , .
$But Ch'ids ftwe, resigned and utterly desolate, was more
real, Justo started from the chair and grasped Edilmirio's
hwl, "Gonw," Je cried passionately, "Lt us do uimeihinig for
onre,. lJ.t us flt always sit and bemoan our fate and our coun-
try's, Ct's prove tr ht nt everything in our country in bad!"
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
It was a dark, starless night, and the dust, till whirling
around, was filled with fleeting ghosts. Here and there in tie
deserted streets a lamp gave off a faint glimmer. ,nly just
enough to attract all the night bugs and moths in the neigh-
borhood. Underneath the lamps fat toads squatted, witing
for the roasted insects to drop into their mouths.
From one of the side streets two young men emerged. They
looked around stealthily, drew their mufflers higher over their
noses and pulled their hats lower. One of them grasped the
other's hand and shook it hard. And suddenly the silent streets
seemed to reverberate to the shouts and songs of two drunks.
They wove along the narrow sidewalks pushing against each
other and against the walls of the houses, stumbling once in
a while. One of them was wildly swinging a quart botde of
aguardiente. The people in the houses awoke. listened in fear
and disgust for a moment, then pulled the blankets over their
heads. In the darkness they sighed bitterly. cursing without
words the man whose ragged soldiers were out there carousing,
while they themselves must obey the curfew and stay in their
homes like hares in their burrows. never venturing out after
The two young men meanwhile were roeizkin own the
street, noisily approaching the Camntu de Marte. Whea they
were about ten yards away two guards came forward to See
them, their guns cocked.
"Qidan vit?" They shouted the challenge to whith l
who traversed the city's streets after dark must kunw the a*
"Patri Oikre," came the heary-tor ued rvply.
"n'd n l.t,' -'s..'" 'Ihat was the s,~v old chtld .,
And nnaly, "0Q'w ryAima.^" to whKwh the two saswerdt
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
The two drunks had not stopped at the first password as
the law decreed, but had continued walking, right up to the
bayonets which the soldiers had lifted to their shoulders. But
the soldiers, as unconcernedly as they would have shot them
if they had not replied correctly, now good-naturedly took the
two between them.
"Ai, they are just borrachos," they called to the other guards
who had left their posts to see what was going on. "Nothing
against the law." And returning to their posts they gave the
young men a rough push so that they fell rather than sat down,
right at the edge of the field. Behind them some of the re-
cruits had awakened and were staring at them with sleepy
"Let us have a sip from your bottle," one of the guards said,
while the other took it and held it to his mouth.
Justo peered about. He thought he could remember exactly
the spot where Chico had been and there was no time to lose
if they wanted to carry off this bluff. It was dark, making it
more difficult, yet easier too, to do as they had planned. And
now, while Edilmirio was holding the guards' attention with
an involved story, Justo slid back a little more till he felt the
first recruit's outstretched body touching him. Then he got to
his feet and, bending as low as he could, he ran toward the
center of the field, looking for the crooked tree near which
Chico had been.
"Chico," he whispered. "Are you here?"
A shadowy figure lifted itself up a few feet away from him.
"Is anyone calling me?"
Justo embraced him with relief. The most difficult part of
the job was now done. "Chico, it is I, Justo. We will try to
get you away from here'" he whispered excitedly. "My friend
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
is now talking to the guards. He and I are supposed to be
drunk. Put on my hat and crawl back there. Then you and
he will walk away. Edilmirio will say that you will get more
aguardiente. They will think that you are me. They won't
know. . ."
"But you," Chico whispered back, not believing his ears.
"How will you get away?"
Justo shrugged his shoulders and laughed a little. He felt
young and happy and as if there were no danger in the whole
world. "I might even have to sleep here, who knows? I'll man-
Chico was so excited he could hardly talk. He wanted to
argue with Justo about the danger he was getting himself into,
yet all his instincts were drawing him to the daring escape.
He knew that if he failed he would be shot, but it was worth
taking the chance. Finally Justo had to tie his own muffler
high over his friend's face and push his own hat onto his
head. "Go on," he urged him. "Go on. There, where the noise
comes from. The one with the hat, that's my friend. Crawl as
close as you can, then play drunk. Moan as if you had just
been sick. Take his arm and ask him to take you home. Don't
act afraid-it's your only chance."
"Ai, senior." Chico was objecting and his teeth were chatter-
ing noisily. "I cannot leave you here. If anything should hap-
pen to you, how could I ever face your father. . ."
"Chico, get going." Justo gave him a push which almost
sent him sprawling. "Just think of Concepci6n and your chil-
dren and it will give you courage. It's easy enough if we act
And in order not to arouse any more attention among the
other recruits, some of whom had wakened and were trying to
listen to their whispers, he slipped down to the ground and
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
curled himself up on Chico's blanket.
It was too dark for him to see how Chico was managing.
He could hear only indistinct noises, except once when he
heard one of the soldiers shout in laughter and a bottle break
on the cobblestones. He lifted himself up on one arm and
stared through the darkness, hoping to catch a glimpse of
Edilmirio and Chico if they got away as they had planned.
There was one light up the street and they had arranged to
pause for a second under it as a sign to him. But hard as he
strained his eyes he could not see them.
Someone pulled at his blanket. He whirled around.
"Your deed is good." It was Jose Tomis. Justo had for-
gotten about him. He did not reply. He did not want to talk
to him. But the Indian did not speak again. He turned away
and rolled himself up in his blanket.
Justo thought it best to sleep here and in the morning give
some kind of explanation about it. But when he was finally
settled on the hard ground he could not go to sleep. It was
the first time that he had actively done something against the
government and the satisfaction tingled through his blood. He
turned from one side to the other, wild ideas coursing through
his mind. Finally he could not stand it any longer. Chico must
have gotten safely to Edilmirio's house by now whence he
would be smuggled away the next day. So why wait till
Justo stood up resolutely, straightened his tie and his hair.
Surely the guards would not take him for a recruit. He walked
up to one of them, leaning half-asleep against a small shelter.
"Soldado," he said, making his voice sound peremptory and
unafraid. "I am sorry to occasion you trouble, but I fell asleep
while visiting a friend." He lifted his hand to his mouth in
the gesture of drinking and winked at the guard. "Will you let
THE RESCUE OF CHICO
The soldier let his gun down slowly and smiled. "Si, senior,"
he said and stretched out his hand to grasp the coin Justo held
out to him. "This is not a good place for sleeping. Pasa no
Holding himself very straight Justo walked away from the
field toward the city. He hoped that the guard would not
change his mind and take a potshot at him. But nothing hap-
pened. He turned a corer and laughed. How easy it had been!
How good he felt!
SHERE were no repercussions to the affair and a few
months later Justo passed his examinations and re-
ceived the title of Notary Public. By the middle of
1861 he had settled down in San Marcos, not very enthusias-
tically but with the firm intention of making good. He had
rented one room in a little pink house across the Plaza Central
from the home of Don Jose Lino, his godfather, with whom he
lived. On its door his name and profession had been painted
in bold black letters.
There was not much for a new notary public to do in a
small place like San Marcos. Often Justo would lean back in
his cane chair and look through the iron grille of his window
at the market square filled with Indians coming from all the
villages of the region. Some drove cattle before them, others
walked with shuffling steps, carrying loaded baskets on their
backs. In the center of the Plaza the little fountain played
its cheery song and beyond were the tiled brown-and-red roofs
of the village and the soft green of the poplars against a bril-
liant blue sky. Occasionally Justo was interrupted by a client
and would give advice to the best of his ability. One of his
first clients was a famous bandido, Ram6n Perez, who threat-
ened Justo at first with his revolvers, but finally left two gold
pieces in payment. Another time a young man, escaping from
Carrera's police towards the Mexican border, asked him to
write a letter to his mother. Most of the time his clients were
simple people with their simple problems.
No wonder then that Justo's thoughts were drawn more and
more to El Malacate, the finca, not far from San Marcos,
which his father had given him as a graduation present. It had
always been his favorite finca and he had spent much time
there as a boy. It was beautiful land-almost virgin earth-
with good buildings, and it was well-stocked. It straddled the
Mexican border, the house itself being on Mexican soil. After
Justo had received this present it had been very hard for him
to settle down in the town. He wondered how long he could
remain in this job, which now he kept only for his parents'
sake. Looking out of the window at the sun-flooded square he
dreamt of El Malacate and of all the things he would do once
he settled there. In Guatemala City he had seen pictures of
prize cattle, bred in the United States, and he thought that
he too would breed animals like them and set out new
crops. . .
In the midst of his most glorious dreams he would shake his
head. What was the use? Here he was stuck in a stuffy office,
waiting for some hapless client!
Today Ciriaco Rodas had come in and Justo was sitting on
his desk, his legs dangling, listening eagerly to his friend who
had just returned from Mexico. This was the first chance the
two young men had had to resume the long discussions they
had reveled in when they had gone together to Leandro Rodas'
school. Then they had always built castles in the air of the
great deeds they would accomplish in life.
Ciriaco had exhausted his stories of Mexico at last and they
both fell silent and looked across the roofs of the town which
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
now, in the late afternoon light, had taken on a golden hue.
Into the silence Ciriaco spoke.
"Well, Justo, and you?"
"Me?" Justo asked startled. "What do you mean? You
know all about me. I'm a notario public residing bodily at
San Marcos but with my heart at El Malacate."
Ciriaco smiled, but his eyes were serious. "Maybe it is be-
cause I have been away. Mexico cannot be called a pure de-
mocracy, or a happy and free country. Yet, compared to
Guatemala . ."
Justo got up and closed the door of his room which led
into the patio. "It is not good to say things like that aloud,"
"Have you become so afraid, Justo? Have you too been
blinded and made callous and hard by all this around you?
Don't you remember what we used to talk about when we
walked back from the cockfights or went to swim in the sul-
phur baths? Have you forgotten?"
Justo moved uneasily. "No," he said at last. "No, I have
not forgotten. But I have lived for so long in the capital, I
have seen the total, invincible power of that man . there
is no use talking about impossible things."
"Impossible? Do you remember the fable of the lion who
got caught in a net and the mouse who freed him? The lion
must have thought when he first saw the mouse that freedom
through it would be impossible too."
"That was a fable."
"Fables are only picturesque ways of saying the truth."
Justo got off his desk and went to the window. His hands
were deep in his pockets, clenched into tight fists. At last he
turned again toward the room. "What do you want, Ciriaco,"
he whispered. "What do you want?"
Ciriaco's serious eyes held his. "You know, Justo," he an-
swered quietly, "the things we used to talk about as boys,
must we forget them now that we are men? Our country . ."
Slowly, as the weeks went by, Justo once more opened his
mind to the things he had consciously tried to forget. He had
felt that since the oppressive political situation had gone on
for so long already in Guatemala, it would continue forever,
and that, since he was a Guatemalan and expected to spend
his life here, he had to make the best of a bad bargain. Now
he began again to be a constant guest at Leandro Rodas' house,
and he and Ciriaco would turn the pages of the books of his
small library, delve into histories and fall silent when they
read of the downfall of other tyrants. There were books here
the contents of which were treason.
Justo's entire background and university education were
foreign to these dangerous if exhilarating ideas, and he argued
hotly with his friend. In their discussions they rarely men-
tioned Guatemala itself but took other countries and their
histories as examples. There was a block in Justo's mind which
forbade his thinking beyond the purely theoretical. Guate-
mala's own unhappy condition was taboo. But in his own
mind he began to recognize the truth-that Carrera was kill-
ing everything liberal and progressive in the country.
Then something happened which changed Justo's entire
life. At the time it seemed like a great calamity, but later
Justo's enemies with a sneer, and Justo's friends with a good-
natured laugh, conceded that it was the strongest impetus he
received on his road to revolution.
The Barrios family owned a house in San Marcos which
was rented to Carrera's chief executive, Corregidor Zelaya, the
Governor of the Department. Justo's father had asked him to
collect the rent there every week and one day Justo saw the
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
Corregidor's daughter-lovely, black-eyed and mischievous
Chusita. Despite himself and despite the fact that Zelaya was
probably the most hated and despised man in San Marcos be-
cause of his close affiliation with the dictator, Justo could
not get her out of his mind from one week to the next. Finally
he began coming to the grille of her window even on the days
when there was no rent to collect, just to talk with her while
her mother sat in the dark room behind her, a severe chap-
erone. What worried Justo most about this flirtation was the
fact that he had not had the courage to tell Ciriaco about it.
Ciriaco, he felt, would consider such an infatuation, with the
daughter of Carrera's man, a treasonable action.
One evening, a few months after he had first met her, Justo
was strolling past Chusita's house. She was at the window and
called to him. Her parents had gone out of town, the servants
were at a fiesta near by. She was alone. Justo looked at her
black eyes, her inviting smile and did not stop to think. Know-
ing full well that it was against all rules and tradition, he
went into the house. He could never remember exactly how it
happened, but suddenly the Corregidor and the entire house-
hold returned. Fierce, angry words were spoken, guns were
aimed at him. He only just escaped by breaking through the
window grille into the street. Shots rang out behind him as
he raced away, cursing the humiliation and shouting over his
shoulder that he would be back one day when they could not
drive him away.
Ciriaco saved him. On his friend's horse he had fled to El
Malacate which, being on Mexican territory, was beyond the
authority of the Corregidor's soldiers. A few days later Ciriaco
had come, bringing the bad news that Zelaya had sworn
eternal vengeance and death to Justo if he ventured back into
So Justo became an exile. He could stay at El Malacate
now. There was no longer any need to sit in the notary's of-
fice. His longing was fulfilled.
Yet somehow it was different because he was in reality a
prisoner on his own land.
8 EL MALACATE
A LL this time political life in Guatemala had been at a
standstill. Rafael Carrera was getting old, but he
would not relinquish an iota of his power. He had
made himself "Life President" and had created a House of
Representatives which declared him "immune and respon-
sible to no one for his acts" with the right to issue orders,
to make laws on his own initiative, to name ministers of state
at his own discretion, to suspend the sessions of the House
of Representatives or order new elections for it whenever the
interests of the nation or those of the President required, to
"name and constitute magistrates and judges" and to admin-
ister justice, "not in the name of the republic but in the name
of the President of the same." He, the former Indian swine-
herd, the peon, flushed now with power and conceit, had his
own likeness stamped on all the gold coins of the country
with an inscription saying that he was the "Founder" of
Guatemala. He was executive, legislative and judiciary power
all in one. He made laws on the spur of the moment and told
the judges how to decide their cases. Executions without rea-
son, except personal dislike, took place every day. Houses and
fincas were burned to the ground overnight if Carrera had
been told that some of the inhabitants had whispered against
him. Women dared not leave the house alone for fear of law-
less officials and soldiers. Torture to extract confessions was
the usual preliminary to death. When heads were chopped off
they were exhibited to the people on long poles. And the
people cowered in fear and dared not lift their eyes.
At the same time the Church, through its leaders, was be-
coming more worldly and political and less spiritual. Half
the property in Guatemala City and a large percentage of the
wealth of the entire nation belonged to the Church. Civil mar-
riage did not exist and those who could not pay for a church
marriage could not get married. No paper, no pamphlet, no
book could be published without the Church's previous censor-
ship. Though a few excellent schools and colleges were run
by the Church, there was no such thing as public education.
The majority of the people were kept in ignorance. The few
attempts at revolution were discovered by Carrera's spies long
before they could grow to a size which might endanger the
government. Many of the best men of Guatemala were exiles
without a chance to keep in contact with events at home. All
opposition had been crushed.
Then in 1865 Carrera died peacefully in bed. For a while
the nation breathed more freely, and the few who realized
that another kind of government was possible dared hope
again. Marshal Vicente Cerna was named president. He was
an old man, too accustomed to the ways of tyranny to change,
and he and the men surrounding him continued Carrera's poli-
cies. Hope died once more in the people's heart. It was all
the same. Only the name of the president had changed.
Meanwhile Justo Rufino Barrios remained a prisoner on his
own land. If he had wanted to, he might have tried to bring
his case to the President's attention, though there was not
much chance of being pardoned because he did not have in-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
fluential friends at court, nor enough money to bribe. Also he
had too much pride to beg for something which he felt was his
by legal right. If he asked permission to return to San Marcos
it would be an admission that he had done wrong. Proudly he
refused to do so.
The first year at El Malacate was very difficult. The care-
taker had mismanaged the finca, and most of the peons living
on it were lazy and dishonest. Justo fired them all. But the
new ones did not take easily to his ways, and stubbornly re-
sisted his revolutionary ideas about planting crops and breed-
ing cattle. There were no neighbors, and since Justo was an
outcast, even the few people who lived within a day's ride
feared to be seen with him. He had never been one to crave
companionship, however, and sometimes now, looking back
on his life, it seemed to him that he had always been an out-
cast. As a boy in San Lorenzo he had been a little different
from the others because of his father's position. As a mule-
teer, though he ate and slept with the men, he had been
apart. As a student he had never fully been accepted. And
The enforced living at El Malacate rasped on his nerves at
first. Zelaya's act had changed the finca he had dreamt about
into a jail. It was many months before he was able to get
over that feeling. Finally Ciriaco arranged a few night ex-
cursions into San Marcos which helped, at least momentarily.
But he had to go in secret and leave again before dawn.
Yes, that first year had been a bad year. He had planted
cotton, the first time that cotton had been planted on a large
scale in Guatemala, and a few weeks before the harvest, just
as the seedballs were popping open to reveal the snow-white,
fluffy cotton, the entire crop had been destroyed by some
strange insect while he had to look on helplessly. People who
heard about Don Justo -Rufino's failure nodded their heads.
They had predicted it. Even his father did not have faith in
him. Justo realized himself how little he knew about the
land, and wondered how, except by bitter experience, he
would learn more. He needed confidence in himself and
friends who believed in him more than ever before. Every
day his thoughts returned to San Marcos and to the bitter
fact of his undignified exile. When he heard that Chusita
had been sent to Guatemala City to be married to one of
Carrera's closest friends, the thought did not hurt much. Only
her father's implacable hatred of Justo, which continued un-
abated, was real. Justo was not even allowed to visit his fam-
ily at San Lorenzo. And, with the crop failures, the little
money he had quickly gave out.
He brooded much. But at last the fertility and beauty and
promise of El Malacate softened his deep personal hurt. The
finca's life began to fill his own. The crops, after the first
year, were good. His cattle, their hides shining and without
blemish, began to bring in the much-needed money. His horses
were winners at all the races in which he entered them, and
he often rode them himself.
Yet there was a limit to planting and harvesting. Only a
small amount could be sold in the neighborhood; everything
harvested above that quota had to be sent to the cities by
mule caravan, and the roads were bad, often impassable. Soon
Justo found that he had to leave his cotton and cane to rot
in the fields for lack of transportation. He began to plant
coffee, which had never been planted on this coast of Guate-
mala before, thinking that its transport might be easier. Roads,
roads-how could his country and its people ever prosper
without them' Without them it did not matter if the crops
were good or bad, if a man worked hard or loafed. By the
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
end of the second year at El Malacate, Justo was danger-
ously close to falling into the uncaring inertia which had be-
come so much a part of the Guatemalan character.
But the geographical location of El Malacate, which strad-
dled the highway to Mexico and was partly situated on Mexi-
can territory, kept him from this fate.
Travelers would stop overnight at El Malacate on their
way to and from Guatemala and Justo would be their host.
The finca house had many rooms and Chico, who, with his
wife, was manager of the household, would take care of them.
More often than not .Justo, tired after a long day in the
open, would not join the guests, but eat by himself. At other
times he would go into the dining room while they ate and
listen quietly to their tales.
Early in 1867 the Cruzes, a well-known, liberal Guate-
malan family, had tried to stage a revolution against the
Cerna government. Their leader, Serapio Cruz, unable to carry
through his plans, finally had to enter into an agreement with
the existing authorities by which he bound himself to hand
over his arms in return for an influential post in the govern-
ment and various reforms. He carried out his part of the bar-
gain, but Cerna's government, as soon as Don Serapio was
disarmed, expelled him from Guatemala and threatened him
with death if he ever dared return. Serapio Cruz found refuge
in Salvador and many members of his family followed him
into exile. One of these was his nephew, Francisco, who stayed
overnight at El Malacate. Justo found him in the dining room
with some other travelers.
Francisco Cruz was a slight young man, with a high fore-
head and black, laughing eyes. When Justo came into the
room, rather ill at ease as he always was on meeting strangers,
Francisco got up immediately and stretched out his hand.
"Francisco Cruz, su servidor," he introduced himself.
For a split second Justo hesitated. Deeply-engraved fear of
the government held him back. Should he shake hands with
one of the Cruz family, hunted out of Guatemala? But it
was only for a split second. Then, as if to make good the
hesitancy, he grasped Francisco's hand warmly and called to
Chico to bring some of the wine, the good wine one of the
merchants had left as a gift of thanks.
"I have heard about you," Francisco said. "I know Ciriaco
and some of the men you studied with in Guatemala City-
Edilmirio, Luis Gomez and others."
"Those names sound as if they came from a different life,"
Justo replied. "I am a finquero now, and my Latin and algebra
"Nobody learned much at the university," Francisco
laughed. Then he suddenly looked more closely at Justo.
"Either one knew certain things before one got there or one
picked them up some place, but not from the teachers."
Justo nodded, but he did not really understand what Fran-
cisco was driving at, so he changed the theme. "You are go-
ing back into Guatemala?" he asked.
Francisco leaned back in his chair and drank up the glass
of wine, savoring the taste of the sweet liquid on his lips.
"Where am I going? That depends on many things. On you
"On me?" Justo asked, startled. "On me?"
Francisco laughed again. "Yes, on you, Sefior Barrios. For
example, if you should insist I could be induced to stay here
a few days, maybe even a week or two."
"But of course, of course," Justo quickly said, remember-
ing the generous rules of Latin hospitality. "My house is your
house. Please stay as long as you wish."
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
"Thank you," Francisco said and, suddenly serious, he
looked squarely at Justo. "I have come with empty hands.
You know about Don Serapio Cruz and you know the fate of
all liberals in our country. We need you. I have plans. No,
they are only dreams now, but with your help . ."
"My help," Justo stuttered. "What can I do?"
"El Malacate. There is no other place along the entire
border which would make a better meeting place. I have
friends-many. They think like I do. We need a refuge, safe
from Mexico and safe from Guatemala, where we can meet,
hide our arms and plan. El Malacate, between the two coun-
tries, part of both . ."
"But I am only a finquero," Justo said. He felt his voice
trembling, somewhere inside of him there was exultation and
shouting, and he had to swallow so that tears would not rise
to his eyes. That was the way he had felt sometimes, oh, so
long ago, when he was young and hopeful and suddenly a
breathtaking view of the land lay before his eyes.
It seemed as if Francisco could read from his face what was
happening in his heart. He got up and grasped him by the
"Justo, Justo Rufino Barrios! I knew that I could trust
you. Why? Do not ask me. Only because you are young, be-
cause you too have suffered injustices, because you are a man
with love in your heart !"
Francisco stayed a week. The days did not seem long enough
for their talks. They walked and rode through the finca to-
gether, they sat on the porch in the evenings and looked si-
lently across the land. Once Ciriaco came and when he real-
ized the transformation which was taking place in Justo his
face shone. They talked and talked. To Justo it was as if for
the first time the insurmountable barriers which had been
built around his heart and soul had been torn down. For the
first time in his life he felt that he belonged, no, not only be-
longed, but would lead.
When Francisco left for Mexico where he was trying to buy
arms, Justo felt more alive than he ever had before. His mind
was working overtime, as if trying to make up for all the
dormant years of his life. Words Ciriaco and Francisco had
dropped, half-suggested plans, historical examples, together
with his own, suddenly-found consciousness, kept him in a
mental turmoil. And he was not allowed to fall back into his
lethargy. Almost every week a greeting from Francisco came
by a friend who brought mysterious heavy bundles and left
them in one of the rooms to which only Justo had the key.
All. these young men were either self-imposed or forced exiles;
their hatred of the conservative government was a burning
flame inside them, and their words about the ideal state they
would create were passionate. Justo listened, talked a little,
When the young men left, the life of the finca again en-
veloped Justo, but now, when he went out to watch his cocks
fight, there was a part of him which was not touched, which
was above such games. When the coffee blossoms clothed the
orchards in white veils his heart rejoiced, but there was one
part, inviolate, which knew that greater joy was to come.
Guatemala, mi patria! he thought. Now he need not sit on
the sidelines forever. He himself would go out and do battle.
His time had come at last!
THE FRUIT IS RIPE
USTO had been unable to sleep all night. Wild pictures
had flashed through his mind, words spoken in whis-
pers, faces of strangers and friends, promises, con-
spirators moving in the shadows. And all through it there had
been the consciousness of El Malacate, calling him, begging
him to stay. ..
Long before dawn he had left his bedroom and come out
on the porch to sit on one of the wooden rocking chairs. The
dogs had. come up, whining a little, their eager tails beating
against the balustrade. In the vines twining around the porch
some birds had begun to twitter and had stopped quickly
again. Then the night's soft blanket of silence had covered
everything once more. Justo did not rock in his chair for fear
of shattering the quiet.
Before him his land was spread out. Light clouds veiled a
full moon which shed an eery light over the fields of corn and
sugar lying below the estancia buildings. On his right the tall
mango trees, where the chickens roosted, were rustling lightly.
Once in a while a sleepy sound came from the guinea hens
hiding in the bushes, or from the other barnyard animals. The
many fighting cocks, hung in their individual cages on trees
near the house, would suddenly beat their wings as if dream-
THE FRUIT IS RIPE
ing of battle. Once one of the little calves, which was being
kept away from its mother, called softly. But these sounds did
not break the night's mystery, only emphasized its quiet. Justo
got up and looked beyond the buildings where the Camino
Real, the road to Mexico, cut through the finca. The shadows
were so deep there, he could not see anything. How many
travelers had come along that road, he thought-traders, sol-
diers, exiles, and all those others whose voices had kept him
awake this night.
One of the dogs got up restlessly, then tried to climb onto
one of the cotton bales which had been stacked on the porch,
waiting for transportation. He succeeded at last and curled
himself up on it, sighing contentedly.
"You could not sleep either?"
Justo straightened and the chair creaked. The dogs lifted
their heads, then, recognizing the guest, wagged their tails
"No, Francisco,,and you?"
"It is not the first time for me." Francisco stepped onto
the porch and leaned heavily on the balustrade, looking over
the land. Dawn was just beginning to brush the sky with pas-
tel shades. "But we have planned this for so long. We must
"My first coffee crop will be harvested today," Justo said
dreamily. "I will not be here for it."
Francisco came over and laid a hand on his shoulder. "It
hurts you to leave, doesn't it, Justo?"
Justo nodded. "My land, my own. Maybe this is the way
a mother feels when her child goes out into the world."
"You will come back."
"Yes, yes, I will. Yet somehow it will be changed."
"Changed? Only the season."
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
Justo was silent for a long while. A guarda-barranca awoke
and poured its joyous song into the dawn. "No, I mean
changed in a different way, Francisco. Can I explain to you
what I mean? We are so different, you and I. You, all your
family, the Cruzes, have always battled, lost and won, in the
never-ending fight for freedom and a happier country. You
grew up hearing tales of your gallant forbears. You knew
that one day you too would be an exile and that you would
fight your way back into your country, or die. But we, Fran-
cisco-you know my father. He is a good villager-he has
land, and some mules, and a store, that is all. He leaves others
alone and wants to be left alone. He is just like most of our
people, patient, suffering. I am sure that it has never once oc-
curred to him that he himself might do something to change
his lot and that of his fellow men. Here I am-his son, raised
in an atmosphere of silence and disinterest. Finally, when I
went to school with Leandro Rodas, he first planted the seed
of knowledge and questioning in me. The university of Guate-
mala? That was not much to inspire anyone. Except for one
or two professors they were Carrera's hirelings. . ."
"And then, Justo, then we came," Francisco interrupted
him smilingly. The darkness was slowly giving way to the
grayish light of dawn.
Justo looked at his friend and also smiled. "Yes," he said.
"Yes, and then there was El Malacate and it was an old cus-
tom that travelers should spend the night here."
"And one night Francisco Cruz came. You had heard about
him, and here, on this porch, through the long night we
"And the others, your friends-the exiles and dreamers, the
planners and plotters."
"Soon you did not only listen. You too dreamed and
THE FRUIT IS RIPE
planned and plotted."
"Before you came I had only learnt to talk a little, and
sometimes, sometimes to dream and sigh for the impossible.
I never saw, never realized that perhaps I, Justo Rufino Bar-
rios of San Lorenzo, could act! Could be an instrument in
bringing the rights of human beings to my own countrymen!"
He fell silent, still marveling at the realization of that truth.
Finally he continued, "And now can you understand why El
Malacate will be changed when I come back?"
"You see, El Malacate-the land, the brown and black
dirt here-meant everything to me. I could have been happy
here forever, just being a finquero, but . ." He hesitated
and got up and leaned on the balustrade next to Francisco.
Their silhouettes looked very much alike; they both wore
riding clothes, they were both slight and there was still some-
thing boyish about them. "If all goes well," Justo started
again, "today and in the days that follow, and we set Guate-
mala free, then I will return here and my heart will be di-
vided. It will not just belong to this piece of land I love, but
go beyond to the borders of Salvador, to the shores of the
Atlantic and Pacific, to all Guatemala!"
"You have always loved Guatemala."
Justo sighed. "Loved it? Yes, but with a sad, hopeless love,
like the love for those who are dead. When Guatemala is free
and proud and growing again then I too . ."
He broke off suddenly. The countryside, touched by the
first rays of the sun rising over the range behind the house,
had burst into brilliant, deep colors. From the virgin forest
to the west, mist rose in a soft blue cloud. Birds were every-
where. Around the house the flowers and the blossoming vines
sparkled with drops of dew.
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
Far off, along the red path winding through the cane fields,
the jornaleros were arriving in twos and threes and small
groups. Each one was carrying a large, flat coffee-picking bas-
ket on his head or swinging it against his side. The bright
colors of their costumes made them look like an army of trop-
"My coffee pickers," Justo said. The dreamlike quality of
the pre-dawn hour gave way to the reality of the day. "I must
ride out to the coffee orchards. You wait here with the others.
Get Chico to make breakfast for everybody. All else is ready."
Francisco smiled and gave Justo an encouraging push
which sent him down the wooden steps. "Go on, finquero, go
to your coffee trees and worry about them a little longer. No
one ever planted coffee around here anyway, but you must
always try new things!"
"Someone had to start!" Justo called back over his shoulder.
"You should know that. And wait till you hear what a good
crop this is!"
When he rode back to the finca house half an hour later
the others had all arrived. Horses were tied to the hitching
posts in the courtyard, switching their tails against the swarms
of coffee flies and gnats. Chickens were picking hopefully
about them. The dogs had curled up in the sand. It was still
cool. And very quiet.
Justo did not urge his horse to walk faster. For another mo-
ment he savored the sweet scent of the morning. His mind
was still with the jornaleros and the red coffee beans they
were stripping off the branches, with the sugar cane which
was being ground in the sugar-central and whose musty,
piquant smell drifted up to him, with the herd of cattle
which had strayed into the cornfield. Resolutely at last he
shook all those thoughts away from him. In a little while they
THE FRUIT IS RIPE
would all be leaving. El Malacate would have to get along
without him. Greater things were at stake. His heart began
to beat faster. Battles, fighting, a triumphal march up the
Highlands to the capital, liberty for Guatemala.
Chico came running from the house to meet him and take
the horse. "They are all there," he said.
Justo nodded. "This is the day, Chico."
Inside the house the great mahogany table was covered
with earthenware dishes filled with food; coffee was steaming
in the cups and the slightly acrid smell of freshly made tor-
tillas was in the air. Justo halted at the door, his hand still
on the knob. The young men who had been sitting around
the table stood up and faced him. It was a moment which
seemed to be suspended in time. No one moved or spoke. All
eyes were on him. During the endless second Justo felt for the
last time the tug of two forces in him. He knew that when
the moment had passed his decision would be made. There was
no going back. His eyes slowly traveled from one to the other
till they rested on Francisco, who came forward and grasped
him by the arm. They looked deep into each other's eyes and
then embraced in the old Latin fashion. "You are with us!"
"Yes, I am," Justo cried joyously and went around to
shake hands with each of the others. He knew them all well.
They had been here often before, coming at night and talk-
ing behind closed shutters through the long days. It seemed
to Justo as if those stealthy visits had gone on for years, and
it did not seem possible that the day, the great day, had
"Sit down," he said. "Sit down; go on with your break-
fast. I have been up for hours and am as hungry as a puma!"
Francisco smiled, then grew thoughtful. "It has been dif-
EAGLE OF GUATEMALA
ficult for us to get arms through Mexico without being de-
tected by spies which the Government has everywhere. Even
a rumor of our arrival here would have destroyed all our
Abraham Cubas, at the end of the table, spoke up. He had
wanted to be a poet; now he was a revolutionary, and his
words were high-flown. "When the tyrant of thirty years,
Rafael Carrera, died two years ago I wanted to see his clique
overthrown. But the men I talked to were against that. They
were still afraid; they said that the people were still too
cowed, too passive to attempt anything. And perhaps, with
the 'butcher' gone, his ministers would make a better adminis-
tration. By now, even the timid must be certain that only
bad can spring from bad. The people will be with us. They
are ready for us now."
Francisco nodded. "We are counting on that. If they do
not follow us the revolution cannot succeed."
"Do not use the word cannot," interrupted Justo. "No mat-
ter what happens we will be able to win through or die. It is
not worth living if our country continues in slavery."
Francisco put his hand on Justo's. "Well-spoken, amigo;
we have confidence, and we have made good plans too."
"How many of us will there be with Justo's men?" Mari-
ano Diaz asked.
"Nine here," Candelario Guzman added up. "Then Barrios'
men will make it twenty-five or -six-two from San Marcos
and six or seven we will meet along the road."
"The army of the thirty-five." Eusebio Arriaga laughed.
The others joined in the laughter and Justo called for
some aguardiente to celebrate. Death seemed unreal and far
away. They took the small glasses and went out onto the porch.
The sun had just skirted the mountains. "If all goes well,"