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Mask of the Andes

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Mask of the Andes
Jon Cleary

MASK OF THE ANDES, also known as THE LIBERATORS, is a 1971 novel set in Bolivia by the award-winning Jon Cleary, author of the Inspector Scobie Malone series.In a remote village of the Andes, McKenna, an American priest, is trying to win the confidence of his bitterly poor Indian parishioners who for centuries have known nothing but cruelty and exploitation.

JON CLEARY

Mask of the Andes

Contents

Cover (#u208be8ea-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Title Page (#u208be8ea-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Chapter One (#)

Chapter Two (#)

Chapter Three (#)

Chapter Four (#)

Chapter Five (#)

Chapter Six (#)

Chapter Seven (#)

Chapter Eight (#)

Chapter Nine (#)

Chapter Ten (#)

Chapter Eleven (#)

Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Also by the Author (#)

Copyright Page (#)

About the Publishers (#)

Chapter One (#)

1

McKenna straightened up from laying out the catch of fish and looked out across the lake. On the far side of the bright blue pan of water the mountains rose like crumpled iron, cold to the eye and the soul: gods as well as men had died in these ranges. Through a gap he could see the glacier, a white cataract frozen forever, coming down from the highest snowcapped peaks that stood against the stark sky. At this height in the Andes, McKenna could never think of the sky as being gentle. That was for less harsh climes, for other times, the sky of boyhood memory.

‘Padre—’ Agostino Mamani was fifteen, but no longer a boy. Here on the Bolivian altiplano, the Indian peasant, the campesino, was fortunate if he lived beyond forty: one could not waste too many years in childhood. ‘I have to go down to San Sebastian today.’

‘Why do you have to go, Agostino?’ San Sebastian was ten miles by road and 2,000 feet in altitude below the lake; it was not just a city but another world to the campesinos of Altea, the village half a mile down from the lake. ‘When did you last go to the city?’

Agostino shrugged: time was a dimension he did not understand. ‘A long time, padre. I was—’ He held out his hand opposite his hip; short and squat, no more than an American child’s height even now, he said, ‘I was just a small boy.’

‘Why do you have to go today?’

‘My mother has to see the doctor at the hospital.’

‘Has she been ill?’ McKenna remembered that he had not seen Agostino’s mother for almost a month. She was one of the more cheerful, intelligent and approachable of the village women, a plump bundle made even plumper by her voluminous skirts, a woman whose one sin, until recently, had been her vanity about her hats. Vance Packard’s status-seeking society had its pockets of competition even up here on the altiplano; poverty was no bar to conceit. Any campesino woman who had a different hat for each day of the week, as Maria Mamani had, had a top rating in Altea. The Joneses, McKenna had wryly noted, were a widespread family: everyone everywhere was trying to keep up with them. ‘Maybe I could drive you and your mother down in the Jeep? It would be no trouble.’

Agostino scratched a bare toe in the rocky earth. His flat, dark face lost all expression, became the mask that McKenna knew so well and hated so much. Sometimes, in his wilder moments of depressed fantasy, he imagined he was surrounded only by masks, that behind the dark faces of the Indians there were no skulls, no brains, nothing. ‘My mother and I will catch the bus, padre.’

McKenna recognized he was being shut out, but he persisted. Back home in California, though never shy, he had always been careful of other people’s reticences; Americans, though the most confessional of people, could be violently jealous about those things they did not want to expose. But a missionary could not afford such courtesies. He had come to know, a little too late perhaps, that a missionary, if he was to be a successful one, had to be something of a busybody. Besides, he always had the feeling he was doing too little for the campesinos, that if he could not help them more than they had so far allowed him to, he might as well pack up and go home. So he forced his help on them, grabbing at straws: even the offer of a lift in the Jeep would be a plus mark in the day’s good works.

‘That’s crazy, Agostino. The bus is always full and it’s so – so dangerous.’ He knew that was no argument at all; the campesinos boarded the ancient rickety buses with a stoic disregard of the fact that they might never complete their journey. He tried another tack: ‘If your mother is ill, she would be more comfortable in the Jeep.’

‘No, padre.’ His face still closed, Agostino stared out across the lake.

McKenna was about to give up, but tried once more. He had had a sudden thought and he could hear the disappointment in his voice as he asked, ‘Is she going to have a baby, Agostino? Is that why she is going to the doctor?’

‘I don’t know, padre.’ Agostino was not embarrassed by the question; in the two-room adobe hut that was home, the facts of life had never been a secret to him. ‘How should I know that?’

McKenna gazed at the young Indian, but the mask was shut against him: Agostino was going to tell him nothing. He turned and looked out at the lake again, wondering, as he had so many times since coming here nine months ago, if and when he would ever be fully accepted by the Indians. Dear God, he prayed, why did you make the bastards so sullen? For Christ’s sake, as the saying goes, inject them with a little of the grace of co-operation.

He continued to stare out across the lake, trapped, as he always was, by his inability to walk away from an unresolved situation. Maybe, he thought, only the successful can make exits. His father had been a successful man and had made successful exits, from Bolivia, from his family, from life. He had got out of Bolivia when the price for silver was high and foreigners had still been tolerated. He had walked out on his wife and children while he was still virile enough to attract other women. And he had exited from life with a panache that his son could never hope to equal: he had plunged into San Diego harbour in his private plane on a day when the stock market had hit an all-time peak. Only failures, McKenna thought, stumble around looking for ways out.

So he stared at the landscape, seeking distraction in it while he hoped Agostino would move off up to the mission. He heard the dull boom as the fishermen out on the lake dynamited for fish; then he saw the cauldron of water bubble up between the three boats. He never dynamited for fish himself and he wished the local Indians had never discovered the method; there were two men in the village who had stumps for arms and he was always expecting a major tragedy, two, three or half a dozen deaths. The water settled and the boats moved in to collect the stunned and dead fish as they floated to the surface.

A flight of coots planed down towards the water, a black arrowhead that was suddenly studded with bright coral as the birds turned and the still-rising sun caught their vivid feet. An Andean gull, an intruder in the totora rushes where the coots built their nests, rose up and winged away in the gust of wind that abruptly slapped at the lake’s surface. McKenna saw the three small fishing boats, all of them made from totoras, rock violently.

He turned to Agostino, who had not moved. ‘You better tell your father and others to come in,’ he said, his voice sharper than he had intended. Damn the kid, why did he have to make things so difficult?

Agostino looked out at the three men, each of them alone in his frail craft. ‘A son does not tell his father what to do, padre.’

McKenna sighed, gave up: his Irish father had had exactly the same philosophy. ‘Okay, Agostino, you win.’

For a moment the boy’s mask broke; he looked puzzled. McKenna, trying to struggle out of the web of talk, mutely waved to him to pick up the fish and take it up to the mission. The Quechua language, which McKenna had taken such pains to re-learn, had its own wry notes, but he still found conversation with the Indians had its limitations. At times he felt it was like walking on loose snowshoes across a field of chilled custard. Or like talking to his own mother.

He shook his head, half-angrily, as he thought of her. She would have gone to bed last night with her usual prayers for himself and his sister Carmel: the prayers for him thanking God that he was a priest, those for Carmel asking Him to drive the devil out of her. Nell McKenna broadcast her prayers as if they were gossip; the Lord, if He didn’t hear them direct, must always pick them up somewhere along the grapevine. Nell would be rising in a few hours, her lips pursed with piety even before she had put in her expensive dentures, the first thing she did every morning. It was her belief that no lady was ever seen without her teeth, not even by her husband or her children; with the slackening of standards, hats and gloves were no longer de rigueur for ladies, but teeth were another matter. She would dress as carefully as for a Papal audience and go to the church in Beverly Hills where she took daily communion. Later in the day she might drive downtown to Los Angeles and have coffee with the cardinal, the two of them sitting there discussing a Church from which McKenna, the adored son, the one the Lord had blessed her with, felt he was fast slipping away.

Agostino had already gone up to the mission with as many fish as he could carry. They had gone out just before dawn, when the lake had still been silver under the last light of the moon, and the catch this morning had been bigger than usual. The lake abounded in fish and the villagers of Altea saw that no strangers came to fish it dry; even the citizens of San Sebastian had been warned off. During the revolution of 1952 the campesinos had all been given rifles and they had never returned them; some of the old revolutionaries from San Sebastian, grown fat and bourgeois now, did not appreciate the irony of looking down the barrels of guns they had handed out in the cause of freedom. But that was what they had met when they had come up here to try some fishing, and finally the message had been recognized: the lake fishing was only for the villagers of Altea. It had been McKenna’s first sign of acceptance, limited though it was, when he had been allowed to join Agostino’s father, Jesu Mamani, in one of the totora boats and throw out a line. When he had had a boat of his own shipped up from Antofagasta, a fibreglass skiff to which he had fitted a small outboard motor, one or two rifles had been brought out again; but Jesu Mamani, after some deliberation, had ordered them put away. McKenna was allowed to fish so long as he kept the catch only for himself. Fish and potatoes were the villagers’ only cash crops and they wanted no competition from outsiders.

As McKenna straightened up with the last of the fish catch, four large salmon, he felt another gust of wind, much stronger than the first. At the same time there was another dull boom, as a second stick of dynamite was exploded. Instinctively he looked out towards the lake, squinting against the wind’s force. He saw Jesu Mamani, standing up in his boat, sway, then bend over to clutch at the boat’s side. The tiny craft rocked, then tilted as the water seemed to rise under it. Mamani went over the side without a cry, almost as if his plunge were intentional; the boat took in water, tilted further, then turned over and sank. The two fishermen in the other two boats swung round and McKenna waited for them to row towards the drowning Mamani; but each of them sat stockstill, staring across the choppy water at the floundering man, but making no attempt to save him. In another minute or so McKenna knew Jesu Mamani would be beyond saving.

He dropped the fish, leapt at the skiff’s rope and wrenched it from the mooring post. He caught a glimpse of Agostino, now half-way back down the slope from the mission, and he yelled at him to run. But the boy had stopped, stood absolutely motionless, staring with the same frozen look as that of the two fishermen at his drowning father. As McKenna scrambled into the skiff he yelled again at Agostino, but already he knew there would be no help from that quarter. Or from anywhere.

The motor barked into life at once. On full throttle McKenna bounced the skiff over the uneven water; he had no more than fifty yards to travel but it seemed ten times that distance. Mamani had disappeared beneath the surface, but his head and flailing arms suddenly broke into view again as McKenna skidded the skiff to a halt among the dead fish that had floated up from the sunken boat. McKenna cut the motor, jumped to the front of the skiff and reached out to the hand that clutched desperately at his. As he felt the frenzied fingers tear at his hand, McKenna also felt the cold that was already killing the man: the hand that clutched his was like a jagged piece of ice. Mamani’s eyes were wild and white in a face that was now almost black; his mouth was wide open, but there was no air left in him for any sound. Frantically McKenna pulled the man towards him; the skiff tilted and for one awful moment he thought he was going to join the Indian in the freezing water. He flung himself backwards, still hauling on Mamani’s arm; he could feel his chest heave and tighten as both the thin air and fear caught at him. Oh God, help me! His eyes seemed to be bursting from their sockets as he struggled to pull Mamani from the water; then through his fractured stare he saw the Indian’s other hand take hold of the side of the skiff. McKenna lay back praying for strength that he knew wouldn’t be his own, that he would have to borrow from faith. He reached behind him, wrapped his arm round the cross-seat, gave one last agonizing tug that seemed to burst his chest, and fell back into the bottom of the skiff as the cold, sodden bundle of Mamani tumbled in on him.

McKenna lay gasping, every breath like a gulped mouthful of powdered glass. He could feel something warm on his upper lip and knew his nose was bleeding, something that hadn’t happened to him for a long time, not since he had become accustomed to the 13,000 feet altitude here on the altiplano. His head was splitting apart and his eyes were almost blind. But, though only half-conscious, he still knew whose was the desperate plight. Somehow or other he managed to roll out from under the unconscious Mamani. He struggled up on to his knees, feeling the iron vice that wrapped his chest, and crawled to the back of the skiff. Still unable to see properly, he fumbled for the starter of the motor. He made three grabs at it before he found it; beyond praying, cursing now, he jerked it savagely, half-expecting the motor just to cough and die on him. The motor did cough, then it sent the skiff shooting towards the shore.

It went past the two Indians in their totora boats, its wash rocking them dangerously. They stared at McKenna, but he did not look at them. He drove the skiff straight on into the shore, cutting the motor a fraction too late so that they hit the rocky beach with a thump hard enough to send him sprawling forward on to the still inert Mamani.

He picked himself up, dimly aware that he had scraped his knees and knuckles. He was still having difficulty getting his breath and his head felt as if it had been cleft by an axe, but he had got back some of his strength and he could once more see clearly. He stumbled over the side of the skiff, feeling the icy water bite at his ankles as he stepped into it, and hitched the rope round the mooring post. As he turned back, wondering if he would have the strength to lift Mamani out of the boat, a voice said in English, ‘I’ll give you a hand.’

He looked up at the stranger who had appeared out of nowhere. He had an impression of a tall thin man in a checked tweed cap and a bright red quilted jacket, but there was no time to take further stock of the newcomer. McKenna clambered back into the skiff, grabbed at Mamani’s wet clothes that felt as if they were already turning to ice under the now constant wind, and heaved the Indian into a sitting position. As he pushed Mamani towards the outstretched arms of the stranger he said, ‘I’m glad you’re here.’

‘I’ll bet you are. Where do we take him? If he’s worth taking anywhere—’

‘What d’you mean by that?’ McKenna straightened up.

‘Don’t waste time.’ The stranger spoke as if he were used to authority, to not having people argue with him. ‘I mean if he’s still alive. The poor bugger should be dead.’

They carried Mamani up the slope to the mission. McKenna was a stocky man of medium height, and the stranger, bony rather than thin, as McKenna had first thought, was three or four inches over six feet; they made a poor team as they struggled up the slope with the unconscious Indian between them. They stopped once for McKenna to wipe his nose, but the bleeding had already begun to dry up. As they came to the still motionless Agostino, McKenna gasped at him to run up and put buckets of water on the fire. The boy stared at the limp heap that was his father, and McKenna, wheezing for words to curse at him, thought he wasn’t going to move. Then abruptly Agostino spun round and went running up the slope.

By the time McKenna and the stranger, with their burden, had reached the mission, a dozen or more Indians had materialized out of the bare rocky landscape. They stood in a silent expressionless group at the gate as McKenna and the stranger carried Mamani in through the rough rock wall of the compound and into the larger of the two adobe huts that made up the mission. Passing them, McKenna thought, was like walking past a jury.
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