One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 11


   “We are immensely rich and powerful,?she told her. “One day you will be a queen.?
   She believed it, even though they were sitting at the long table with a linen tablecloth and silver service to have a cup of watered chocolate and a sweet bun. Until the day of her wedding she dreamed about a legendary kingdom, in spite of the fact that her father, Don Fernando, had to mortgage the house in order to buy her trousseau. It was not innocence or delusions of grandeur. That was how they had brought her up. Since she had had the use of reason she remembered having done her duty in a gold pot with the family crest on it. She left the house for the first time at the age of twelve in a coach and horses that had to travel only two blocks to take her to the convent. Her classmates were surprised that she sat apart from them in a chair with a very high back and that she would not even mingle with them during recess. “She’s different,?the nuns would explain. “She’s going to be a queen.?Her schoolmates believed this because she was already the most beautiful, distinguished, and discreet girl they had ever seen. At the end of eight years, after having learned to write Latin poetry, play the clavichord, talk about falconry with gentlemen and apologetics, with archbishops, discuss affairs of state with foreign rulers and affairs of God with the Pope, she returned to her parents?home to weave funeral wreaths. She found it despoiled. All that was left was the furniture that was absolutely necessary, the silver candelabra and table service, for the everyday utensils had been sold one by one to underwrite the costs of her education. Her mother had succumbed to five-o’clock fever. Her father, Don Fernando, dressed in black with a stiff collar and a gold watch chain, would give her a silver coin on Mondays for the household expenses, and the funeral wreaths finished the week before would be taken away. He spent most of his time shut up in his study and the few times that he went out he would return to recite the rosary with her. She had intimate friendships with no one. She had never heard mention of the wars that were bleeding the country. She continued her piano lessons at three in the afternoon. She had even began to lose the illusion of being a queen when two peremptory raps of the knocker sounded at the door and she opened it to a well-groomed military officer with ceremonious manners who had a scar on his cheek and a gold medal on his chest. He closeted himself with her father in the study. Two hours later her father came to get her in the sewing room. “Get your things together,?he told her. “You have to take a long trip.?That was how they took her to Macondo. In one single day, with a brutal slap, life threw on top of her the whole weight of a reality that her parents had kept hidden from her for many years. When she returned home she shut herself up in her room to weep, indifferent to Don Fernando’s pleas and explanations as he tried to erase the scars of that strange joke. She had sworn to herself never to leave her bedroom until she died when Aureliano Segundo came to get her. It was an act of impossible fate, because in the confusion of her indignation, in the fury of her shame, she had lied to him so that he would never know her real identity. The only real clues that Aureliano Segundo had when he left to look for her were her unmistakable highland accent and her trade as a weaver of funeral wreaths. He searched for her without cease. With the fierce temerity with which Jos?Arcadio Buendía had crossed the mountains to found Macondo, with the blind pride with which Colonel Aureliano Buendía had undertaken his fruitless wars, with the mad tenacity with which ?rsula watched over the survival of the line, Aureliano Segundo looked for Fernanda, without a single moment of respite. When he asked where they sold funeral wreaths they took him from house to house so that he could choose the best ones. When he asked for the most beautiful woman who had ever been seen on this earth, all the women brought him their daughters. He became lost in misty byways, in times reserved for oblivion, in labyrinths of disappointment. He crossed a yellow plain where the echo repeated one’s thoughts and where anxiety brought on premonitory mirages. After sterile weeks he came to an unknown city where all the bells were tolling a dirge. Although he had never seen them and no one had ever described them to him he immediately recognized the walls eaten away by bone salt, the broken-down wooden balconies gutted by fungus, and nailed to the outside door, almost erased by rain, the saddest cardboard sign in the world: Funeral Wreaths for Sale. From that moment until the icy morning when Fernanda left her house under the care of the Mother Superior there was barely enough time for the nuns to sew her trousseau and in six trunks put the candelabra, the silver service, and the gold chamberpot along with the countless and useless remains of a family catastrophe that had been two centuries late in its fulfillment. Don Fernando declined the invitation to go along. He promised to go later when he had cleared up his affairs, and from the moment when he gave his daughter his blessing he shut himself up in his study again to write out the announcements with mournful sketches and the family coat of arms, which would be the first human contact that Fernanda and her father would have had in all their lives. That was the real date of her birth for her. For Aureliano Segundo it was almost simultaneously the beginning and the end of happiness.