El knut / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

The Knout

     Secular servitude inhibited, for generations, the thought of the peasants.

     They would allow themselves to be thrashed without objection or protest. Their masters would cut their hair unevenly and multiply them by joining them together in pairs without consulting their will.

     I attended one of those weddings. The peasants and their women had become intoxicated with a virulent alcohol and they danced holding hands to the sound of an elemental music. Many of them would fall face first onto the naked ground, stammering a song. The lord could not suppress his loud laughter.

     They ate from wooden vessels a glutinous flour, of acidic flavor, and would remain choked up for the rest of the day.

     They worked faithfully and with plenty of carelessness and clumsiness in exchange for a scant salary and they would rest on the lawn of the parks. The police would interrupt their nocturnal sleep with blows from swords.

     The winter’s first snow was enough to exterminate the multitude of the dispossessed. They left piled together in carts to the outskirts of the city where they were incinerated without waiting, at any time, for them to die. The official at the civil registry didn’t bother to keep an account of the deaths. The peasants ignored if they had a name and answered to any nickname whatsoever.

     The chance of a rainfall afforded me the knowledge of a maiden from that throng. I was captivated by her defenseless gesture and her lymphatic blandness. She would part her uncombed blonde hair in the middle of her forehead. She had taken refuge under a colonnade of my house.

     Her brother, a character with an exhausted complexion and a wild and precocious beard, came to defend her from my treachery.

     I decided to avenge myself for their resistance by increasing their misfortune. I went to the chief of the garrison, my companion in Bacchanalian life, and persuaded him to the conscription of the young man.

     That officer, of aristocratic origin and select education, had gained renown for being severe in discipline and insensible to the suffering of others. He would entertain himself imposing dilacerating beatings. The soldiers would return ethical to their homes.

     The young recruit came to be counted among the enemies of a tyrannical superior. The oficial had died after ingesting, with his soup, fragments of glass.

     I forced the suspicions directed against the destitute man and improved the defense of his companions.

     He was declared the author of the homicide and sentenced to fustigation. He passed to a suburb, where the soldiers cleared a path and discharged against him quite a few energetic lashes. The recruit was dragged, this way and that, tied to a rifle armed with its bayonet, by which he could wound himself with any evasive movement.

     The screams of the victim chilled the executioners with fear. The lashing uncovered in no time the skeleton.

     The task lasted close to an hour, when the regiment’s doctor interposed himself to discern the pulse and certify death.

     The recruit’s sister, forced to appear, fainted during the course of the punishment.

Las formas del fuego (1929)

{ José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra completa, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989 }

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