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Home Features The bombshell robbery of Maya artefacts

The bombshell robbery of Maya artefacts

From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama - a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan

Chapter 17

It had been nearly two years after their resumption of intimacy that Lucille had become pregnant again, and said it had been a strange feeling to be having marital relations with the sole objective of bearing a son, which she believed to be Neville’s motivation; and that the psychological effect on her may well have caused the long delay in her conceiving. She worried that in Neville’s persistence in his original gender preference he was setting himself up, once again, for another big disappointment.

“You know,” she had commented, “it’s always a surprise how people of faith, particularly men, can persist in such ideas while at the same time professing belief in an All-knowing God! Life would be so much easier for us all if we really had faith and accepted God’s purpose for us unconditionally. But, no! We continue to behave like little children and TELL Him what WE want … it’s like saying: O God, I do believe you know best, but still I would really be grateful if you would bless me with a son to carry on the family name. Girls are all right, and it would be nice to have one later on, but the problem is that they would take their husband’s name when they got married and the family name would die out, and I wouldn’t want that to happen as it would be a great disappointment to my father! As if that should influence the decision of an All-knowing God! Or if anyone qualifies for special favours from a “Just” God!

She spoke of how much comfort she had found in discussing spiritual matters with Abel, who abided by the commandment to love our Maker with all our hearts and our neighbour as ourselves; and lived a calm and serene life in keeping with such a belief. Going to church was not a duty for him but an opportunity to learn more about his Maker in fellowship with brothers and sisters, which he did joyfully, and this example she had found heartening and encouraging.

Lucille related that one day as she and Neville had conversed, he had mentioned that she would probably be satisfied to learn that he had made arrangements for regular maintenance of his daughters in the capital, through his father; and that he was maintaining the latest arrival here, whom he paid a visit once per week, but had been quick to reassure her that he did not have any relationship with her mother, despite any gossip she might hear otherwise. The thought had occurred to her, then, that he was somehow trying to make amends in the childlike hope of gaining favour with a kind Providence in the granting of his deepest wish; and his vulnerability had aroused in her a strong feeling of pity and tenderness towards him.

ooo0ooo

Long before she had become pregnant again, Abel had mentioned out of the blue one Sunday that he would soon be going out of town to work at a surveyor’s camp in the interior of the district, and had no idea when he would be back. The news had come as a shock to her, as his presence close at hand had provided a feeling of security she had begun to take for granted, besides arousing a curiosity about the reason for what had seemed a sudden decision.

The principled and kind Mrs. Atkins, who did not indulge in gossip, had unexpectedly remarked to Lucille that the sexton’s leaving town at this time was probably for the best, as idle tongues had begun to make comments about their friendship, which had troubled and embarrassed her that such an idea could have occurred to anyone, considering that contact between she and Abel had always been in public, on church property, and in full view of others participating in the various functions; and although deep inside she admitted a partiality to him, she was certain that no one could say they were anything but proper in their behaviour towards each other.

After Abel had been away for some weeks she had picked up the courage to speak to Neville on the subject, and had been surprised at his reaction and comment that he had complete trust in her but believed, like Mrs. Atkins, that the sexton’s departure was for the best. This had made her realize that he had probably heard the rumour, and that, although he kept a lot to himself, there was not much that took place in the little town of which he was unaware.

Once again she had kept busy with church work, including one of the practices during her girlhood of visiting shut-ins. It took her mind off her own problems to see the fortitude with which so many people bore the hardships of their lives. It was the Mothers’ Union of the parish which undertook these visits rather than the young people, who were few, many of them having left for the capital to continue their education, in the absence, still, of a secondary school in the district.

One of her companions had been Mrs. Atkins’ younger daughter, Enid, who was married to Donald Lucas, a supervisor in the local Public Works Department. Their first child, Virgil, was a precocious little boy who spent long periods of time with his grandfather at their farm and was his constant companion, which allowed Enid time to move around freely.

######

The Anglican parish had suffered several setbacks, beginning with Nurse Pauline’s leaving town and being away for several years, and the community having gone through an uphill struggle to revive many of the activities she had initiated, when it had been further weakened by Abel leaving to work at the surveyor’s camp. Those left behind had intensified their efforts to enliven the parish and the town, under the leadership of people like Eric Coburn and his mother, the rest of the Atkins family and Neville, and things were slowly beginning to gain momentum when a bombshell had struck in the form of a reported loss of valuable artefacts from the site of one of the Maya ruins in the district.

The facts had been that a group of American professionals from a museum or university had been excavating the site and had reported to the Archaeological Commissioner, an Englishman, that a burglary had taken place of some of the newly discovered material. A tale had soon emerged that it was suspected that a wealthy American collector had “bankrolled” the theft. How and from which source they had acquired this information had been unknown to the general public, of course. The long drawn out investigations were being conducted from Police Headquarters in the capital, while Neville and the District Commissioner had been kept updated on progress and even assigned subsidiary tasks in its connection.

It was while he was kept busy with these additional tasks, along with his regular duties, that their beautiful daughter had been born. Lucille had frankly admitted that in physical appearance she had favoured her father, but with the added attractions of thick, black and glossy eyebrows and eyelashes, a soft, smooth and smoky complexion and dark, deep-set eyes. She had raved over the child, saying she could hardly believe she had taken part in bringing this treasure into the world, being so ordinary-looking herself; but had been chilled by Neville’s disappointment that she had not been the son he had wanted, which he had tried but had been unable to conceal, always greeting the baby from a distance. When he had approached her with opened arms for the first time, the baby had seemed to sense his hesitation in holding her, even at that early age, and had stiffened, clung tightly to her and lowered her eyelids as if shutting him out. Taken aback, he had decided to try again another time and had hurried off to work.

ooo0ooo

The incident of the burglary and the manner in which investigations had been carried out had brought home once again to the citizens of our colonized homeland the deficiencies in our ability to look after our affairs and, furthermore, called attention to the absence of any plan to remedy the situation, at a time when nationalist aspirations were beginning to be noticeable.

Expatriate heads and senior personnel of the Police and Archaeology departments were the only ones who seemed to have any information, leaving the natives, especially those in the district, feeling left out and helpless.

It had been a discouraging state of affairs. No local citizen could recognize or evaluate these assets, nor had any knowledge of the forces arrayed against us, the owners. The colonisers had informed us, the colonised, that our fellow natives had provided the brawn, as usual, to bring these valuable assets out of the earth, under the direction of foreign, professional archaeologists, through an arrangement between them and our colonisers. It was now alleged that these assets had been burgled for disposal to a third party, again an outside entity, wealthy enough to purchase them. We were all spectators in what was, after all, our own business – local officials and ordinary citizens alike.

Suspects of this unpatriotic deed were identified in due course by expatriate officers, who had instructed the local police how to carry out on-the-spot investigations.

oo0ooo

As Neville became more and more preoccupied with special tasks assigned by headquarters, Lucille had to keep reminding him that their parental responsibility of naming and registering the birth of their daughter was pending. To the question of what they should call her he had shown little interest, and kept postponing a decision, causing resentment in a wife already sensitive to what she was convinced to be a bias against females.

On the evening before the last date for registration, Lucille, in a fit of frustration, had bundled the baby in her pram and taken her out for a long walk; and while passing the government public buildings had noticed a loaded truck parked in front and someone leaning against the door. The figure somehow looked familiar to her and, coming nearer, recognized it as Abel, who had been waiting for the boss, who had come to town on a short trip to collect equipment for use at the camp.

When he had seen the baby he had, quite naturally, asked her name; and from Lucille’s reply that her father had not yet selected one and that she was due to be registered by the next day, he had sensed her anxiety and had remarked soothingly that he was sure her little jewel would be named in time. She later told me how these words had so lifted her spirits that she had said goodbye to him and purposefully continued on her way.

By the time she had reached home she had made a decision and, as they ate supper, told Neville that she would like to name the baby “Jewel.” Relieved, he had been quick to agree with her choice, then asked her reason for choosing it. Shrugging, she had evaded answering and instead asked his mother’s middle name.

At breakfast the next morning Lucille had greeted Neville with the challenge of what he would do about the baby’s registration, since both the Registry desk and his office opened at eight o’clock. He had responded briskly that he would alert his office that he would be delayed and had left for the Registry right after his morning tea, giving the impression that his plan had been arranged before rather than because of her prodding. Thus, the name of baby Jewel Albertha Enright, the middle name being that of her paternal grandmother, had been entered in the Registry by her father on time.

Lucille had explained to me that just the few words from Abel had helped her to face the fact that Neville would never regard the matter of naming his daughter as a priority, so that it was up to her to take the initiative; and Abel’s describing the baby as her “little jewel” had confirmed in her mind that she was exactly that to her and deserving of having that put on record.

She had not wished to share this thought with Neville, who had only asked the question out of idle curiosity, anyway. She had resolved to demand the attention due to her daughter from her father and had therefore followed through with insistence that he complete the duty of registering her. After all, he had named their dead son and mourned his loss ever since. Jewel, his daughter, was here now, alive, and deserving of his notice!

But Neville’s and the whole town’s preoccupation with the burglary had overshadowed Jewel’s presence in their midst to everyone but Lucille and the household staff, who were charmed and absorbed with her.

ooo0ooo

Lucille confided that as a rule Neville never discussed his work with her, except this one occasion when he had shared the name of one of the suspects on whom he had been requested to seek background information, being unwilling for any of his subordinates to know about it. The person in question had been the grandson of the Alcalde (Mayor) of the Maya village nearest the excavation site, details of whose whereabouts and activities were being studied. Both she and Neville knew the young man personally and had great trust in him.

The Mayas in general, especially those living in villages near excavation sites, were more knowledgeable and proud of the ruins than were most of the country’s other inhabitants. This young man was attending secondary school in the capital on a scholarship and aspired to be the first native archaeologist, making great progress towards that goal. He was pursuing his ambition during every spare moment, spending both long and short vacations on sites all over the country where any activity was taking place. That such a person could seriously be considered as a culprit seemed a wild idea rather than the result of careful examination of the evidence; and both she and Neville had been relieved when he had been cleared from the list of suspects later on.

When matters had come to a head with the investigation, Neville had been placed on standby for instructions from headquarters as to the name of the perpetrator, the buyer’s representative, the exact pick-up spot, date and time, when he was to assign his “best” man to intercept the transaction, arrest and put both parties in lock-up, then inform headquarters. His instructions had been so detailed as to raise the question in his mind whether his competence at mounting such an operation on his own initiative had been in doubt by his superiors.

Ever since the notice Neville had moved around in a thoughtful, preoccupied state and one night, several weeks later, had gone to the master bedroom to say good-night to Lucille and Jewel, as had become his practice since the baby’s registration. Lucille suspected that he timed his coming when the baby was usually asleep to avoid the risk of experiencing her withdrawal from him.

After bending and kissing the baby on her cheek, he had faced Lucille, saying he had a favour to ask of her. She had nodded casually to hide her surprise at the unusual request, and he had confided that acting on his own he was going out to check on some details of the case that had raised some questions in his mind and wanted her promise to look after his children if anything should happen to him. The very matter-of-fact manner in which he had spoken had caused alarm in Lucille, and a chill had come over her as she started to notice that he wore dark clothes, including a wind-breaker even though it was warm, a wind-breaker which appeared to conceal something, as well as quiet rubber-soled shoes. She had asked outright if he had received further word from headquarters, at which he had shaken his head, saying only that there was something puzzling him which he needed to check out for himself.

ooo0ooo

When Neville had not returned by morning and she had heard nothing from him, Lucille had sent Kent to ask Corporal Miguel to come and see her; and on his arrival had known from his expression that he had expected her call. When he had taken the initiative of asking her to sit down, she had known that he had bad news.

What had followed had been the details of how Neville’s life was lost. When he had not been heard from at the station by five that morning Corporal Miguel had immediately notified the District Commissioner, who had given instructions to mount a search party and proceed to a specific spot. When he had not been found there, they had followed various clues that had led them to a site where his body had lain on the ground on his back, his gun, one shell discharged, clutched in his right hand and dried blood marking the path along a chop wound across his right shoulder ending at his throat. Behind and to the right of his body had been that of a mature Maya, machete in hand stained with blood, and a gunshot wound at his temple.

From the physical evidence it had been deduced that Station Sergeant Neville Basil Enright had bled to death from the chop wound to his throat, neck and right shoulder, administered by one Agripino Moh, at about 1.00 a.m., Moh himself having died almost instantaneously from a gunshot wound to the temple at the hand of an unknown person. Neither artefacts nor money had been found at the scene.

Strangely enough, the action had taken place at a site by a roundabout route to a slight clearing deep in the high bush behind the police compound.

An expatriate senior police official had arrived by boat from the capital two days later along with a team of four policemen to conduct investigations into the homicides; but, after what seemed a little noise and some comings and goings, things had quieted down and nothing more had been heard about Neville, the burglary, Agripino Moh, the artefacts, or the money.

The news of the incident had been conveyed by the authorities in the capital to Neville’s parents and while his body had lain in the morgue awaiting burial, they and his sister had travelled by boat to attend the funeral in the town.

On the family’s arrival, Mr. Basil Enright’s firm hand had taken over direction of the proceedings up to the interment of his beloved son’s remains. He had assigned the guest bedroom to his wife and daughter, settled his luggage in Neville’s bedroom among his personal possessions, then had asked to see his granddaughter.

Jewel, about four months old then, wakened from sleep to meet her paternal family, had studied her grandfather solemnly, received his kiss on her cheek, had then been embraced emotionally by her grandmother, who had hugged, kissed and held her close as if she never wanted to let her go, before handing her to her Aunt Dora, who had done the same. After a while the baby had finally been put back to bed and the two women turned their attention to Lucille, with whom they had commiserated at length. They had supped together and thereafter retired for the night.

The next day Mr. Enright had begun making arrangements for the funeral in collaboration with Sergeant Miguel and the staff, as it entailed an official ceremony since Neville had died both “in harness” and “killed in the line of duty.”

When the burial had finally been over, Lucille said she had felt drained and would have liked nothing better than to be left alone with the baby; but before returning to the capital her father-in-law, along with herself, had had to meet with officials, including the Chief Clerk, to finalise the accounting details of Neville’s separation from the service.

The night after the funeral Mr. Enright had invited her to accompany him in search of Neville’s office for a Will, but no such document had been found. Neville had kept all his business affairs to himself, so she had not even been able to say whether there was any household cash on hand and, if so, where it was kept.

In the sessions with officialdom they had had to depend on the Chief Clerk’s input concerning the Government’s commitment to matters such as maintenance of the household staff, etc. as, according to Lucille, such information had not been provided to his “lowly” wife. Fortunately for her, she had been used to dealing with Eric Coburn in connection with Parish affairs and had found him to be businesslike, yet thoughtful and considerate.

When he had asked for the names of Neville’s dependents, in connection with the Widow’s and Orphan’s fund, her father-in-law had attempted to answer, but she had interrupted smoothly with the promise to provide a list with the details at their next session the following morning.

In the course of earlier sessions, Lucillle had been made to understand that a year’s salary was due to the widow and children of a civil servant who had died in harness, along with an additional amount if he is killed in the line of duty. She had also been told that their quarters would have to be vacated by two months after the end of the current month.

At home she had faced a ticklish discussion with her father-in-law before preparing the list of dependents for the Chief Clerk, when she had brought to his attention that she intended to include the names of his two daughters in the capital, as well as that of the daughter born in the town. He had protested strongly that doing so would belittle his son’s image in the eyes of the authorities, but had finally been pacified by the information that she would be doing so at the direct request of Neville that she look after his children if anything happened to him.

At the end of the negotiations with the officials, when she had been told of the entitlements of herself and the children, Lucille had quickly totaled the figures due under the various headings, divided it into five parts, and made arrangements with the Treasury Department as to the method of disbursement to the parties concerned.

All the way home Mr. Enright had been quiet, then, just as they had started to ascend the stairs, had remarked that he now understood why Neville had chosen her for his wife in spite of his advice that maybe she wasn’t quite right for him; and that he admired how she had handled herself before the authorities.

Lucille said that she had been left to wonder about Mr. Enright’s reason for speaking as he had done, as he had neither explained himself nor enlarged on what he had said. It had been her sister-in-law, Dora, who had enlightened her that, after her visit to their home when she and Neville had first become engaged, her father had expressed his doubts to his son that Lucille was the right person for him, because of her bold behaviour.

Lucille had related the incident that had occurred on that occasion when both Mrs. Enright and Dora had fussed over the two men making certain that their food was to their satisfaction, asking whether they wanted the fan on, was the dog disturbing them with its barking, etc. So worried had she become that at one point the mother had asked the daughter to look after the guest so she could concentrate on her husband and son. Lucille had been so irritated by their ministrations that she had finally offered to look after herself as “her hand had not been left inside her mother.” This is a local expression used among friends to put their host at ease by the reassurance that special attention was not needed as they were not helpless. Her genteel in-laws, unused to that kind of informality, had not been pleased, hence her father-in-law’s comment.

ooo0ooo

Assuming that she would be returning to the capital to live, Mr. Enright had offered the help of his family and himself when she and the baby arrived there. Lucille had thanked him but refrained from saying what were her intentions concerning the future; although she had known even then that she would never return to live under her mother’s jurisdiction nor expose Jewel to her influence.

The next few days before Neville’s family returned to the capital had been spent in sorting out and distributing his personal possessions. Lucille had offered them the opportunity of taking anything they wanted, including whatever appealed to them from among the gifts they had received as wedding presents, most of which had not been used. They had been reluctant at first, but she had encouraged them to take whatever they wanted as the rest would be given away or sold.

Corporal Miguel had generously made the services of two constables available to them for packing and carting their luggage to the wharf before goodbyes and promises of writing had been made. All three had held Jewel in their arms for a long time, according to Lucille, while she had solemnly but sweetly accepted their attentions with a shy, closed-mouth half-smile.

One particularly touching scene the night before had been when Neville’s mother and father had accepted her gift to them of their wedding photograph; and his father had asked her to pass on to Jewel when she was twenty-one the engagement ring that Neville had given her, as it had belonged to his grandmother.

After the goodbyes she had watched as they climbed on board the “Heron H” and sailed out of her life for over thirty years.

(Chapter 18 in Friday’s Amandala.)

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