Our Sister Republic/Chapter 10

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WE left Queretaro early on the morning of Nov. 12th, and, passing through the battle-field, of El Cemetario, around La Cruces, and San Francisquito, with their loop-holed and shattered walls, ruined outworks, and surrounding hamlets, deserted and desolate, ascended a long hill, from the summit of which, we obtained a glorious view of the white-walled city and the lovely valley around it. Our road led us, nearly all day, through a very broad and rich valley, covered with corn-fields stretching out to the very horizon, well cultivated and very productive. The haciendas of the proprietors of these vast estates, each a strong-walled fortress surrounded by the hovels of the laborers like ancient feudal castles, formed a very picturesque feature of the scene.

At 2 p. m., we had made forty-two Mexican miles, and reached the fine old Mexican town of San Juan del Rio, where we were received and entertained in the most hospitable manner, by Señor Don Antonio Diaz y Torres and his amiable and accomplished wife, at their beautiful city residence. The municipal authorities welcomed Mr. Seward with addresses and music, and Señor Don Ramon de Ybarrola, a young civil engineer, proprietor of the great estate of Galindo, in the vicinity, made a brief "felicitation" in English. The town has numerous churches and old convent buildings—the latter now confiscated and converted into public schools—but not much else worth seeing. The population numbers ten thousand.

Next day, the 13th of Nov., we drove the same distance over a wide, prairie-like, uncultivated plain, and a lava-field of twenty miles in width, the road through which was fearfully rough. This old lava underlies the soil—the rich, black loam, of the country—at a depth of three to six feet, for many square leagues. We had been passing over such beds, or "flows," from time to time, on all the journey from Colima. Where so much of this material could have come from, is a mystery, at this day.

We were now at an elevation of forty-five hundred feet above the sea, and steadily ascending. Here, the American Aloe, Maguey, Century, Mescal, or Pulque plant, as it is termed in different localities, grows to an immense size—much larger than in the tierre caliente—and is planted out in regular order, in extensive fields, all along the road. Many of the plants were sending out their blossom stalks, ten to twenty feet in height, looking, for all the world, like telegraph poles at a distance, and like gigantic asparagus sprouts when near at hand; and a few were bursting into blossom. This is the "Century plant," which, Northern people have so long believed blooms but once in a hundred years, but, which matures here, in from five to ten years. It blooms but once, the stalk being cut out to form a reservoir for the milky sap which accumulates therein, and is drawn out to be converted into pulque and mescal. From each old plant, five or six "suckers"—each of which will produce a new plant—spring up, and are cut off and planted separately to keep the plantation good. The plant requires but little cultivation, and costs, on an average, about fifty cents from first to last. Each plant yields about a barrel of pulque, and a large amount of fibre for ropes and matting, and is worth, altogether, about five dollars. The owner of a plantation of one hundred thousand magueys considers himself worth five hundred thousand dollars.

At night we stopped at a fonda at Arroyo Zarco, a large old hacienda, rich in pictures of great age and merit, and other curious things. The owner long since abandoned it as a residence, on account of the state of the of the country, moving his family for safety and comfort to the city of Mexico.

As the Governor of Queretaro, who had started for the capital on three hours notice, to stand his trial before Congress, had been stopped and robbed, just outside the gates of Mexico, in the week previous to our arrival, it was not deemed prudent for us to go over the road alone. The authorities, accordingly, furnished us with a detachment of regular cavalry, and from village to village we were further escorted by detachments of the rural guard, a very well mounted, and reliable body of men, armed with the Maynard rifle, revolvers, and sabres. These rural guards furnish themselves with everything, pay all their own expenses, and receive one dollar each per day from the municipalities.

Next day, Nov. 14th, we rode forty-five miles—Spanish—over the roughest kind of a road, soft lime-rock and lava, mixed in about equal proportions, through a country mostly unfitted for cultivation, and inhabited only by a few poor people, scattered at wide intervals. We staid at night at Tepeji del Rio, at the residence of Mr. Archibald Hope, an Englishman forty-five years resident in Mexico, who is erecting a cotton and woolen factory and flour-mill, at this point, which were to be ready for operation in a few days. This mill is furnished with the best of machinery from England and the United States, and will employ three hundred workmen, and is in all its departments, one of the most complete in Mexico.

Wood is sold every where in Central Mexico, by the arroba of twenty-live pounds weight. Here it costs only five or six cents per arroba at Celaya it costs seven to eight cents, and at Queretaro ten cents. As we approach the Capital and ascend to greater altitude, the country become less well-wooded, the hills—save in a few places—are bare of trees, and only on the highest mountains could we see any large timber. The oak—of a species resembling the live oak of California—fresno, willow, water-beech and mesquite are the principal trees to be seen.

The nopal, or prickly pear, grows in great luxuriance, and the maguey increases in size and value, but the peculiar vegetation of the tropics has mainly disappeared. The nights at this time were cool, though there was no frost, and the thermometer during the day stood at sixty to seventy degrees.

We left Tepeji del Rio, early on the 15th of Nov., for our last days' ride towards Mexico. For thirty-eight days we had been "swinging around a circle," as it were, having advanced northward from Manzanillo to Guadalajara, thence eastward to Guanajuato, thence southeasterly and south to Queretaro and Mexico, traveling in all a distance of about eight hundred Spanish miles, and halting some days at each of the principal cities.
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During all this time we had heard not a word from home, and knew nothing of the passing events in the United States; as a matter of course, we were anxious enough to finish our journey and be once more in communication with the outside world.

As we were passing along the road I observed an incident which my readers may think hardly worth recording, but which struck me at the moment as very affecting. In a narrow part of the road we met a little Indian girl of perhaps twelve years, carrying a large basket filled with some country produce upon her back, and guiding her father at the same time. The father was old and blind, but still strong, and carried a heavy burden, likewise, on his shoulders. To guide himself he kept one hand resting lightly upon the basket carried by his daughter, and when our coach came suddenly upon them, and she sprang out of the track to give it room, he followed, keeping exact pace with her, evidently, reposing in perfect confidence upon her judgment and discretion. Something which she may have said in an undertone, or more probably her start of surprise and attitude of attention, led him to think that there was something unusual in the spectacle presented, to her eyes, and with a blind man's instinct he laid his other hand gently and with a loving caress against her cheek, as if he sought to divine her thoughts from the changes which passed over her features, as fear, wonder, or animated curiosity affected them. Of all the scenes, which I witnessed in Mexico, grand, beautiful, or painful, none impressed itself more vividly on my memory than that of this timid, shrinking child, bearing life's, burden in all its fullness thus prematurely, and her blind old father, bending beneath the load of years and poverty, standing there by the dusty roadside, on the lonely highway, in such attitude as could not fail to strike the eye of the painter or the poet—I am neither—on the instant; a picture unpainted, a poem un-written, but a picture and a poem filled with tender sentiment and touching pathos, nevertheless.

After a ride of ten miles, over a rough, hard mountain road, through a poor, barren country, we emerged at last, upon the summit of a divide, and looked down for the first time upon the valley of Mexico. The day was bright and beautiful. Lake Zupango lay off to our left, on the south-eastward, and beyond it the little city of that name, with its tall old church tower peeping out from among the embowering trees. The valley immediately before us was broken up with small hills which interrupted the view, somewhat, at first. Numerous small lakes, natural or artificially formed for irrigating purposes, were scattered here and there among the hills, and on the right, on the left, and all around, were little hamlets, often half in ruins, with dilapidated old stone churches and abandoned convents and monasteries, in endless profusion. The valley grows richer as you advance towards the Capital. The vegetation is more luxuriant—and the villages larger and more thrifty in appearance. The corn-fields on either side of the road were large, and the ripe crop heavy, and the maguey plantations grew more extensive at every mile. The road is bordered with tall trees—beeches, willows, fresnos, and pepper trees, in full bearing. At the little towns we noticed the potteries at which the delicate, red earthenware of Mexico is made and kept for sale, and numerous pulqueries" with the pulque-drinkers standing around them leaning against the walls in a state of stupid intoxication, with an expression of utter vacuity or idiocy upon their faces.

The liquor is exposed to the sun in the skins of pigs, sheep, and goats, denuded of the hair and bristles, which appear to have been taken off whole. After much diligent inquiry, Mr. Fitch elicited the statement, that the

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skins are taken off by allowing the pigs to fast twenty four hours, then tying them by their tails to posts, and coaxing them out of their coverings by holding ears of corn just in front of their noses.

The statement went down in his book, at once, and was added, unhesitatingly, to the, already, large stock of useless knowledge he had accumulated on the trip. The fact is that the animal is beaten with a club until all the bones are smashed, and the flesh reduced to a pulp, and the mass is then drawn out, little by little, at the neck.

Walking on down the road in advance, as the coach was ascending a hill, I saw an officer riding toward me, and was so startled by a resemblance to an American friend whom I left in White Pine Mining District, Nevada, that I accosted him at once. To my great relief and surprise, as well, I found that he could not speak a word of English. There was a slightly unpleasant episode recalled to my mind by that resemblance. When the rush, in mid-winter, into the airy and inclement mountain region of White-Pine, was at its height, a party had gathered one cold, stormy night in our cabin on the summit of Treasure Mountain, and was whiling away the hours—in the absence of theaters, churches, lecture-rooms, and choice female society,—imbibing hot fluids, and filling in the odd minutes at the elevating and ennobling occupation of playing drawpoker. (I would here observe that draw-poker is played with five cards, dealt, one at a time, all around— not two first and three next, as in euchre. I make this explanation as a matter of necessity, the second and third propositions having been advanced in my hearing not long since, by no less an authority, than an United States Minister, who, in spite of his professed knowledge of the game, has been known to lay down two large pairs, when his opponent, who only held ace high, raised him with six hundred dollars already on the board. I make this explanation in the interest of the heirs of Hoyle—not that I care anything about it myself.)

Among the party were two of the tallest men in the camp—Messrs. Downton and Gerry—who had been introduced to each other for the first time that evening. As the night advanced, their conversation became more and more affectionate and affectingly personal. Each was over six feet in his stockings, each blue-eyed, light-haired, a little inclined to stoop in the shoulders, and possessed of a decidedly camel-like hump, or protuberance on the bridge of the nose, and a very considerable deflection of that organ from the line of the perpendicular. These facts had not attracted the attention of the rest of the party to any considerable extent; but as the drinking and playing went on, the worthies noticed them of-themselves, and commented upon them freely.

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The more they thought of it and talked about it, the more thoroughly they became convinced that the resemblance was something more than accidental, and that in some mysterious and undefined way, they must be blood-relations of a very near degree of kindred.

So they went on, drinking and complimenting each other on their mutual good looks and family resemblance, and by a curious fatality, winning, between them, all the money from the other parties around the board. The losing members of the distinguished company bore this until it became considerable of a bore and it grew evident that if the game went on in that way all night, most of them would be ruined past the hope of redemption. It is beautiful to see brethren dwelling together in unity, but when you have to stand the expense, and make them happy out of your own pocket, the spectacle loses much of its attraction; at least, so thought the others present that night. At length, Joe Ackerson got the deal, and there were some heavy hands out, apparently, judging from the way different parties invested their beans. Downton had gone a "blind;" and Gerry saw it and raised it. Downton made the blind good and raised him; then Gerry saw it and raised him; and so it went on until each had his entire pile on the table, and all the other players had drawn out, and were looking on, except Joe Ackerson, who had announced himself as having had chicken-pie enough, and retired to his luxurious bunk, drawn the drapery of his couch—San Francisco eight pound woolen blankets—around him, and to appearance, at least, laid down to pleasant dreams.

They came to a call at last, and showed their hands. Gerry threw down four kings triumphantly, and reached forward to rake down the coin; but Downton gently repulsed him, and laying four aces before his astonished eyes, pulled it all over to his side of the table, and commenced counting it into twenty dollar heaps, preparatory to stowing it in his pockets and handkerchief. It was perfectly astonishing how quickly these two affectionate and gushing brothers forgot their probable relationship, on which they had doated so much a few minutes before, and went into criminations and recriminations, and from that to belligerent demonstrations. Business reverses will sour any man's disposition, and I have known the peace of many a happy and devoted family irretrievably wrecked by an unfortunate commercial venture, or an investment in stocks on a falling market.

Luckily, neither of them had their revolvers within reach at the moment, but they made a general average on the chairs and furniture—all the property of others as it happened—and when the company separated them, we—the owners of the property destroyed—were temporarily ruined, and they went their way, vowing undying hatred of each other to the end of their days.

Since that moment I have had a horror of meeting people who resemble each other, and it was an infinite relief to me when I found that this man whom I met on the road, and my friend in White Pine, were of different nationalities, and not likely to greet each other as natural brothers, should they ever come together.

Ten miles ride in the valley took us out from among the broken hills, and the view became magnificent. The mountains along the eastern horizon, beyond the lakes of Mexico, lay like great purple clouds against the deep blue sky. Popocatapetl, monarch of them all, lifted his head, white with the snows of ages, majestic and awful in its grand proportions, far into the unclouded heavens in the distance. Truly, the beauty of the Valley of Mexico has not been overrated.

Ten miles from the City of Mexico, Señor Lerdo de Tejada, and Matias Romero, two of the most noted men of the Cabinet of President Juarez, and the United States Minister to Mexico, Mr. Nelson, were waiting with carriages and an escort of brilliantly uniformed cavalry, and the party left the coach in which we had traveled from Guadalajara, for the more luxurious method of conveyance. We passed to the left of Chapultepec and the Molino del Rey, and directly by the famous tree under which Hernando Cortez found shelter on the memorable Noche Triste, when his forces cut their way by night through the hosts of the infuriated Aztecs, piled up the dead to make a causeway on which to escape across the shallow laguna, and at last, sorely pressed, disheartened, and almost annihilated, escaped from the city. Then the glorious panorama of the great City of Mexico unrolled itself before us.

At the Grarita de San Cosme, the stern, old champion of Republicanism, the man of many adventures and the most wonderful history and most varied fortunes, the man of the iron will and indomitable resolution which stand out on every feature, the man with the charmed life, who has escaped unscathed from more plots, conspiracies, and accidents, than any other man now living; the man who will live in history as one of the wonders of our age, the man sent by Providence to repel foreign invasion, crush and destroy the despotism of the church, free the peon, establish schools, suppress insurrections, deal the last blow at imperialism in America, and rule a turbulent nation with a rod of iron, the Citizen President, Benito Juarez, stood waiting to receive the nation's guest. He was dressed in plain black, and had not even a liveried servant in attendance; his wife and daughter accompanied him. The brief, friendly greeting over, and the other members of our party having been introduced by Señor Bossero, the cavalcade resumed its way and entered the Capital City of the Republic.

Driving past the old Alameda de Montezuma, where the last great King of the Aztecs used to walk beneath the trees at morning and evening, and the famous, gigantic equestrian statue of Charles the Fourth, in bronze, we went, directly, to the palace-like residence at the corner of the Castle de Alfaro and Arco de San Augustin, which had been expressly fitted up for the

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reception of Mr. Seward and party. President Juarez, who had driven ahead—emerged from the gateway, bare-headed, and said to Mr. Seward:—"will it please you sir, to enter your house? This is your home, sir!" He then waited upon him to his apartments, bade him a kindly "good-evening!" and immediately drove away, and we were at home in Mexico.