Our Sister Republic/Chapter 11
MEXICO AND ITS SURROUNDINGS.
We plunged at once into the enjoyment of life in the Capital and its vicinity, paying particular attention to the beautiful and historic surroundings, and suburban resorts. On the Sunday after our arrival, Mr. Seward's party, accompanied by Señor Romero and his accomplished American wife, and his sister Señorita Luz
ICANNOT imagine a place which has more of interest to the traveler, than the city of Mexico, both within its walls and in its immediate surroundings. Paintings and statuary, fine old buildings, beautiful flowers, objects and points of historic interest, and women whose lovliness is proverbial, attract the attention of the traveler, go where he may. When I had been a week there, it seemed but a day, and with all the longing for home and its associations—to none dearer than to myself—I could but look forward with regret to the hour of our departure, two weeks later. If one could with safety, ride out unarmed and unaccompanied by guards, through the environs of Mexico, I know of no place where he could spend a whole year with more complete satisfaction. Mexico ought to be the Paradise of the earth, and the day is coming when it will be so considered. Even now, it presents almost irresistible attractions to the traveler, and the more one sees of it, the more one admires it, despite all its drawbacks.
LADIES OF MEXICO.
(1) Señorita Doña Rosa Mancillas. (2) Señorita Dolores Mora. (3) Señorita Luz Acosta.
(4) Señorita Soledad Juarez. (5) Señorita Maclovia Hill.
This is one of the most noted places of resort in the vicinity of Mexico, and one of the most beautiful in the world. The views of the snowy peaks of Popocatapetl and the grand amphitheatre of Mexico are magnificent, and beyond description. The hacienda itself is equally beautiful, and it is not to be wondered at that Maximilian, who desired to purchase or appropriate every beautiful spot in the country, desired very much to acquire La Cañada, and probably would have succeeded had the Empire and his funds held out. The party lunched there and returned to the City delighted with the excursion.
For myself, I stopped at Tacubuya, to call upon some friends temporarily residing there, and spent a most delightful evening. There I met Mrs. Gibbon, a Mexican lady, whose husband—a member of the family which produced the great historian—is a wealthy mine-owner of Pachucha; Mrs. Adele Mexia de Hammekin, the beautiful and accomplished wife of an American gentleman long a resident of Mexico, and daughter of the Republican General Mexia, who was shot in 1836, after his defeat by Santa Anna; Señor Acosta, a thorough scholar and accomplished civil engineer, and his daughter Señorita Luz Acosta, one of the most accomplished young women, and most devoted and loving daughters I have ever met, who, subsequently, visited the United States to study English in our schools; Señorita Olivia Boulay, a fair young Californian, who in three years residence in Mexico, had almost lost the faculty of speaking English, though born in San Francisco; Mr. Brennan, of the projected Tuxpan railroad, and his wife, and others.
From the windows of the residence of Mr. Gibbon at Tacubuya, there is a magnificent view of the Castle or Palace of Chapultepec, and the Molino del Rey, and from the roof, Mrs. Gibbon watched the progress of the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, Chapultepec, and the running fight down the line of the aqueduct to the Garita del Belan, and the surrender of Mexico. There, too, she often saw Maximilian walking in the gardens of Chapultepec, and all the incidents of the siege of the city by the Republicans under Porfiero Diaz, were familiar to her, as his head-quarters were at Chapultepec.
Mrs. Hammekin speaks English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian, with almost equal fluency, and has an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes relating to the different personages that have figured in Mexico since 1830. Mr. Hammekin is an American by birth, and one of those who achieved the independence of Texas, and was taken prisoner in the unfortunate "Mier Expedition." They live in one part of the extensive house formerly owned and occupied by Gen. Urega, whose complicity in the Empire caused the confiscation of all his property. The grounds are very extensive and have been very fine, but are now neglected and going to decay. Grottoes of lava, a subterranean cave with a well at the bottom said to have been excavated by Montezuma—I wonder what old Monte did not do in Mexico!—immense baths in the open air shut out from the gaze of curious and prying eyes by thick foliaged overhanging trees, broad avenues, beautiful shrubbery, and countless flowers—such as grow only in the tropic climes—a billiard saloon, bowling alley, and other places of amusement and recreation, are among the attractions of this delightful resort. In such company, and amid such surroundings, the hours went quickly by, and it may well be believed I was in no haste to return to the city.
On our way back, we passed the American and English Cemeteries. Over the gate-way of the American cemetery was lately to be seen this startling inscription:
"Here lies the bodies of seven hundred, buried under an Act of Congress."
I am glad to be able to add that the stone bearing this astounding inscription, was stolen just before our visit, but sorry to say, also, that the thieves broke into the cemetery and carried off many of the tomb-stones, to be worked over and made into furniture, and sold. The Imperialists, during the latter days of the Empire, did all the damage in their power to the cemetery, demolishing a part of the fences in the erection of batteries and earth-works, and it has long been a scandal and a reproach to the United States. We owe it to the memory of the brave men who laid down their lives in a war—right or wrong—to carry our flag into distant lands, that their graves should not be left in the present disgraceful condition.
The Republic of Mexico, to its credit be it said, after the return of Juarez to the Capital and the expulsion of the Imperialists, spent a considerable sum in repairing the damage inflicted by the invaders, and re-erecting over the graves of their gallant enemies who had fallen in the attack on their own beloved city, the monuments commemorative of their names and deeds. Had the Government of Mexico possessed sufficient funds for its own immediate necessities, it would have completed the work. As it is, what they did is a standing reproach to us, and we should see that the necessary funds are provided at once.
On the following morning, Major Hoyt of San Francisco, Col. Geo. M. Green of the Republican Army of Mexico, Señor Antonio Mancillas, Member of Congress from Durango, Señor Ribera, Judge of the Court of the Federal District of Mexico, and myself, started out for a ride through the suburbs of the city. We drove first to the Grand Canal which connects Lakes Chalco and Tezcoco, by way of which a large part of the fruit, vegetables, and other provisions enter Mexico. This canal has a rapid current towards the city, and is navigated by almost innumerable boats, of small size, propelled by poles in men's hands after the old Mississippi "broadhorn" style. Everything entering the city must pay a duty, as in Paris, and there is an arched gate-way at one point thrown across the canal, where the customs collectors and their deputies are on duty night and day. The assistants have long spears with which they probe and run through a cargo in a few minutes, or seconds, and it is seldom that any contraband article escapes their vigilance. This station is called "La Garita de la Vija"—or "the Gate of the Beam." It is said that the customs collected from the boats loaded only with farm produce, at this garita, average twelve hundred dollars per day.
When General Porfiero Diaz was besieging this city after the fall of Queretaro, Colonel Green, with the American Legion of Honor, had his head-quarters on Piñon Island in Lake Tezcoco, about a mile off shore, in front of the city on the east. They, stopped all the boats on the canal, and with sixteen hundred of them, built a pontoon bridge from the main land to the island. This island is evidently of volcanic origin. At this time a deep rumbling sound is to be heard beneath it, and the matter is attracting the attention of scientific men, who think it worthy of careful investigation.
The famous "Floating Gardens of Mexico," lie along the shore of this lake, for miles, and on both sides of the Grand Canal. They were, all, sections of a great "float" or "raft," composed of the roots and stalks of water plants, originally, and thickened into a thin sheet of rich soil, in time, by alluvial deposits, such as may be seen in various parts of the Western States, and along the borders of the sluggish rivers of the far south-west. This float, originally, rested on the surface of the water; but most of that nearest the solid land has, already, become attached to the bottom, and in course of years all will become so. The old descriptions of these gardens will, in the main, hold good, to day, allowing only for the gradual change in their condition. Between each is a narrow strip of open water, or canal, and most of them are highly cultivated and covered with garden vegetables. The flat-bottomed boats with awnings to keep off the sun, looking not unlike the Chinese "Sampans," run down the canal through these gardens, a long distance, and you can hire one to carry you twelve miles and back for less than a dollar; human muscle is cheaper here than steam. In one of the outlets of the canal, opposite Piñon Island, we saw the wreck of the little stern-wheel steamer Guatamozin, which had exploded on her trial trip on the lake some months before. President Juarez and cabinet were on board, and the party just sitting down to dinner when the explosion took place. The little cabin was blown to atoms, and the whole upper works smashed into kindling wood, but strange to say, the whole party escaped unharmed, though Señor Romero was blown overboard, and was in the water sometime before being rescued. It seems as if Juarez must, indeed, bear a charmed life, and that his good fortune attaches itself to all about him.
On Piñon Island there are large deposits of nitrous earth, and a great number of Indians are engaged in collecting it, and washing it in small excavations, where the pure saltpetre is separated and dried in the sun. It was near the Garita de la Vija that Guatamozin's warriors were at last defeated, and where his monument now stands.
The story of the long siege, and the innumerable battles fought by Cortez and his determined band of Christian robbers, as they advanced, day by day, along this canal, destroying the houses and filling up with the ruins the gaps made in the causeway every night by the Mexicans, is told with vivid impressiveness by Bernal Diaz, and should be read by every student of history. This story knocks half the poetry out of the legends of old Mexico, and shows the besieged to have been ferocious cannibals and unmitigated savages, and the besiegers only a little worse, more savage, lawless, brutal and selfish, making the sign of the Cross with one hand, while they cut throats and robbed unoffending people with the other. From this neighborhood we drove back through the southern part of the city, to the Garita de San Cosme, and along the great San Cosme aqueduct, which was constructed by the forced labor of the Indians under the Spaniards over three hundred years ago.
TERMINATION OF THE AQUEDUCT.
It is seven miles long, and still supplies the city with Water; but the Mexican Railway Company is laying down pipes to take its place, and it will soon pass away.
Near the garita stands the famous, old cypress tree under which, or as some say, in the branches of which, Fernando Cortez and his subordinate officers were hidden on the "Noche Triste" while his troops and Indian allies were cutting their way out of the city, and across the morass which they had bridged with the bodies of their dead. The gnarled and twisted trunk of the old cypress is over sixty feet in circumference, and its age may be anywhere from one to four thousand years. In height it does not compare with the Big Trees of California, but it has a certain beauty of itself, and its history makes it one of the objects of interest in the vicinity of this wonderful old Capital.
There is an old church, half in ruins, near the old historical cypress-tree, which was erected in commemoration of the Noche Triste, and, singularly enough, the worshipers are all Indians—in fact, the Indians built it and have always occupied it. In a niche in the church we saw an ancient Aztec idol, where a saint would be found in other churches. It appeared singular enough, among the images of Saints, Martyrs, and the Holy Family, but it is held in much reverence by the Indian worshipers, and the white priests do not offer to object to it on account of old associations.
In another part of the church we saw a sarcophagus, which the Indian boy who acted as a guide for us—in consideration of a rial—told us contained the body of the Savior of the world. I think that he must have been misinformed, as his story disagrees, in some important particulars, with the commonly accepted history of the crucifixion and resurrection; but as there was no possible good to be attained by a discussion with him, we did not stop to dispute it.
From the old church, we went to a beautiful pleasure-garden called the "Garden of San Cosme," where we found shady walks, trees, flowers, and many conveniences for amusement. It is true that the "Happy Family" consisted of a deer and a poodle-dog, only, but the other appurtenances of the place were perfect. They charge one dollar an hour for the use of a bowling alley, and we proceeded to rent the establishment and run it. We had champagne, and "the Judiciary of Mexico, "then, ten-pins; then champagne and "the Bar of the United States," then ten-pins; then champagne and "the Press of the United States," then ten-pins; and then champagne and "the National Guard of California," then ten-pins; then champagne and "the two Republics, and death to all their enemies!" and then we went on having champagne and things until night; and we got home at last, all right, and satisfied that there were but two nations on earth worthy of mention, viz; the Republic of Mexico, and California; and we were right.
Coming home through the city past the house of a friend, I witnessed a scene which gives one a good idea of how police matters are managed in Mexico.
Workmen were engaged in erecting a new door at the entrance to the place, and the passage, otherwise kept carefully closed and guarded, was left open for the moment. One of the servants coming in, met a street loafer going out with a huge bundle of clothing which he had gathered up in the servants' quarters on the ground or main floor, and was about making off with them. She raised an outcry, at once, and the fellow was seized by one of the masons, while another closed the passage and prevented his escaping. A policeman was sent for, and meantime, the fellow pleaded earnestly for his liberty. He asseverated that he had only gathered up such articles as he had supposed were of no value, and thought that he was doing them a favor by carrying off the old rubbish which was in their way.
The story did not go down, and he was detained until the police arrived. The force consisted of two men, one on foot, and one, who appeared highest in rank, on horseback. The mounted man rode into the patio and asked for a statement of the facts. Several witnesses detailed them, and he then ordered the policeman to tie the prisoner. The scamp declared at first that he would not go a step, but the sight of a lariat on the saddle of the officer caused him to suddenly change his mind.
The policeman then tied a small cord tightly around his left thigh, apparently, to hamper him so that he could not run if he attempted to escape. At this the prisoner remarked:
"I was never arrested before in my life, and am an honest man; but if you are determined to tie me, do it this way."
Suiting the action to the word he crossed his hands upon his breast, in a manner so thoroughly professional and artistic, as to show that he was well accustomed to the tying process, and bring a loud laugh from the bystanders.
The policeman then started to untie the cord from his thigh and put it upon his wrists, when the fellow turned to the lady of the house and coolly remarked:
Señora: I am innocent; but will go with the officers just out of compliment to you!"
This freak of extraordinary politeness on the part of a thief, caught in the act, enraged the officer on the horse, and jumping down, he took hold of the cord and commenced to tie the culprit by the elbows behind his back, ejaculating at each jerk, as he brought the elbows, nearer and nearer together:
"You will go with me out of compliment to a lady, will you? You must be a high-toned thief, you are so infernally polite! Out of compliment to a lady, eh?"All the squirming and grunting of the thief failed to relax the cord a fraction, and he was soon in a condition
A STREET SCENE IN THE CITY OF MEXICO.
The officer then told the woman to roll the clothing in a bundle and tie it up, which was done; then he ordered the thief to take it in his hand and carry it, which he refused to do. Thereupon he made a loop in the cord, and passing it over the neck of the thief, compelled him to carry it upon his back. As he mounted his horse, his attendant attached the lariat on his saddle to the cord with which the elbows of the culprit were tied, and told him to vamos! instanter. The officer rode off on horseback, with the thief at the end of his lariat carrying the bundle on his back, and walking by the side of the horse, the woman who owned the clothing and those who were wanted for witnesses following him, and the policeman on foot bringing up the rear. That evening the woman returned with the clothing, and brought word that the thief had been tried, convicted, and sentenced to six months in the chain-gang.
The great volcano of Popocatepetl is the grandest and most striking feature of the glorious panorama of Mexico. As seen from the Castle of Chapultepec, or the residences of the Barons or Escandons, at Tacubuya, it is so far beyond the power of language to describe, that only the veriest tyro would make the attempt. Only those who have sat for hours on hours, absorbed, in the surpassing beauty and grandeur of the scene, can approach towards an appreciation of it.
It is related by some historians, that Cortez, having-exhausted his supply of gunpowder in the siege of Mexico, scaled the height of Popocatépetl, and descending into the crater obtained therefrom a quantity of sulphur, with which he manufactured sufficient of the best quality of powder to enable him to carry on the siege to a triumphant close. But Bernal Diaz de Castillo, who was with him every day from the hour of his landing in Yucatan, until the final conquest of the country down to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was effected, makes no mention of this fact; and as his history is the only one extant not made up from vague traditions, hearsay, or absolute, unqualified lies, the story may well be doubted.
I have met men, in years gone by, who professed to have stood upon the edge of the crater of Popocatépetl; but since I have seen the mountain, and conversed with General Gasper Sanchez Ochoa—a thoroughly competent engineer, who owns the vast estate on which it is situated, and made the only actual survey of this stupendous work of the Almighty hand, which has ever been accomplished—I know that some were only liars and vain boasters.
Mr. Seward was extremely anxious to ascend the mountain, but General Ochoa, though offering to place every facility at his disposal, frankly told him, that the effort was one which a man of his years and infirmities had no right to make, and he could not anticipate fortunate results in case he attempted it. On this, the proposed expedition was abandoned.
The editor of the Revista Litetaria of Mexico, prepared and published a very interesting and valuable article on the subject, a portion of which has been translated, and will be read in the United States with interest sufficient to warrant its insertion here:
This immense snow-covered peak ascends from the center of the table-land of Anàhuac, and its base is several leagues in circumference: its slopes commence at a height of from eight thousand to nine thousand feet above the level of the sea, and form the mountainous ridges all around, among which is the Iztlasihuatl, (meaning White Woman, or 'Woman in "White,' in the old Aztec language,) of fourteen thousand four hundred feet above the level of the sea.
"Perpetual snow covers this giant of a mountain, and its slopes are mostly composed of volcanic matter, (petrified streams of lava may yet be seen) forming an entirely broken ground, generally known under the vulgar denomination of 'Mal Paìs.' The sand near the snow-region shows no sign of vegetation whatever, and immense rocks of basalt and calcareous formations may be encountered.
"In the language of the Aztecs the name of Popocatépetl meant: smoking mountain, or hill producing smoke, and in fact, the quantity of smoke, issuing constantly from its crater, forms a dark column, visible at a great distance, and especially so during a clear and pure atmosphere.
"The Popocatepetl may be compared to an immense silver-pyramid, rising from a great basin, whose surfaces are covered with all possible kinds of shrubs and trees; but the vegetation of these regions, so full of mystery and solitude, and so intimately connected with historical events, grows thinner and thinner, the nearer it approaches the eternal snows. The shrubs, in place of the beautiful cedars and oyameles, and the pale looking flowers growing out of the sandy ground or appearing in the crevices of rocks, indicate clearly, the great elevation and the thinness of the air unfavorable to vegetation.
"The few, who ever made the ascension of this fuming height, have admired, and very justly too, the imposing grandness, in which nature clothes itself in these regions. The exploring parties of the old Aztecs never penetrated any farther than to the commencement of the snows, and looked upon the Popocatepetl with great veneration and also fear, believing that a malignant spirit had taken up his abode in the interior of the mountain. The Spaniards, when short of powder during the times of the conquest, ascended the highest summit, but never penetrated any distance down the crater, having been enabled to gather sulphur on its edges, deposited there by the hot fumes. (Doubted as above. E.)
"Baron Von Humboldt was the first, who came as far as the mouth of the crater, but he did not descend into the latter; he contented himself with making some astronomical observations and like Baron Von Gros, who was there considerably later, afterwards published a geological analysis of the volcano.
"In the year 1856, a scientific expedition was undertaken, headed by the engineer Gen. Gaspar Sanchez Ochoa. Until then an exact description of the Popocatepetl had never been made and it was only through this expedition, that plans of the interior of the mountain were obtained, as well as a description of the horizontal projection of the crater, and the crater itself, its deposits of sulphur, etc., which were published soon afterwards, including a chemical, geological and botanical analysis.
"By the labors of this expedition it was ascertained, that the Popocatepetl rises to nineteen thousand four hundred and forty-three feet above the level of the sea, according to Gaylusac's barometer, which, in fact, differs but slightly from Von Humboldt's statement of nineteen thousand four hundred and forty feet above sea-level.
"The snow-fields of the volcano cover a surface of more than three thousand metres, stretching from its maimed summit away down to the sandy regions of its slopes, where may be seen and noticed the effects and devastations produced by its former fearful eruptions of lava and inflammable matter, as well as many rocks of black and gray basalt, all kinds of tezontles, valuable stones of various, colors, and red, yellow and black clay.
"The excavations, which, have been carried on in the slopes, where vegetation exists, have revealed many remnants of vegetable coal in an advanced state of petrification, which clearly testifies, that immense numbers of trees must have become carbonized by the hot lava, flowing at such a great distance.
"It would be very difficult, to designate with any exactness the time of the first outbreak of the Popocatepetl, but it may be as remote as four thousand years, judging from the result of geological investigations, and also from the opinion of Baron Von Sontang.
"The temperature of this enormous maimed cone, during the summer season, is about twenty-two degrees below zero, Fahrenheith. The edges around the mouth of its crater are more than five thousand metres in circumference.—Those parts which allow descending into the crater, have a surface of about twenty metres, are covered with snow, and are known as 'Interior edges;' after this come various basalt and porphyry rocks, hanging out over the abyss, one of which is especially worth mentioning on account of its enormous dimensions; on its surface was located the malacate or windlass, holding a cable, by means of which a person was enabled to descend to a projecting acclivity, and from there to the Plaza orizontal of the crater.
"The height from the malacate to the aforementioned acclivity is some one hundred and fifty metres, and its entire depth about three hundred; the surface of the Plaza is about two hundred metres in circumference and the length of the acclivity some six hundred; the interior temperature changes, according to the proximity of the respiraderos or sulfataras.
"The Plaza orizontal of the crater contains rich and numerous layers of sulphur; from all parts more or less dense columns of smoke and deadly fumes are issuing forth, rising up towards the great opening, spouting out the sulphuric vapors. Among the principal sulfataras, some sixty are especially worth mentioning, but principally there are twenty-two, whose yellow outskirts of gold color denote the abundance of sulphur they contain; one of these sulfataras alone is about eighteen metres in circumference, and has several respiraderos in its center, from which a hissing sound is escaping, very much like that of a half-opened locomotive valve: of course, an immense quantity of sulphuric fume is ejected by these beautiful sulfataras, which may be counted as among the finest of the world.
"Complete day-light reigns at the bottom of the crater, as the rays of the sun penetrate down into it, and on account of this circumstance, a more picturesque or imposing scene can certainly not be imagined; but all this changes very quickly when a storm or a borrasca is coming on: then the air becomes completely darkened and the snow is drifting down in profusion, (only to melt as soon as it settles,) the respiraderos are roaring continually, the heat increases to such an extent, as to become insupportable, the centers of the sulfataras, from time to time, spout out flames and burning matters, whilst the wind is howling around the immense rocks at the summit, hanging over the edges, and threatening to uproot them and precipitate them into the abyss.
"Experiments, made in the crater of the Popocatépetl, have confirmed the belief, that by comarcas movibles, condensing the hot fume by refrigeration, pure and crystallized sulphur may be very easily obtained at little cost: on separating the oxygenated part from the hot vapor, sulphuric acid would be the result.
"The extensive and scientific descriptions, which have been at different times published by the engineer, Mr. Gasper Sanchez Ochoa, have since sufficiently posted the geological societies, both of Europe and the United States, as to this point, as formerly, but very scarce and inexact descriptions of those regions could be obtained."
The official and most noticeable demonstrations in honor of Mr. Seward in Mexico, were inaugurated by a dinner at the San Carlos Hotel, given by United States Minister Nelson to the distinguished American, the members of his party, and a few invited guests, including the members of the Cabinet of President Juarez, and Baron Schlozer, the Minister of the North German Confederation. This took place on the 18th of November. The speeches and sentiments were all eminently American, but as the demonstration was not one of national importance, and their insertion would necessarily crowd out other matter of more general and lasting interest, I am compelled to omit them.
On the 21st of November, Señor Don Matias Romero, Minister of Finance—a most onerous, thankless, and unprofitable office—and formerly Minister Plenipotentiary to
Washington, gave a delightful private dinner to Mr. Seward and the members of his party, with a few friends. Among the ladies present were Mrs. Romero—formerly Miss Lulu B. Allen of Washington—her mother—Mrs. Allen—Señorita, Luz Romero, Señorita Dolores Mejia, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of General Mejia, Minister of War and Marine, who was also present. The reunion was social, and of the most intimately friendly character.
Mr. Seward paid a high and well-deserved tribute to Señor Romero, for the services rendered by him to the cause of liberty and Mexico during his residence at Washington, and the latter replied in feeling and affecting terms, acknowledging that the policy marked out by Mr. Seward, though strongly opposed by himself and General Grant—both of whom were at the time in favor of armed intervention by the United States, and the expulsion of the French from Mexican soil by force—was the best in the end, and accomplished its object without entailing on Mexico the curse which usually falls on nations who call in a more powerful neighbor to relieve them from a present danger, creating thereby a danger still greater, and harder to meet and overcome.
This speech contained a revelation of some diplomatic secrets, the chief of which was, that at that time, Mr. Romero and prominent military men, were so determined to bring about an armed intervention, that they coalesced, with the object of securing Mr. Seward's removal from the Cabinet, but failed.
On the 24th of November, the party accompanied Mr. Seward to Chapultepec, to dine with the family of President Juarez. This dinner was a most sumptuous and elegant affair. Nothing that money could procure, and good taste suggest was lacking, and the decorations of the grand dining-hall, reception-rooms, and parlors were beautiful and tasteful in all their details. Senor "Don Benito,"—as his friends love to call him—and his amiable wife, did the honors of the house in a manner which put all the guests—fifty in number—perfectly at their ease, and they were assisted by all the sons-in-law and daughters, Miss Soledad, and Don Benito Juarez, jr. As the dinner was strictly a private one, and the toasts and sentiments such as would be given only at a family reunion of old and dear friends, I shall say no more about it.
The table was spread in the grand saloon in which the "Feast of Belshazzar"—as it has been not inaptly termed—took place, on Maximilian's return from Orizaba, just previous to his departure for Queretaro on the fatal expedition which resulted in the collapse of his mushroom empire, and the erection of a little mound of stones and three black crosses, at the foot of the Cerro de Las Campanas, as a monument and a warning to unscrupulous and ambitious adventurers for all coming time; the table, too, was the same.
We went up on the roof, and looked down on the fair Valley of Mexico—the fairest, it seemed to us, on which our eyes had ever gazed. The grand, old forest with its huge trees covered with long, grey moss, hanging down like a funeral pall, and the winding road leading up to the castle, was at our feet. Up the slope to the rear of the castle, charged the victorious American troops, on the memorable day when the last bulwark of the unfortunate republic fell. All around the palace, or castle, were the beautiful gardens, filled with blooming flowers which Maximilian and Carlotta—I never heard her called "poor Carlotta" in Mexico—had planted.
Out by the gate-way stands the scarred and blackened tree, at whose foot—so tradition says, and probably tells the truth—Guatamozin, "heroic in the defence of his empire and sublime in his martyrdom," (as the legend on the monument just raised to the honor of his memory, on the banks of the grand canal where his final defeat took place, by the order of the Aguntemento of Mexico, tells us,) was put to cruel torture by the ruthless Spaniards, in the vain effort to make him reveal the hiding place of the treasures for which they are digging in the ancient city, to-day. In front of us was the fair Capital of the Republic, with its many towers and steeples, and white-walled palaces, and the beautiful lakes beyond, glistening in the bright autumn sun of the tropics.
To the north-east, beyond the city, was Guadaloupe, and the villages along the shores of Lake Tezcoco. Nearer by, off a little to the left, not far from the great aqueduct of San Cosme,—which, oh Vandalic outrage! is now being demolished to give place to a railroad track—is the Church of the Noche Triste, and the great tree in which Cortez hid on the night of his disastrous retreat from Mexico. To the right, Tacubuya, with its monument to the honor of the brave men who fell in the defense of Mexico against the American Army under General Scott, and the scene of many a fearful deed of blood and outrage. Behind the castle, the red-walled and flat-roofed "Molino del Rey," where so many gallant American soldiers laid down their lives; and further south, the battle-fields of Contreras and Churubusco.
The valley of Mexico, with its surrounding mountains, forms a perfect amphitheater, of which Chapultepec is the "dress-circle." Popocatepetl, the white, headed old monarch of all the mountains of North America, towers in everlasting grandeur high into the blue heavens, in the south-east, and "the Woman in White"—his glorious spouse—stands beside him like a royal bride at the altar. Every foot of the ground within the limit of our vision is historic, and around it clings nearly the entire romance of the New World.
Inexpressibly lovely, is the prospect from the verandahs of Chapultepec, turn which way you will, and I do not wonder, that Maximilian, lavished such sums upon the spot which he fondly anticipated was to be the home of himself and his descendants, and the seat of power of a mighty empire, which he imagined he had founded on the ruins of liberty in America. The last official document signed by this infatuated dreamer, when he was surrounded at Queretaro, and captivity and a felon's death stared him in the face, was an order for the importation of two thousand German nightingales with which to stock the groves of Chapultepec.
The obscene statuary which he placed in the gardens and corridors of Chapultepec, though generally mutilated in no delicate manner, still stands there, and the walls are adorned with voluptuous representations of the Seasons, etc., after the style of an ancient Pompeian Villa, which he designed to imitate; but there are no pictures left in the palace, and most of the furniture, and all the costly plate and dinner-service was removed when General Diaz—who had his head-quarters here—reduced the city to a surrender and the last act in the ghastly farce was over.
We saw the bath-room and chambers occupied by the royal couple, their beds and parlor furniture, or a portion of it, and a few other relics and souvenirs, but cared more for the attractions with which nature and art, combined, have invested the view from the verandah. The magnificent colonnade, which was being erected by Maximilian's orders along the whole front of the palace, next to Tacubuya, is still unfinished, and the stones lie just where they were left when the news came that Queretaro had fallen; and knowing that the end had come,
"The guests fled the hall and the vassals from labor."
We rode back at night-fall through the broad, straight avenue which Maximilian had cut from the old Alameda, under whose trees Montezuma once walked, and saw thousands of ladies and gentlemen riding up and down on the long paseo—a drive of a mile or more, the fashionable and only safe drive in the vicinity of Mexico—while the military band played in the plaza, and the cavalry of the Mexican army galloped, here and there, ensuring us and them against the attacks of the bandidos and plagiaros, with which even the suburbs of the capital swarm.
LERDO DE TEJADA.