Our Sister Republic/Chapter 13
CONTINUATION OF THE FESTIVITIES.
ON Monday, the 6th of December, the Seward party, at the invitation of Francisco Foster, Miguel Pedroreno, Major Hoyt and Mr. Toler of California, started at 10 a. m., from the Paseo de la Vija, in company with the family of President Juarez, Mrs. Romero and Mrs. Allen, Mr. and Mrs. Skelton, Doctor Manfred and daughter, Col. Geo. M. Green, Gen. Slaughter, Major Clarke, Señor Antonio Mancillas and wife, Señorita Dolores Mejia, and others, on a boat excursion up the Grand Canal towards Lake Chalco.
The party occupied five boats, the musicians another, and the wines and provisions in charge of the servants, a seventh. Each boat was about twenty feet in length, six or seven broad, and flat-bottomed. Two stout boatmen in each boat poled the flotilla up the canal against the strong current, which comes down from Lake Chalco, into Lake Tezcoco, at the rate of four miles per hour.
We passed the newly finished monument to the memory of Guatamozin, on the spot where that monarch made his final stand against Cortez, was defeated, and made prisoner—the tree at the foot of which he was roasted by the Spaniards to make him reveal his treasures, still blackened by the fire, can be seen to-day, at Chapultepec—and for twelve miles through the famous "floating gardens of Mexico." These gardens are all stationary now, or at least, all those along the banks of the canal, having been anchored down by cotton-wood trees planted along their edges, which taking deep root, have fixed their hold firmly in the earth below the water. They rise, at most, but two or three feet above the surface of the water, and are in the form of oblong squares, and perfectly level. Every description of garden vegetables, corn, etc., etc., grow finely on these marsh gardens, many of which are fringed with tall cane, and most of them are highly cultivated. Hundreds of boats, loaded with "produce," were met coming down the canal, and others conveying passengers, or loaded with stable manure from the city, being carried out to the gardens, were seen at every point. There were also many little canoes, each about twelve feet long, and two feet wide, hollowed from the trunk of a single tree, in which stalwart Indians were poling their families up and down the canal.
A detachment of cavalry galloped along the banks as the flotilla moved up the canal, to guard it against a possible attack. It was a curious sight to see these bronze-hued soldiers of the Aztec blood guarding a party of another race, galloping across the bridge which Cortez seized and held as his first point of vantage against the city, which their ancestors defended with such desperate but fruitless valor against the Spanish invaders.
Disembarking for a few minutes, at the old, ruinous town of Santa Anita, we went on to an Indian village with an unpronounceable name, and a tumble-down, old church—in which the priest was hearing confessions from kneeling women, on both sides of his open box at the same time—and there disembarked for the final picnic. All the way up the canal we had been indulging in Mexican music, French and Spanish wines, and the music of other days, alternately; the Hymn of Zaragoza, John Brown, the Danza, Home sweet Home, Star Spangled Banner, American cheers and the popping of champagne mingling in strange confusion.
A bountiful collation, picnic style, was spread beneath the trees and discussed with keen relish. We had not seen a single unpleasant day during the month that we had been in the City of Mexico, and on this occasion, the ladies, clad in thin stuffs and without shawls or capes, danced with the gentlemen of our party in the open air, for hours, as they might have done in New York in June, and felt no subsequent ill-effects from it.
After numerous toasts, and a very facetious speech by Major Hoyt in response to the sentiment of "the child, above all others of which I am proud—California,"—by Mr. Seward, the guard were called down to finish up the feast—abundance of everything being left for them, and a novel scene ensued. Colonel Green, between every speech and toast, called for vivas for every distinguished man he could remember, dead or alive, from Geo. Washington to Benito Juarez, Bonaparte to Grant, Hidalgo to General Mejia, and the defenders of Thermopolye to General Antonio Caravajal, all of which were given by the excited, swarthy soldiers with equal good will. An officer of the staff of the Governor of California addressed them for a moment, and offered a toast to peace and lasting friendship I between the two republics, an enthusiastic soldier adding:
"Yes; and we will go out together as true brothers and whip the whole old world into republicanism! whereupon, the laughter and cheers were redoubled. Then Antonio Mancillas made a rousing, red Republican speech, going even to the extent of woman's suffrage, and was applauded to the echo at every sentence.
Then the party started down the canal on the return trip. We had hardly got under way when a contest among the boatmen as to who should get ahead, commenced, and the excursionists, from plying them with dollars to induce them to do their utmost, soon came to join in themselves, and a scene of indescribable confusion and excitement took place.
The moment that one boat attempted to pass another, it would be grappled by all on board the slower craft, and a dead lock would ensue. Major Hoyt, on the boat in which were Mr. Seward and Mrs. Juarez, clinched with a gentleman, whom modesty forbids me to name, on another, alongside, and both, falling, struggled for some minutes, the contest ending in the gallant Major being drawn, head-foremost into our boat, and made prisoner. Dr. Manfred, holding like grim death to the Major's leg to prevent his being captured, was drawn overboard, and then pulled out of the water into our boat, and paroled as a prisoner of war. Then the Seward boat, getting a little ahead, was boarded by Mr. Foster, who pitched one of the boatmen headlong into the canal; whereupon, Col. Green went over and threw both of their boatmen, heels-over-head, into the chilly waters, and the flotilla came to a stand-still.
The uproarious laughter of the ladies as they cheered on their respective champions, testified to their intense enjoyment of the ludicrous scene. The boatmen who had been thrown over, were compensated—amply in their estimation—by a present of a dollar a piece, and quiet once more restored, we went rapidly back to the city which we reached at night-fall, after one of the pleasantest days we enjoyed in Mexico.
Among the minor demonstrations was the grand funcion by Bell & Buislay's Circus at the Circo de Charini in the old Convent of San Francisco. Great preparations had been made, specially, for the occasion, and the Government lent a military band and a regiment of its choicest troops, to add eclat to the affair. The grand court-yard of the convent is used for the circus, the ring covering the spot in which the dead of centuries lie buried, and the corridors rising one above the other, with their graceful pillars and costly ornamentation form the galleries, which are divided into boxes. What a change in the institutions and the religious sentiments of this once bigoted Catholic people this indicates, can be readily understood.
Noticing that the mochos did not appear to be there in great numbers, I asked the reason of a common mechanic or tradesman of some kind who chanced to be near me at the moment. His reply:
"Because they will not submit to see the burial ground of their ancestors desecrated by a circus," contains more of bitterness, satire, and hatred, than I have ever seen before in a single sentence, and is curiously illustrative of the state of feeling in the capital.
The vast audience arose and bowed, en masse, as Mr. Seward entered, and the troops presented arms, while the band played the national hymn. The performance, consisting of the usual ring exhibition, tableaux, including one representing the "Moral Alliance of the two Republics," etc., etc., passed off well. There was also a "grand funcion" at—the "Teatro Nacional" at which an opera company gave the Spanish version of "Crispino e la Comare" in good shape, though the fairy was dressed in deep mourning; and a theatrical entertainment in which the "Campania Zarazula" gave us "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Spanish, and a curious old cabin it was. They varied the plot so as to make the villain Legree get his deserts, being whipped to death by the slaves, to the great satisfaction of the populace, half of whom had been affected to tears by the imaginary sufferings of the slaves, though they had most of them seen bull-fights and kindred atrocities without a murmur of disapprobation, and probably, with yells of delight.
But the grand and closing feature of the demonstrations in honor of the nation's guest, was the ball at the Teatro Nacional on the night of Thursday, December 9th. Three thousand tickets, of which one thousand were to families, were issued, and more than three thousand persons were in attendance. The great theater—the largest on the continent of America—was decorated with flowers and the Mexican and American colors from floor to roof, and lighted within by three hundred and fifty chandeliers, each holding from twenty to fifty candles, which poured down a flood of mellow light and blistering stearine on all below. The stage was carried out so as to cover all the body of the vast house, the fine galleries or tiers of palcos rising one above the other to the roof, being reserved for the use of those not participating in the dance.
Outside, the scene was magnificent. The front of the teatro, from ground to roof, was covered with lanterns, the entire street, for a whole block, was arched over and illuminated, making a fairy arcade; and lines of cavalry and infantry, in superb uniform, kept the street clear and prevented the passing of carriages, either way. The Government paid twenty-two thousand dollars for the music, supper, and decorations for this ball, and it must have been honestly and economically spent. Its equal has, probably, never been seen on the American continent.
President Juarez and family, and the Seward party, occupied the double boxes, with crimson silk hangings and costly furniture, constructed for the sole use of Maximilian and his suite, and from thence looked down on one of the most magnificent scenes which the mind can imagine, or tongue describe. The costumes of the ladies in attendance were, generally, in excellent taste, and, not unfrequently, rich and elegant in the extreme. I noticed one lady who wore at least fifty thousand dollars worth of diamonds, and though this was a decided exception to the rule, there were many others whose toilets represented a fortune.
The men were all in black coats, black pants, white vests, gloves, and cravats, without a single exception. The youth, wealth, beauty, aristocracy and fashion of Mexico, were fairly represented, though some of the most strict and haughty of the mochos staid away.
At 10 p. m., Mr. Seward was received by President Juarez and family, and at 11 the dancing commenced. There was a lack of that animation which usually characterizes an American ball-room, but in its place, there was an amount of politeness and courtesy exhibited on all sides which would put us to shame.
The dinner was spread in the corridors and grand saloon of the Hotel Iturbide—once the palace of the Inturbide family—and plates were laid for three thousand persons. There was no convenient place for speech-making, except in the saloon where President Juarez and Cabinet and Mr. Seward were seated. There, in the late hours before day-break, considerable talking was done. During this speaking an incident, which may have some significance, took place.
Señor Valasquez of Monterey, the President of Congress for that month, had made a most enthusiastic speech in honor of Mr. Seward, and in response, the latter called his attention to two facts in the history of Europe and America within the last ten years, viz: that the Emperor of France had a well-marked and distinctive foreign policy, and a domestic policy, both of which were imperial and European. The first showed itself in the form of an intervention in the affairs of America, and an attempt to establish as a preliminary an Empire in Mexico; and the second in the furtherance of the project for the completion of the Suez Canal through the Egyptian peninsula which separates the Mediterranean from the Red Sea. On the other hand, the United States have a policy in regard to Mexico, and a foreign policy as distinctly marked, and altogether American, which shows itself in maintaining the independence of the sister Republic, and the construction of a ship canal across the isthmus of Darien which separates the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Mr. Seward said "the Colombian Congress hesitates and stumbles. Secure for us Mr. President, a resolution of the Congress of Mexico, recommending the Colombian Congress to ratify the treaty for the construction of a ship canal across the Isthmus of Darien, which has already been negotiated between the two Governments, and I am sure that the Congress of Colombia could not resist the friendly appeal."
Señor Valasquez replied, that he could not answer for the Mexican Congress as a body; it must speak for itself in its free and sovereign capacity; but he would cheerfully pledge his own personal support of such a measure.
President Juarez then arose, and in a brief speech set forth the merits of the project, pronouncing it the great work of Republican America and of modern civilization. For his own part he would give the project all the support and assistance in his power, and he trusted that Mr. Seward, as well as himself, might live to see the noble work accomplished. Thereupon all the guests at the table, a large number of whom were members of the Mexican Congress, stood up, and made the hall ring with enthusiastic vivas for the Darien Ship Canal.
The banquet and ball terminated together at sunrise, and the official ovations to Mr. Seward in the city of Mexico were over.
The more one sees of President Juarez, the more he is impressed with the conviction of his being a great man, in the fullest acceptation of the word. In person, he is below the average height of men of the Anglo-Saxon race, and he is stout built without tending to corpulency. In his dress he is exceedingly plain, but fastidiously neat No one ever sees him without a fall suit of black broadcloth, dress coat, black hat of fashionable Parisian pattern, and neatly polished boots. The only variation is on important social occasions like this, when he dons a white cravat and white gloves, in place of the customary black ones. He rides in a common plain coach—no "better than a first-class hack in New York—and will allow no servants in livery about him. His manner is always quiet, and his demeanor toward strangers courteous and affable, without in the least tending towards familiarity. His complexion is quite dark, with the reddish tinge indicative of Aztec Indian blood, eyes small and black, features strongly Indian, and the expression of his smooth-shaven face indicative of great self-possession, quiet self-reliance, decision and indomitable resolution. There is nothing quick, nervous, or "fidgety" in his manner. I doubt if any man living can say he ever saw Benito Juarez scared, excited, or irresolute for a moment.
He impresses you as one who moves slowly but with irresistible force, and is capable of any sacrifice and any expenditure of time, money, or blood to carry out his plans when once adopted. Whether entertaining the Nation's guest, as we saw him on this night, when thousands of eyes were upon him; sitting in his bare-walled room at El Paso del Norte, with a price upon his head, and but two hundred Indian troops to support him and the Republic, against the mercenary hordes of Europe, and domestic traitors; or walking in the garden of Chapultepec, smoking his cigarrito, and meditating on plans for putting down pronunciamentos, crushing the power of the Church, or establishing schools and providing for the education and improvement of his people, he is ever the same taciturn, self-reliant, hopeful, unexcitable man, believing in himself, and confident of the final triumph of Republicanism, over all trial and opposition. A horse-fancying friend described him once to me as "not a three-minute trotter, but a mighty good all-day horse, and safe for a long journey." The idea is sound, though expressed in a homely manner. He is never accused of forgetting his friends, and his triumph over all enemies and difficulties the most gigantic, stamp him as a man of no ordinary mould; one destined to fill a remarkable page in the history of the world.
There is a curious coincidence connected with this man's history. When the Spaniards conquered Mexico an old chief, or priest, at the Pueblo of Taos in New
THE PUEBLO OF TAOS.
Mexico, kindled a fire upon the altar on the walls of the Aztec temple there, and planting a tree in front, told his followers that when the tree died, a new white race would come from the East and conquer the land, and when the fire went out, a new Montezuma would establish his power in Mexico. The tree died in 1846, when the Americans conquered New Mexico, and the fire went out when the last of the Aztec priests of Taos died at his post, in the year that Benito Juarez became President of Mexico!
I have no faith in miracles, ancient or modern, prophecies, saints, or "old wives' fables," but the coincidences above related are well authenticated, and sufficiently curious to be worth reading.
Time has dealt lightly with "the Don Benito;" his black hair is only slightly tinged with grey, his figure is erect, and his step firm and elastic as that of an American at thirty; his teeth are white and perfect and his face shows few of the wrinkles. If I did not know his age I should—if he were an American—call him about forty years old and well preserved, and no one on seeing him any number of times would suspect him of having seen nearly sixty summers.
He comes of a long-lived, enduring race, and in the ordinary course of nature has yet many years of life and the full enjoyment of mental and physical powers before him.
After the grand ball at the Teatro National, there was a momentary lull in the demonstrations in honor of Mr. Seward. Private parties and dinners were given from time to time by citizens and officials, and we continued seeing the curious and wonderful things to be found in the Capital, from day to day, in a quiet way, avoiding public attention as far as possible. The houses of the most refined and elegant families of Mexico were opened to the party, and we had an opportunity to see the best as well as the worst phases of Mexican life.
Many of these families and persons engaged in showing these attentions, desired to be regarded as merely warm, personal friends, and therefore would not willingly allow their names to be paraded before the public in this connection.
The most noticable of these private demonstrations, took place on the 16th of December, at the residence of the resident representative of the great house of Barron & Co., at Tacubuya, when some fifty ladies and gentlemen representing the wealth, beauty, fashion, and aristocratic blood of Mexico, met to breakfast with the party. The truly palatial residence of Mr. Barron, contains five time's as many treasures of fine art, as are to be found in any private residence in the United States, and more really valuable and meritorious old pictures, than we have ever been able to gather into any single public gallery. The magnificent residence of Señor Escandon, said to be the finest and most tasteful on the, continent, adjoins that of Mr. Barron, and is even richer in art treasures, several superb pictures by Salvator Rosa, Murillo, and other famous old artists being among them. After the breakfast, which lasted from 12 m. to 3 p. m., the guests walked through both houses and the magnificent grounds around them, filled even at this season with fresh roses and many other lovely flowers, and every species of tree and shrub which can be grown in this prolific climate, played boliche, or danced in the grand saloon until night-fall, and then separated with regret, after one of the most delightful days ever experienced.
The view of the City of Mexico and the Valley, Popocatépetl and "The Woman in White," and all the lovely surroundings of this old, historic city, commanded by both houses, is only second to that from Chapultepec, in any respect, and superior to it in many particulars. Seen through the soft, blue haze in the warm, mellow light of the winter sun of Mexico, the landscape is beautiful as a vision of the fabled Acadia, and looking upon it but once, one cannot but appreciate the affection which the people of Mexico manifest for their country in all her misfortunes and calamities. It is a country to be proud of, to honor, and to love, and—American though I am—I must give it the palm over mine; had I been born there, I would live there and die there, nor wish for any better land to love, and hope and labor, and suffer for.