Our Sister Republic/Chapter 21
MR. SEWARD, worn out by the fatigues of the long journey from Manzanillo to the Gulf Coast, remained resting at Orizaba until Tuesday, January 4th, being for the first time in three months in a position to enjoy a little undisturbed quiet.
During his stay he ascended the famous Sierra de Borregas—or mountains of the Sheep—which overlook the city. The ascent of from eight hundred to one thousand feet perpendicularly, was made on foot, and was accomplished by the ex-premier with, apparently, as little fatigue as was experienced by any of the party.
On Sunday, the 2d of January, the party visited the Indian village of Jalapena, in a deep and romantic gorge or canon in the mountains near the source of the Rio Blanco, the stream on which are situated the Falls of Rincon Grande, described in the last chapter. The inhabitants paid Mr. Seward every possible attention, and the visit, though devoid of startling incident, was a very pleasant one to the party.
On the Monday following, a deputation of the simple Indians came down to Orizaba, to present Mr. Seward with a curiously carved and stained cane, of a peculiar wood growing by the banks of the Blanco. This cane is of a single piece of wood, and the handle represents an eagle's foot with extended talons, very artistically carved by a native and wholly untutored artist. Among the hundreds of presents, many of which are very valuable, received by Mr. Seward in California and Mexico, I doubt if any will give him more pleasure than this.
I have already described the road from Orizaba to Vera Cruz. The Seward party was overtaken a few miles below Orizaba, by Joseph Branniff, the railway contractor's superintendent, who was going down to Paso del Macho, with a light buggy drawn by two fast mules. Mr. Seward accepted a seat with Mr. Branniff in this carriage, and they went over the seventeen leagues at a pace, which, if it did not endanger the necks of the party, at least, gave Mr. Seward a shaking which he will remember to the end of his life.
The magnificent scenery of the Chiquihuite Pass delighted him more than anything which he had seen since the Barranca de Beltran, and so reminded him of the scenery of Africa as to cause him to remark, that it only wanted a lion or two by the road-side to complete the picture, and make the illusion perfect. There are plenty of tigers lurking in the chaparral along this road, and the number of way-side crosses ought to be good evidence that they have a very satisfactory substitute for lions.
The work of constructing the railway at this point is truly herculean and reminds one of that upon the Central Pacific Railroad, where it passes over the summit of the Sierra Nevada. It is described as follows, in a late number of the Diario Oficial of the City of Mexico:
"After leaving the station of Paso del Macho, the road passes, by means of a bridge three hundred feet long and one hundred feet nigh, that immense neck of land which separates the base of the first level portion of the Cordilleras from the plains of the terra caliente, or the hot country. This bridge, the mason-work of which is entirely finished, only lacks the iron floor in order to be open to the public. Having passed this great work, we arrive, by a series of curves as boldly as scientifically run, at the great bridge of San Alejo, which is not as high as that of Paso de Macho, but several feet longer. From San Alejo to Chiquihuite there is nothing but deep cuts through the solid rock, and enormous terrepleins, making the great inequalities of that broken ground entirely disappear. Chiquihuite Bridge, which is over three hundred feet long, is elevated more than one hundred and fifty feet above that abyss, where the foaming, cold stream that gives its name to this part of the mountain, forever leaps and boils. The boldest spirit would not suspect the real tours de force conceived in the running of this road accomplished by the skill of Mr. Buchanan, and completed under the direction of Mr. Branniff, chief of construction.
"On leaving the bridge, the road follows the main highway for some distance, by a terreplein of sixty feet high, supported by a wall ten feet thick, and suddenly, as in the shifting of scenes in a theatre, the road runs around the mountain, suspended on its sides. It was necessary to cut it through solid rock, of which the side of this mountain is composed. The laborers engaged in this unequal piece of work have to hold on to the rocks, and are held up by ropes, which makes them resemble, at a distance, bees in a honey-comb. The road continues for about one hundred metres along that track before it enters the first tunnel of one hundred and fifty feet in length; it again re-appears only to continue its aerial route, and again disappears in a tunnel of three hundred and fifty feet. From this tunnel the road passes over a small iron bridge, raised eight hundred feet above the bottom of the ravine."
At Paso del Macho, the special train was in waiting at 2 1-2 p. m., and at 6 p. m., the party was in Vera Cruz. The American Consul Mr. Trowbridge, Emilio B. Schliden, an American citizen, formerly of California, now at the head of a large mercantile house there, who had placed a beautiful, large house, ready furnished, at Mr. Seward's disposal, Mr. Joseph Brennon, and a number of other American citizens were at the depot, ready to receive him and escort him to his home in Vera Cruz.
The party were hardly settled in the house, when the Governor of the State of Vera Cruz, the commandant of the military forces, the Collector of the Port, the officers of the Custom-House and garrison, and other Federal and State officials in fall uniform, called to present their respects, and offer the hospitalities of the city and their own services in any manner desired, as the hospitalities of Colima and the Republic of Mexico had been offered on our first landing on the soil of the country at Manzanillo, three months before. There were no formal speeches made, but the greeting was off-hand and cordial, and Mr. Seward, in a brief reply, returned thanks for the honor done him.
The more I saw of this odd, old, and fearfully unhealthy city of Vera Cruz at this season of the year, the more I was interested in it. Its curious old fortifications, dating back to the days of the conquistadores, and now as useless piles of stone, copper, iron, and coral as could by any possibility be got together; its mixed and mongrel population; its wide, straight streets, paved in the old Spanish style with the gutters in the centre; the old churches and public buildings, gray and worn with the storms of centuries and any number of sieges and bombardments; its swarms of Zopilotes, and its hideous and importunate beggars; everything, in fact, about the place is interesting.
At the corners of all the principal streets are hitching posts of a novel character: old Spanish, iron guns, set in the ground, breech down, and often rusted away to such an extent as to be hardly recognizable. I would hesitate some time before hitching my horse to such a post; suppose it should happen to go off with him?
Many of the buildings still bear the marks of the balls and shells thrown into the city by the American Army under General Scott; and I noticed one old church which was then partially unroofed, and has never been repaired. In walking about the streets I frequently saw balls or pieces of exploded shells, embedded in the pavement. Many of these were thrown into the city by Miramon, in the attempt to dislodge Juarez in the early part of 1860—an attempt which was frustrated by the direct interference of the American Minister and the American fleet.
The Zopilotes were my friends; but for them I should have had no amusement or occupation for hours at a time.
You should have seen the jolly row I managed to kick up, by throwing a handful of garbage to them from a restaurant, and then sending a small dog among them, to worry them and make the feathers fly. Nobody knows where they breed, and although inquiry has been made on the subject for almost three centuries and a half, the matter is still a mystery. One day we bought three large sea-shells, each with the original inhabitant in it. To get the monster sea-snails to come out, it was necessary to suspend them on cords, with a good, stout, fish-hook through the head of each. Little by little the creature loses his grip, and in about forty-eight hours he lets go his hold entirely, and gives up the struggle.
The three lines with the three great pulpy sea-snails on the three hooks, got tied together, and fell into the street, by accident of course—it is unlawful to kill or injure the Zapilotes, and a heavy fine is inflicted for doing so—and soon the Zapilotes had a turn at them. Perhaps it was not fun to see three of the great, black, awkward fellows fast at once, each going it on his own hook as it were! They have very strong stomachs—and well they might considering what they feed upon—but the strain was more than even they could stand, and I am of the opinion, that in every case, at least two out of the three contestants got turned wrong side outwards in the struggle. But it did not seem to discourage the rest for a moment; and for aught I know, they are at it yet, each taking a turn at the tempting morsels, and getting swindled. They seem almost wholly lost to the force of example, and like men, must learn, each for himself, by personal experience.
Even our hotel—and it was far the best in the city—was interesting as a subject for study. The charges were moderate, three dollars and fifty cents per day in coin, with wine and early coffee extra—say about five dollars all told, if you are not too extravagant in your tastes.
Every style of business is carried on in the building. There is a store-house, and tailor shop with several sewing-machines on the lower floor. Up stairs, the office, bar, and billiard room are all one. The best rooms in the house extend out over the portal, and are light and well ventilated, but not luxuriously furnished. I had one of these rooms. The room next me was occupied by a party who were playing poker all night for big money.
I was kindly invited to take a hand in this friendly little poker game, but being a youth of modest and retiring turn of mind, reluctantly declined. I thought it would break my heart, if I were to go in there and win all the money from such gentlemanly, courteous, and considerate young men; at any rate, I never could forgive myself for doing it.
The room next on the other side, was infested by some game of which I have no personal knowledge. Beyond this, Mr. and Mrs. Brennon were quartered, and a young Mexican lady going to the United States occupied the next. Adjoining was a faro or monte bank, and beyond that two roulette tables running all night. In the billiard room they were playing pool for money, through nearly the entire twenty-four hours. Business, it will be seen, is not entirely dead in Vera Cruz. The partitions between the rooms are of rough boards, and do not come quite up to the ceiling; so that the occupant of each room gets the full benefit of whatever may be going on in the next.
The principal business on the streets seemed to be selling lottery tickets in behalf of various useful public enterprises. The tickets cost twenty-five to thirty-seven and one-half cents each, and the prizes range from five to five hundred dollars. I never heard any man complain that he had drawn a prize and did not get his money; I think he would run a risk of getting it promptly if he ever drew one. I patronized "a favor del Telegrafo de Jalacingo a Tampico," to the extent of about the cost of a quarter of a mile of the line, more or less, and am satisfied that it is indeed "a favor" of the company; it did not come out in my favor on a single occasion. They draw every week and it appears to pay—the company.
All the carting which is done in the city is effected by mule power. One little mule with a sore back is hitched in the shafts of a huge, clumsy, high-wheeled wooden cart, and the driver rides upon another, which is slung alongside outside the shafts, and pretends to help the load along, as he doubtless does when in a tight place and he cannot help it. The arrangement is first-rate when it comes to swinging around a corner, but on a direct pull it might be improved. All the baggage is carried from the wharf or depot to the hotels, and vice versa, on the backs or heads of men.
The chain-gang, not merely in name, but in the good, old, southern, European style—is one of the institutions of Vera Cruz as of most other Mexican cities, and is made quite useful, if not entirely ornamental. The gentlemen connected with this branch of the public service wear a leathern belt around the waist, and a broader band of thick leather around the left ankle. Between these points there is a heavy chain, with links each about six inches long. In case of one of them being run over by a railway train, or cut into by a falling timber, this arrangement prevents the different parts getting scattered about and lost. For convenience they travel two by two, a metallic connection enabling them to keep step with military precision.
I saw about twenty of them at work one day at the mole, carrying heavy beams of Spanish cedar—the wood from which we make Havana cigar boxes in the United States—up into the city. They were guarded by a squad of soldiers, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets, who kept them to their work in lively style, their chains clinking musically, all the time. By accident the sharp edge of a heavy beam came down on the sandaled foot of one of the operatives, when his great toe-nail opened like an alligator's jaws, and snapped viciously at the wood. The owner of the toe, picked up his end of the beam, and went off with his three companions on a dog-trot, seeming oblivious of the fact that there had been any quarrel going on.
Vera Cruz is the most important sea-port of the Republic of Mexico, and it may be interesting to the outside world to know how its population is made up, and what is the mental and moral standing of the inhabitants. The following figures I take from the official census returns made in April, 1869. The returns copied are for the Municipality of Vera Cruz, consisting of the old city within the walls and the district in the immediate vicinity, comprising almost as much territory as is included in the Metropolitan District of New York. The population of the municipality is as follows:
|Males living within the walls,||- - - - - - - -||5,164|
|"" outside ”||- - - - - - - -||920|
|Females " within ”||- - - - - - - -||6,372|
|Females living outside the walls||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1,036|
|Males living in the country beyond the city,||- - - - - - - -||1,255|
|Total population, - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||15,850|
|The ages of the inhabitants are stated as follows:|
|Males under ten years||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1,810|
|Females""”||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1,813|
|Males between ten and sixteen years, - - - -||- - - - - - - -||938|
|Females""”||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1,002|
|Males between sixteen and fifty, ”||- - - - - - - -||4,157|
|Females""”||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||5,131|
|Males over fifty years ,||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||434|
|Females""”||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||565|
|Single males able to read and write,||- - - - - - - -||2,531|
|"" not able ""||- - - - - - - -||3,140|
|" females able ""||- - - - - - - -||1,143|
|"" not ""||- - - - - - - -||4,652|
|Married men who can read and write,||- - - - - - - -||879|
|"" who cannot ""||- - - - - - - -||540|
|" women who can read and write||- - - - - - - -||561|
|" " who cannot read and write,||- - - - - - - -||887|
|Widowers who can " " "||- - - - - - - -||129|
|" " cannot " " "||- - - - - - - -||120|
|Widows who can " " "||- - - - - - - -||286|
|" " cannot " " "||- - - - - - - -||982|
|Total males able to read and write,||- - - - - - - -||3,539|
|" " not " " "||- - - - - - - -||3,800|
|Total Females able to read and write,||- - - - - - - -||1,990|
|" " not " " "||- - - - - - - -||6,521|
|Catholics, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||15,777|
|Protestants, (all foreigners)||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||71|
|Jews, - - - - - - - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1|
|Mahomedans, - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||1|
|The nationality of the inhabitants is as follows:|
|Mexicans, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||14,384|
|Spaniards, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||736|
|Cubans, (nearly all political exiles,) - - - -||- - - - - - - -||242|
|French, - - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||736|
|Citizens of the United States, - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||108|
|Germans, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||68|
|Italians, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||37|
|English, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||23|
|Peruvianos, - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||5|
|Africans, - - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||5|
|Other or uncertain nationalities, - - - - - -||- - - - - - - -||24|
The number of persons of all ages who have any lucrative and self-sustaining employment is set down at 7,407, while those who have no such employment is stated at 8,443.
In making up this list, the soldiers of the garrison, the sick in the hospitals, and the civil and military prisoners are not included. If they were, included the disproportion of females to males would be still greater. The number of widows and unmarried women between sixteen and fifty, tells its own eloquent story of the desolation which so many years of civil and foreign war have brought upon the land. The greater number of those set down as having no lucrative occupation are, of course, women and children, but there must be at least fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred adult, able-bodied males included in that list. The mole—what the storms have left of that costly work of the old Spaniards—swarms with them whenever a steamer arrives, and when a train with a few passengers comes in they rush up by dozens and fifties, to carry your trunk to the hotel on their backs; hacks and baggage wagons there are none in Vera Cruz.
Marriage is evidently not a popular institution in Vera Cruz, and the Church—however much it may preach against the sin of adultery—certainly in practice must be somewhat responsible for it, as its exactions make it quite difficult for the poor to contract marriage. As out of the entire population of fifteen thousand eight hundred and fifty souls, all but seventy-three are professed Catholics, and as there is no Protestant or other church organization, save the Catholic, in the municipality, the honor or blame of the moral condition of society in Vera Cruz belongs, altogether, to the Mother Church. Vera Cruz has more commerce and more travel than any other port of Mexico, and her population ought to rank higher in the scale of enlightenment and prosperity than that of any other sea-port town. Though the city is annually scourged by the Yellow Fever, or "Vomito," and is unhealthy from miasmatic influences all the year around, many educated and influential families, native and foreign born, reside here, and the circle of really good society is much larger than would be supposed from the above figures. Among the merchants there is discouragement and gloom, and among the people at large, more of uncertainty as to the future, apathy, or actual discontent, than I saw anywhere else in the Republic.
I went down with the crowd one day, to see the arrival of a coasting steamer—everybody in Vera Cruz goes down to the mole to see a steamer, big or little, come in. The arrival was the little square-toed side-wheeler, Ejujenia, from Tlacotalplam—and steamer and cargo reminded me, forcibly, of the description of the Yankee trading craft which Marryatt in one of his novels, describes so vividly. I mean the craft he met coming out of the West Indies, whose captain sold his spars to a French privateer, and then sent the English privateer into a trap, by telling him that there was but one French vessel instead of two, and the force so small and unprepared as to make it perfectly safe to attack them when they were lying at anchor repairing. The steamer might possibly be one hundred feet long and about half as broad, with a bow so like an old fashioned man-of-war's stern, as to make it a matter of doubt whether she would travel best "end foremost" or "broadside on."
A motley list of passengers and a mixed cargo had been picked up along the coast. The passengers were of all colors and nationalities, and from seventy-five to one hundred in number. About half, appeared to have complexions disastrously affected by coast-fevers and malarious diseases. As for the cargo, it comprised a little of everything. Crates of live chickens, great earthenware jars for holding drinking water, bunches of plantains and bananas, rolls of tiger skins, bales on bales of goat skins, salt fish, boxes and strings of dried sausages, rolls of "tamals" turkeys in groups all around the decks tied by the legs, parrots of every hue and size all talking and scolding at once, crates of small, long-legged ducks of a peculiar kind such as I have never seen outside of Mexico, sweet potatoes, garden vegetables of almost every variety, and fruits of which I can give no description; oranges, lemons, limes, wooden-ware, and a variety of utterly indescribable manufactured articles of the country. The passengers were required to handle their own baggage, and owners of freight had to do the same.
All the passengers, crew, and outsiders were talking at once, though in the best of humor, and altogether, they made more noise than would have been kicked up in New York over the arrival of a Spanish fleet of war steamers, charged with the trifling task of bombarding all the forts and capturing all the fleets and sea-ports of the United States. But I must say in justice to them all, that no such scenes of ruffianism and rowdyism as we are accustomed to witness in New York, on the arrival of even a ferry-boat, took place, or ever take place here.
My stay in Vera Cruz was prolonged far beyond the limit we had fixed when leaving Puebla. At that time, we intended to leave for Havana, by the British steamer Tyne, on the 1st of January; but Mr. Seward having changed his mind, and determined to wait for the American steamer Cleopatra, ten days later, and a heavy norther delaying that steamer a day or two longer, I had considerable time to kill—as it turned out, time and the malarious atmosphere of the Gulf Coast got the best of it, and came very near killing me. Meantime, a French steamer, the Francia, and an English freight-steamer plying between New Orleans, Tobasco, Tampico, Vera Cruz, Havana and Liverpool, "promiscuous," as it were, arrived; and with three steamers in port at once, Vera Cruz presented an appearance of liveliness quite unusual.
I swore at Guadalajara that I would never attend another bull-fight, and I meant it. But I did not say I would not attend a bear-fight. One Sunday, the walls of the City of Vera Cruz were placarded with posters announcing a grand fight to come off at the Plaza de Toros, between the celebrated California grizzly bear Sampson—the same I believe which chawed up and mortally injured "Grizzly Adams,"—and a "valiente toro" at 4½ o'clock p. m. In the pictures on the posters Sampson had a little the worst of the fight, but I did not believe that the artist was fully acquainted with his subject, and in company with other Californians backed our piasano, the bear, for the fight, against all odds.
The old fellow was about one hundred years old, more or less, and had lost in other fights, and by age, nearly every sign of a tooth; nevertheless, he was a healthy specimen of the grizzly, weighing about one thousand pounds, and able to entertain any bull ever raised in Spanish America.
The bull selected was one of the vicious, long-horned, black, Spanish brutes, not very large, but active, and when he was brought in by the vacqueros, in the morning, made it very lively for all the horses and loose boys and things in the neighborhood.
At the appointed time some two thousand or twenty-five hundred people, of all ages, sizes, colors and sexes were within the enclosure, with soldiers posted all around the barriers, to keep order, and a special squad within the outer ring, with loaded muskets to shoot the bear if he should escape from the inner ring of heavy, upright timbers, thirty feet across, in which the fight was to take place. It would have been a good joke on them had they ever fired at him.
The first part of the performance—consisting of tumbling, and cross-bar and ring exercises by a party of native artists—was looked upon with impatience by the crowd, and at last, when the cries of "el toro! el toro!" were getting too loud to be longer disregarded, Señor Bueno Core came forward and opened the door of the pen in which the bull was confined. In rushed the bull, and made a pass at old Sampson, who was quietly walking back and forth, looking at the audience.
At the first touch of the bull's horns, old Sampson raised his immense, bulky carcass, took the poor bull lovingly in his brawny arms, and grasping him by the neck with his worn-out teeth proceeded to shake him, as a terrier dog shakes a rat. His teeth were so bad that he could not break the bull's neck, but he held him as a mother might hold her infant, and compressed his neck as if it had been a loaf of bread. This went on until the bull called for help, and the audience began to call out, "give the bull a chance!" when the Señor and his assistants dashed water by the hogshead upon the bear to make him break his hold, and at last succeeded.
Then old Sampson, in a rage, went to the side of the ring, and began to dig a deep hole in the ground. All efforts to drive him from his work were unavailing for half an hour, and, meantime, he had a hole dug in which he might have buried an elephant. This excited the audience, who shouted, to urge the bull on to give the foreign bear fits.
At last, the bull was induced by the exhibition of a red blanket pulled over the bear's side by a cord from above, and the apparent cowardice of old Sampson, to go up and give him a dig in the ribs. He darted back as soon as he had done it, but old Sampson was now downright mad. He had stood the pounding and poking with iron bars and clubs without a word of emphatic dissent, but to be insulted by the bull and set down as a coward, was more than he could or would submit to. At a bound he was at the bull's side, folding him once more in his loving embrace, and prepared to show how they "rock me to sleep mother," in California. He, without more ado, carried the bull to the hole which he had been digging, bore him down with his immense weight until his back gave way under the pressure, and then placing him affectionately in the hole, held him down with one fore paw, while with the other he commenced to cover him up with dirt. The bull roared with pain and terror, and once got partially upon his feet in the struggle, but only to go back with greater force, and receive numerous slaps in the side from the enraged bear, which appeared to knock the breath all out of his body.
The audience were now satisfied that the bull was done for, and no match for a California grizzly bear, even without teeth, and began to move out. The backers of the bull gave up the fight, and Señor Bueno Core and assistants entered the ring, and after a long struggle and any amount of water poured upon him, compelled Sampson to let go his hold and return to his SUNDAY AMUSEMENTS IN VERA CRUZ
cage. And so the entertainment ended. I regret to add that when the bull was raised to his feet it was found that his back was so injured that he could not stand and he must be killed. The buzzards had already gathered in clouds in the vicinity, as if conscious that a feast was being prepared. This is Sunday amusement in Vera Cruz. But it was death on the bull.
But the bull does not always get the worst of it, in encounters with man and beast, in Mexico and elsewhere. I remember a bull and bear fight in New Orleans, in which the Attakapas bull General Jackson, doubled up the bear like an old shoe at the first charge, and made him bellow for help in a few seconds. I regret to say, that on that occasion my sympathies were so strongly with the bear at the start, that I lost all the money that my boyish industry had gathered together in several months. After the lapse of many years I got even at Vera Cruz.
A distinguished Mexican gentleman—whose name I suppress for various reasons—told us, one day on the trip from Guanajuato to Mexico, of his experience in bull-fighting in one of the larger cities of the Republic. It is the custom in bull-fighting countries, for the young bloods of the first families, who wish to distinguish themselves, to appear in the Plaza de Toros as amateurs, and fight the bull on important occasions. When Maximilian arrived in Mexico, a special gran funcion was gotten up for his benefit, and the young men of some of the oldest and most aristocratic of the Mocho families of the capital, appeared in the ring as picadors and matadors, the royal couple presiding at the brutal entertainment and delivering the prizes to the heroes of the conflict. On such occasions the amateur is usually allowed a companion, who is posted in the ways of the ring and is called a "padrino." The padrino directs the amateur how to carry on the fight, and, in fact, acts as his chaperon and next friend, throughout. Our acquaintance was crowded into the fight against his will; but I will let him tell it himself as he told it to us:
"I said, 'No, no, the bull has done me no insult; why should I fight with him? But they all said, 'you are a brave young man, and want to make your way in the world, and be popular with the ladies; it is better that you begin now that you have so good time, and fight the bull.' So I let them put my name on the bills. Well, I liked this matter not very much at all, but I could not get out of it, and so they kept me in. When the day comes, I went in with my padrino, and said to myself when I sees the bull, 'I will keep over on the other side and let the others do the fight.' But after a time the audience began to get excited, and to encourage me on, they commenced to throw oranges and such trifles at me pretty lively. Then my padrino comes up to me and he says:
'Look you; this will not do very well at all! If you do not fight the bull there will be a row, and it is better that you do not disgrace yourself!'
"So I told him, I will fight the bull sooner as to dodge my head all the times from the oranges and bananas which the audience throws at me. He looked at my saddle and said:
'The cinch is loose, and it is better that you get off and let me tighten it before you go into the fight.'
“So I got off and stood by the side of my horse looking at him to cinch him tighter. This time I was stooping over, and saw not the bull, which I was thinking was on the other side of the ring. As I so stood I feel myself lifted up into the air, and when I came down the bull was on my top, tramping me, and using his horns on me, so that when they got him away I could not stand, and was confined to my bed for six weeks.
"Then they told me, when I was well again, that the judges had awarded me the highest prize, because I had expose myself so bravely to the bull, and not try for to get out of the way when he come for me.
"I said, that is all very well; I was always a brave man and care not much for the bull." Then they said:
'But the judges let that bull out alive, and decided that when you should recover and the bull should recover, you should fight it over once more again together. You are well and the bull is very well indeed.'
"I said, no, I have no desire to hurt the bull. He was receive much aggravation, and I forgive him for what he did do to me!"
"They said that such language would not do for the judges, and if I did not like to fight the bull again I was disgrace for life, and it was better I should leave the city that evening. Now there was a young lady there which I thought of very much, and I concluded it was better to fight the bull than to lose the lady.
"When we went into the ring again, I see the bull looking very mad and ugly, and I concluded I would go over on the other side and wait a little while; probably he might get better-natured or afraid to come at me. But pretty soon, the people they commenced to encourage me with fruit and such things as I don't eat, and cry out to me to go in and fight the bull at once, or come out of the ring. So I told my padrino I would fight him a little but do not feel very well.
"He said: "It is better you should throw the bandarillas into the bull's neck. I will attract the attention of the bull, and when you are ready to throw, you call out and I will jump aside."
"I said I would do so, and my padrino went up to the bull, and begun to dance around before his nose. Then I ran up to throw the bandarillas, but I was so excited that I have forgotten to call out to him to get out of the way, and, when I let them go they strike him in the back instead of the bull. Then my padrino he bellow louder as ever the bull should do, and begin to dance like a tarantula and catch at the bandarillas. At last he got hold of them and tore the barbs out of his flesh. Then he runs over to me and pulls me down, and begin to beat me over the head and the back with the flat side of his sword, and his foot and he says:
"Look here you now! It is better before we go any further, that one thing shall be understood immediate. Are you the padrino of me, or the padrino of the bull?"
"He was so very angry that I could not say an explanation, and so I told him I would- go home, for I like not the sport, and it might make us bad friends or something if we kept on. Some of the oranges and apples and things which they throwed at me as I went out were very solid, and I left the town that night. Since then I have had no quarrel with the bulls, and I like not to have any more."
While waiting at Vera Cruz for the arrival of Mr. Seward from Orizaba, and the departure of the good steamer Cleopatra which was to bear us away, at last, from the shores of Mexico, I sought for and obtained, through the kindness of my Mexican and American friends, a permit to visit, and inspect in all its details, the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa.
Accompanied by two ladies, Mr. Brennan, and some military friends, we embarked in a Custom-House boat, and were rowed over to the famous old fortress, on a warm bright morning, when the sea was calm, and the water so clear that we could see every object in it down to the bottom. The waters of this coast fairly swarm with sharks of the most savage description, and we saw several of the grey monsters disporting themselves near the surface and keeping a weather-eye open for a chance to take somebody in, as we rowed along.
The Spaniards lavished millions on millions upon the construction of this fortress, which was intended to serve as a complete protection to Vera Cruz and the shipping which might gather here, from the attacks of the dreaded English buccaneers who were desolating the whole Spanish Main, and practicing cruelties on their luckless captives as atrocious as those which the Spaniards had inflicted upon the unfortunate natives of tropical America. Enormous rings of pure copper were built into the solid wall, along the whole western front of the castle next the city, for the ships to fasten to, under the protection of the guns of the fortress. Those rings are still there, but now amount to but so many tons of old copper, as the water has shoaled to such an extent as to render it impossible for any vessel above the grade of a yawl-boat to lie there, if there was any longer a necessity for their doing so. The steamers now anchor inside the reef, on the North of the Castle, and sail-vessels to the South of it. The American steamer Cleopatra, being of comparatively light draft, and not large and unwieldy, runs in between the castle and mole, and was then lying at anchor there.
An immense coral reef extends out to the north-west from the castle for several miles, and from this most of the material for building the fortress was taken. The size of this coral formation is astonishing. Many of the specimens are three feet in thickness—like the trunks of great trees, in fact. As we neared the castle we could see that a section of the entire wall some thirty feet long, the same in height, and twelve or fifteen feet in thickness, being undermined, had broken out, and now leans over towards the city, leaving a great gap, which no attempt has been made to fill. The boat-landing is in the interior of the castle, a crooked passage, evidently excavated in the coral for that purpose, leading up to that point. This passage was formerly flanked by substantial walls, which are now in ruins.
No description of the castle would give any clear idea of its character, without a ground plan or diagram to illustrate it. The immensely thick walls, all the way around, are backed by a range of barracks, dungeons, and offices, whose roof of solid stone, flat, thick, and paved on the top with cement, would support batteries of almost any weight. All the guns in the fortress were originally mounted en barbette, upon this roof. There is nothing like a casemate with protection for the gunners about the castle. The guns—mostly of iron, and ranging from thirty-two to sixty-four pounders, made in 1844-5—are all in bad condition, the carriages nearly valueless from decay, and many dismounted and lying useless on the roof. Inside there are court-yards, plazas or parade-grounds of sufficient extent for a large force, and quarters for a thousand men or more.
The Spaniards, in constructing this fortress, made all provision for defending it to the last extremity against assault. The moat passed and the outer wall scaled, the assailants would find the garrison retreating into several minor castles, each with its own moat and draw-bridge, and, in those days, "a hard nut to crack," in every sense of the expression. The moat is now so filled with sand and debris as to be fordable even at high-tide, and the old draw-bridges being no longer of any use, have been replaced by bridges which are fixed in their places and answer better the purposes of communication between the different sections of the castle. I should say at a rough guess, that the whole fortification covers eight to ten acres.
Outside the old main wall, on the eastern front and northern end, there is now an earth-work of sufficient height to screen the gunners, and mounted with about twenty pretty heavy guns. This battery if put in order, might be capable of doing some serious damage to a hostile fleet; but the value set upon it by the French may be inferred from the fact that they dumped an enormous pile of coal—some thousands of tons—right into it, covering several of the guns on the north end to a depth of many feet, and the coal lies there yet, just as they left it in the haste of their departure. I suppose that I break no law of hospitality in saying what everybody who has visited the castle within the last ten years knows, that, practically, this old fortress, once one of the strongest and most formidable in the world, is to day utterly worthless for defence against a hostile fleet of any strength. So well aware are the military men and Government of Mexico of this fact, that no attempt is now made to improve it, or even keep it in repair; and it is now considered merely as a fortified prison, rather than as a real castle of defense against invaders. A vigorous bombardment of a few hours by heavy artillery would reduce it to a pile of ruins, but there is no likelihood of any necessity for even that, as the experience of Gen. Scott and other commanders, shows that the city can be taken with little trouble by an attack from the land side, and the castle is then useless to either party.
Leaving our boat at the landing, we passed into the main square or parade-ground, and from thence to the Salle des Armas, where we were received most courteously by the commandant Colonel Carbo, Captain Fortunato Mendez the second in command, and their subordinates. Even at this time—the early part of January—the heat of the sun—reflected back from the cement pavement and the white walls surrounding—was oppressive in the plaza as we passed through it; what it must be in June, July, or August, I have no wish to know from experience. It must be perfectly fearful.
The commandant was a young man of slight statue, but said to be a good officer and a man of great bravery and determination of character. From his quarters we went through the interior of the castle. The garrison consisted of two hundred men, and within the gloomy dungeons of this fearful place there were eighty prisoners, civil and military, several of whom are under sentence of imprisonment for life.
These dungeons were constructed by the Spaniards, and all smell of the rack, torture, and inquisition. My God! such a place to immure a human being in! It makes one shudder to think of it, after looking at those dark, noisome caverns; what must it be to enter there with the word "perpetua" entered on the books against one's name! Death at once, would be a mercy beside it.
The number of these low, vaulted cells, connecting one with another, is hardly less than sixty to eighty, all told, and the best of them is but a little, less horrible than the worst. The roof is low, and arched in each, the walls, roof and floor of one piece, as it were, and in most of them the only ventilation is through a small opening in the top, so slight as to admit of the entrance of but a mere glimmer of light at midday. A few have small, narrow, port-holes, or slits, through the outer walls looking seaward, but they are so cunningly contrived, being bent or curved as they pass through the thick stone-work, that the poor wretches inside can never see through them and get even a glimpse of a sail or the sea outside.
What fearful tales of hopeless misery, despair, and lingering but welcome death, could those damp, dripping walls tell if they had tongues. The damp sea-air collects in the the roofs of all of them, and falls, year after year, with a steady, unceasing drip, drip, drip, to the paved floor. This water is charged heavily with lime, and stalactites, three and four feet in length, hang from the ceiling, like slender icicles, by thousands. On the cold stone floor the dropping water forms large buttons of fine lime deposits, which give it the appearance at a casual glance, of having been laid in fancy mosaic. Remember that Vera Cruz is worse cursed with yellow fever, or vomito and malarious diseases of all kinds, than any other place on earth, that the climate is fearfully hot and damp, that the harbor outside the castle swarms with sharks which make the attempt to swim from thence to the shore certain death, in case a prisoner should by any chance escape from his cell, and you can form some idea of what must be the condition, mental and physical, of the prisoners of the castle of San Juan de Ulloa. I was not surprised when I saw by the light of the flashing torches of our guides, high up on the ceiling of one of these dens of horrors, rudely scrawled with charcoal, evidently in the darkness and through the sense of feeling alone, by some prisoner mounted on the shoulders of his companions, the familiar quotation from Dante:
"Who enters here leaves hope behind."
The inscription is in Spanish and without date, but in an adjoining room I saw the lion of Spain drawn in the same manner on the wall, with the date beneath, 1835, and from comparison judged the first to be the oldest.
The cells or dungeons occupied by the prisoners at the present time, are the most comfortable—or rather the least noisome and horrible—of any in the fortress; but they are fearful, nevertheless. There was a report in the city that two prisoners had been shot in the castle just before our visit, but the commandant assured us that such was not the case, as no executions had taken place there for some months. I saw nothing to indicate that the prisoners were treated with any uncalled for severity or cruelty by those in command there now; and, on the contrary, I believe that all that the arrangement of the place will admit of, is done to mitigate the horrors of their situation. I was told that at certain hours, those not guilty of attempting to break their parole, are allowed to promenade on the roof for a specified time daily, and such other indulgences as are possible are granted them.
Among the prisoners is General Castillo, who was second in command under Miramon in the expedition sent out from Queretaro by Maximilian to capture President Juarez, at Zacatecas. This expedition came very near accomplishing its object, but the fortunate intervention of a few American sharp-shooters, who held the imperialist advance force in check until Escobedo arrived and routed them, saved the President, and turned the tide of war back towards Queretaro, where Miramon arrived with but a handful of men left, out of all the splendid force with which he had started out in the full flush of hope and confidence of victory.
Castillo gave the Republic much trouble, and when, at last captured and sentenced to ten years banishment to Yucatan, as an alternative for death, foolishly and wickedly broke his parole, and returned to Mexico a month afterwards, only to be re-captured and sent to serve out his ten years in San Juan de Ulloa. He had been there a year, and was fast succumbing to the deadly unhealthiness of the place and the hopelessness of his position.
While in the City of Mexico, I was approached by parties who desired me to say a word in his behalf to members of the Government, and to carry him a message when I visited San Juan de Ulloa; but as I was situated, I felt that it would be wholly out of place for me to do so, and would have nothing to do with it. I learned after our visit, however, that one of my companions, a young, kind-hearted and sympathetic girl, had promised the General's wife, that if she had an opportunity she would give him the message of love and hope—love warm and true indeed, but hope, I fear, only delusive and empty—from her.
While we were in the castle the young lady went past his window near enough to speak to him. He was standing by the bars, and looking out, but the moment he saw us he turned away and concealed himself from our sight. I caught but a momentary glimpse of his blanched and haggard face, but that was quite enough. When I learned all the facts I was quite glad that the message was not delivered, under the circumstances, but I could not fail to honor the young girl for her sympathy and kindness of heart, however much it might have been impolitic and misdirected.
From the inner castle, we walked out upon the beach outside the eastern wall, and there in a small patch of cane-brake, saw the monument erected in memory of "the French who fell in the expedition to Mexico, in 1838-9." The monument is still perfect, but I saw several skulls and other human bones scattered all around it, and presume that the invaders have not been permitted to rest in peace, even in the silence of their lonely graves on the shore of the land they came to conquer.
The French, in the invasion which culminated in the "Empire," brought a large number of small steam launches of iron, for use in the harbor of Vera Cruz and vicinity. These are lying wrecked, with their bottoms stove in and machinery removed or ruined, and rapidly wasting away, all around the eastern side of the castle. They have been used in some places to make a breakwater, with the reef in which the castle is built, and are all now utterly worthless save for old iron; they will soon be worthless even for that purpose. Many old Spanish guns of the finest metal, thrown into the sea years ago, are still lying in the shallow water around the castle, and might be converted into ploughshares and pruning-hooks to the benefit of the country, but probably never will be.
I have spoken more freely of the castle of San Juan de Ulloa, and what I saw there, from the fact that I visited it independent of Mr. Seward, who did not go over until some days later; but it is not a pleasant subject to me under any circumstances. I am heartily glad that I went there, and thankful for the attention and courtesy which enabled me to inspect it throughout, but I am glad that I shall not look upon it, nor on its like, again.
In every life there is a question unanswered, a doubt unsolved, a mystery unexplained, which becomes more and more a subject of irritation and annoyance as age progresses. A positive insult may be forgiven, and time cicatrizes the wound inflicted by the fang of slander, or the physical assassin's weapon. But the doubt is worse than the reality.
What old bachelor, tottering down the hill of life alone, would not feel a sense of inexpressible relief, could he but know, to a certainty, that Jane Smith, on whom he was so spooney at twenty-one, would have refused him, out and out, had he dared to ask her the momentous question? He did not ask the question, and to day is in doubt whether, after all, she might not have said yes, instead of no, and so changed the whole tenor of his life and hers. It is that which worries him worst of all, and which will kill him in the end.
Now-shall I confess it?—a double doubt, a duplicate question, a Siamese-twin mystery—as it were,—will haunt me like a double-team of nightmares, while memory lives within me. As I leave the shores of Mexico, I carry away with me many a pleasant recollection on which I shall dwell with satisfaction in after years; but there is a lurking bitter in my cup of bliss; a sharp set thorn—as it were,—close under the rose of my happiness. Here is where my doubts come in.
As we journeyed one day through the mountains of Jalisco, we saw a son of the soil,—in scanty raiment clad—with unkempt hair and dilapidated sombrero—setting off a face which still bore the stamp of the grand pride of the haughty race of conquering Castile,
—earnestly engaged in the humble occupation of driving a pig to market. He had lassoed the pig by the hind leg, and was endeavoring to make him keep the track by jerking the rieta with his left hand, while he encouraged him to advance by the vigorous application of a cornstalk to his hinder parts with his right. The pig thus urged, persisted in traveling, mainly with the two legs on one side, which naturally caused him to move in a circle, instead of advancing in a direct line. As the circle grew neither larger, nor smaller as the day wore on, it was evident that neither man nor beast got nearer home, or nearer market. It never appeared to occur to the man that if he would change the rieta and the cornstalk from hand to hand occasionally, the pig might be induced to change his tactics also, and adopt the line of practical advance and progress, in place of the line of beauty, which leads us, practically, nowhere, after all. The chances are that hunger, or the desire for "sleep, tired nature's sweet restorer" etc., in the fullness of time induced a change of tactics on the part of one or the other; but which? Did the endurance of the man equal his attachment to "el cosas del pais" and prove too much for the pig? or did the pig's proverbial obstinacy wear out the man? or did each hold his own, and are they both destined to walk around and around on that lonely hillside as we left them, through the endless cycles of eternity? I ought to have staid and seen it out; but an aching void within me urged me on, and I did not; I wish I had let it ache!
The other doubt is sadder, and more painful still. As we went down by rail from Paso del Macho to Vera Cruz, we looked from the window of what had been Maximilian's imperial car, upon a scene by the roadside which struck me nearer to the heart, and filled my soul with sadness and doubt more utterly unfathomable.
A poor, old steed—who may have borne Santa Anna and his fortunes in his day, or better served the world by drawing a dump-cart for a grading party on the railroad track—had been turned out to die. The zapilotes —which are among the institutions of the country,—watching from afar saw death's signal in his glazing eye, and wheeling down from their airy heights, came trooping from all directions to the coming feast.
THE HORSE AND THE ZAPILOTES
As each detachment arrived they settled on the ground in successive circles around the horse, gave one searching look to make sure that they had made no mistake as to the ultimate result, then drew in their heads, humped their shoulders, and went to sleep, satisfied that in Heaven's own time, grim death would do his perfect work, when they would pick the bones of the animal before them as clean as a squirrel picks the kernel out of a nut. They could have finished him there and then with a little effort; but that politeness which characterizes every inhabitant of tropical America, forbade such unseemly haste, and why work for what would come without labor if they but waited?
So murmuring "Manana" "poco tiempo" and "Salle luego" as is the custom of the country, they dropped off, one by one, to sleep and pleasant dreams. The moribund knew as well as we did what they came for, and read his fate in their skinny, expressionless faces, but he was game to the last, and no rule of politeness bade him to hurry up with his dying; so he took his time for it, and showed them, unmistakably, by his looks that he regarded their presence as—to some extent—ill-timed and indelicate, and partaking of the character of undue familiarity.
They were engaged in this nice little game of "freeze out," as we left the station and passed out of sight. But who won? Did the zapilotes and death beat the horse at last? or did he starve them all while they waited? or are they still waiting and watching, he living and hoping, and the game bound to go on to the end of time? Look upon this picture, and then on that, and tell me what are the sufferings of common humanity to mine!
Reader: I have told you the secret of my blighted life. You will now know why my forehead is prematurely wrinkled, my hair turned grey before my time, and a tendency to grow hump-shouldered is developing in my frame, when you meet me on Broadway or Montgomery street. A blighted being, harassed with doubts which may never be solved, I go forth from the land where Cortez fought and conquered, and Montezuma died.
Let the riddle of the Sphynx go unread, the story of the Lost Tribes untold, the problem of the squaring of the circle unsolved; they are but as vanity and vexation of spirit to me; but would you save my grey hairs from going down in sorrow to the grave, skip all the rest, and come down to the ranchero and the pig, the horse and the zapilotes,—tell me who whipped, and oh, tell me quickly!