Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 12

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recalled the dead woman. The coffin, etc., were imported from Paris, and altogether the mass cost $30,000. That's dying in high style.

Mexicans who have been to the States much prefer the American style of calling on ladies, but it is not likely it will ever be the custom—for American residents here have adopted the Mexican style for their daughters, and most ridiculous and affected does it appear. American boys, however, have no time to waste on such manners, so they do their love-making by letters and go back to the States for their brides, leaving the American mammas to search among the Mexicans for ones to play the "bear."

 

 

CHAPTER XII.

 

JOAQUIN MILLER AND COFFIN STREET

 

Dear old Mexico shows her slippered foot, for summer is here. The fruit-trees are in blossom, the roses in bloom, the birds are plenty and everybody is wearing the widest sombrero. From 10 o'clock until 2 the sun is intensely hot, but all one has to do is to slip into the shade and the air is as cool as an unpaid boarding-house-keeper and fresh as a "greengo" on his first visit to the city. At night blankets are comfortable. Tourists are still flocking to Mexico, many with business intentions, and the United States at present is as well represented as any other foreign country. Yankees are looked on favorably by some of the better and more educated class of Mexicans, but others still retain their old prejudices. However, one can hardly blame them, for, barring a few, the American colony is composed of what is not considered the better class of people at home. They have come down here, got positions away above their standing, and consequently feel their importance; they are more than offensive, they are insulting in their actions and language toward the natives, and endeavor to run things. The natives offer no objections to others coming here and making fortunes in their land, but they have lived their own free and easy life and they do not propose to change it, any more than we would change if a small body of Mexicans would settle in our country; and we would quickly annihilate them if they would offer us the indignities the Americans subject them to here. I dread the return and reports of such people in the States, for although there are good and bad here, the Mexicans have never been represented correctly. Before leaving home I was repeatedly advised that a woman was not safe on the streets of Mexico; that thieves and murderers awaited one at every corner, and all the horrors that could be invented were poured into my timid ear. There are murders committed here, but not half so frequently as in any American city. Some stealing is done, but it is petty work; there are no wholesale robberies like those so often perpetrated at home. The people are courteous, but of course their courtesy differs from ours, and the women—I am sorry to say it—are safer here than on our streets, where it is supposed everybody has the advantage of education and civilization. If one goes near the habitation of the poor in the suburbs, they come out and greet you like a long absent friend. They extend invitations to make their abode your home, and offer the best they own. Those in the city, while always polite and kind, have grown more worldly wise and careful.

The people who give the natives the worst name are those who treat them the meanest. I have heard men who received some kindness address the donor as thief, scoundrel, and many times worse. I have heard American women address their faithful servants as beasts and fools. One woman, who has a man-nurse so faithful that he would sacrifice his life any moment for his little charge, addressed him in my presence as: "You dirty brute, where did you stay so long?" They are very quick to appreciate a kindness and are sensitive to an insult.

Speaking of honesty they say the aquadores, or water-carriers, are the most honest fellows in the city. They have a company, and if any one is even suspected of stealing he is prohibited from selling any more water. At intervals all over the city are large basins and fountains where they get their water. For four jars, two journeys, as they carry two jars at once, they receive six and a quarter cents, or one real; twelve and a half cents if they carry it up-stairs. Their dress is very different from others. They wear pantaloons and shirt like an American and a large leather smock, which not only saves them from being wet but prevents the jars from bruising the flesh. They all wear caps, and the leather band of the jars is as often suspended from the head as from the shoulders.

Americans who come to Mexico to reside should take out identification papers the first thing. It costs but little and saves often a lot of trouble. People when arrested have little chance to do much even if they be innocent; they are thrown into prison and allowed to remain there, without a trial, for often a year, and it is said a Mexican prison gains nothing in comparison with Libby prison of war fame. But if a man has his identification papers he can present them and command an immediate trial, and it is given. There is an American lying in prison here for shooting a Mexican woman; the woman was only shot through the arm, and yet the man has been in jail, without even a change of clothing, for over a year. He is in a deplorable state, without much hope of it being bettered. The American Consul seems to have a disposition to help his countryman. He has been here but a month, and his first work deserves praise. A man by the name of John Rivers, or Rodgers, shot a fellow in self-defense.

It was a clear case, but the main witnesses had no desire to lay in jail, as the law requires, until the American's trial came up, so they fled the country. The American could speak no Spanish. His trial was poorly conducted, and he was sentenced to be executed at Zocatagus, up the Central road. Consul Porch heard of the case. He studied it out, found the man was not given a fair trial, and hastened off, reaching the scene of execution but a short time before the hour appointed, but in time at least to postpone the tragedy. There is one great disadvantage Americans suffer from, and that is the government sending out ministers and consuls who have no knowledge of the language in the country to which they go. It would be a mark of intelligence if they would make a law, like that in some countries, providing that no man could represent America unless he had a complete knowledge of the foreign tongue with which he would have to deal. In my wanderings around the city I found a street on which there are no business houses or even pulque shops nothing but coffin manufacturers. From one end of the street to the other you see in every door men and boys making and painting all kinds and sizes of coffins. The dwelling houses are old and dilapidated, and the street narrow and dingy. Here the men work day after day, and never whistle, talk, or sing, as they go at their hewing, painting and glueing, with long faces, as if they were driving nails into their own coffins.

I soon related my discovery to Joaquin Miller, and he went along to see it. Then he said, “Little Nell, you are a second Columbus. You have discovered a street that has no like in the world, and I have been over the world twice. It’s quite fine, isn't it?" and he gave a hearty laugh. Of course, there may be other streets somewhere just the same. We could find no name for our new treasure, so we simply dubbed it "Coffin Street." I am sorry I have no picture of it to send you, so you could see the coffins piled up to the ceiling; a little table in the center where the workman puts on the finishing touches, after which they are placed in rows against the building, by the sad-visaged and silent workers, to wait a purchaser.

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Near this somber thoroughfare is another street where every other door is a shoe shop, the one between being a drinking-house. Many of the shoemakers have their shops on the pavement, with a straw mat fastened on a pole to keep off the sun. Here he sits making new shoes and mending old ones until the sun goes down, when he lowers the pole, and taking off the straw mat, furnishes a bed for himself in some corner during the night.

Wealthy Americans who have a desire to invest in land should come to Mexico. There is surely no other place in the world where one could get so much out of a piece of property. One end of a field can be tilled while the other is being harvested, and one can have as many crops a year as he has energy and time to plant. There is no doubt that anything can be cultivated here. Of course, peaches and apples are not plenty, because they only grow wild. Why, even a nurseryman would fail to recognize them in the small, scraggy, untrimmed bushes. The native fruits are fine, from the reason that they need no cultivating or trimming. If they did, Mexico would have a famine in the fruit line.

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Land in Mexico is very cheap, and the Government collects a tax only on what is cultivated. One sensible man, by the name of Hale, came here from San Francisco a few weeks ago to buy property. A minister of the Gospel, a particular friend of Hale's, is authority for it that Senor Hale bought from the Government sixty-five thousand square miles—larger than the whole of England, I believe—for $1,000,000.

I don't think one would ever tire of the gayly-colored pictures Mexico is ever presenting. Though in Mexico two months, I can find something new every time I glance at the queer people. This little basket vender is but one of thousands, but we find he is the first one to wear his white shirt without tying the two sides together in a knot in front. He must surely have forgotten that part of his toilet, as it is the universal style and custom among them all. Very few Mexicans, even among the better class, wear suspenders. They wrap themselves about the waist with a bright-colored scarf, with fringed ends, and this constitutes suspenders. Many of the better class wear embroidered and ruffled shirt fronts.

The fruit venders have beautiful voices, and sing out their wares in such a charming manner that one is sorry when they disappear around the corner. They are sometimes quite picturesque with the fruit and vegetables tied up in their rebozo and baskets in their hands. Why the women have all their skirts plain behind and pleated in front I cannot say, but such is invariably the case. The men have horrible voices when they are out selling. There never was anything to equal them. I wonder if our florists would not like to buy orchids from the man who passess our door every morning with about a hundred of them strung to a pole which is suspended from his shoulder, only two reals (twenty- five cents) for exquisite plants, with the rare ones but little higher.

Mr. A. Sborigi, a Pittsburger, was in Mexico on a visit. When he landed in Vera Cruz he went into the country to see the place. Hearing music in a small cabin he drew nearer and recognized familiar tunes. "Wait till the clouds roll by," and Fritz's lullaby. A man came out and invited him in, and after a short time he said he was a colored man, that his name was Jones, and he came from Pittsburg, Pa. He is married to an Indian woman and has about twenty children, ranging all sizes. Mr. Jones is king of the villa. In one room he has a floor, a thing not possessed by any other inhabitant there, and his cabin is superior to all others. He is very proud of his wife and children, and has not the least desire to return to the Smoky City. He speaks Spanish, French, and English fluently.

When Mr. Sborigi was asked for his ticket on the Vera Cruz line, he jokingly handed the conductor an envelope that he had put in his pocket at New Orleans. On it was printed in English, "Tickets to all points of the world." The conductor took the envelope, looked at it, punched it and returned it to the donor. Quite amused, Mr. Sborigi tried it on others, and he not only traveled the entire distance to Mexico, but traveled on at least

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