Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 20
one old woman and ourselves, and a game rooster, who crowed at every village, and was treated with as much consideration as a babe would have been. At the station, just before we started, an old man who had heard us speaking English, came up and spoke to us. He was an American, but having lived in this town for forty years had forgotten his mother tongue. His English was about as good as the newsboy's who took me to his hotel in Vera Cruz. The old woman was going about one hundred and twenty-five miles to see her married daughter, and she was bare-headed. This woman did not know there was such a thing as the United States, could not imagine what New York meant, and had never heard of George Washington, not to mention the little hatchet and the democratic cry of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." She made the day's trip alternately smoking a cigarette and reading her prayer-book. A short way out on the road the driver got off and picked up a little gray bird by the roadside. On examination I found its side was terribly lacerated by a shot, but I bound it up with my silk handkerchief and decided to carry it to Vera Cruz, where I would try my hand at surgery. The day passed similar to the former one, everybody going to sleep after dinner; but the beauty of the country, and the novelty of a day in a street car, robbed it of all disagreeable features, and as we neared Vera Cruz I not only noted this the spiciest experience of my life, but said I would not exchange it for any other in the Republic of Mexico.
WHERE MAXIMILIAN'S AMERICAN COLONY LIVED.
On opening my door one morning to leave for the railway station a man, who had evidently been waiting by the side of the entrance, sprung forward and seized my baggage. My first impression was that he was a robber; but I retained my screams for another occasion and decided it was a mozo who wanted to help me to the train. Remembering former experience, and wishing to profit thereby, I rushed after and caught him just at the head of the stairway. Clutching his blouse with a death grip, I yelled, "Cuanto?" "Un peso," he answered. Well, as I was a healthy American girl, and as strong as one can be after several months' training on beans and cayenne pepper, I had no intention of giving a great, big, brown fellow $1 for carrying a five-pound sachel half a square. I said "no" in a pretty forcible manner, and gave weight and meaning to my monosyllable by jerking the sachel away. He looked at me in amazement, and as he saw I was not going to be cheated he said fifty cents. I said nothing, and, picking up the sachel, trudged downstairs. At the door he once more approached me and asked how much I would give. "Un medio" (six and a quarter cents), I replied. "Bueno," he said, and took it at the price, while I congratulated myself on saving ninety-three and three-quarter cents.
The car was full of people who, we found out afterward, composed a Spanish opera troupe. Although they were not many they filled the car, and in order to get a seat we had to put down shawls, beer and wine-bottles, band-boxes, lunch-baskets, a pet dog, a green parrot, and numerous small things. Every woman had at least three children, which were cared for by as many nurses. Oh, what a howling, dirty, lazy mob!
The pretty little town of Cordoba lies about two miles from the station, and street cars, hauled by four mules, await each train and carry the passengers to the village—first-class, twelve and a half cents; the cars wind through little streets shaded on either side by beautiful foliage, which, every here and there, gives the tourist tantalizing glimpses of the exquisite tropical gardens within; the street car passes the only hotel in the town—the Diligencia.
It is a low, one-story structure, and looks more like a cattle-yard than a habitation for human beings; the overhanging roof droops toward the pavement, and is within a few feet of the ground. Inside one sees a little porch on one side, which, covered with many trailing, curling vines, serves for the dining-room. Opposite is an office and bedroom combined, where, at the desk, sits a grizzly-haired man writing, ever writing, from morning until night's shade hides the tracing from his aged eyes.
He greets one with a weary, pathetic, smile, and a faraway look in his saddened eyes, as though wondering what has become of all the guests who used to trip in gayly, with black eyes and white teeth sparkling in evident pleasure at reaching his hospitable board, with whom he grasped hand, and in true Mexican style said, "My house is yours," and that friend responded, "Your humble servant." Poor old landlord, he has lived too long! The advent of civilization has rushed in upon his friends and crushed out his trade. The noisy old diligencia has long ceased to rattle except in his memory, and the modern street-car stops at his door once in many months to leave him a white-faced, curious stranger, whom he greets with that strange smile and then returns to his writing, waiting for that which is nevermore.
A man and woman came in on the same train, and the latter offered her services to us, being able to speak the two languages. When we entered, the chambermaid took my troublesome baggage and led us back to where the rooms formed a circle around the court. In the center stood a large basin where several old horses and mules—which looked like old "Rip" after his long sleep—were lazily drinking. They paused long enough to survey the unusual arrival. When we entered our room the chambermaid—who is always of the male gender in Mexico—set down my baggage and demanded fifty cents. I, not feeling disposed to throw money away, decided not to pay one cent. Accordingly, I laid aside my few words ofof Spanish and spoke to him in English. "What do you want? I don't understand," etc. At last he took two quarters from his pockets and held them before me on his open palm. I calmly reached out, and, taking them, was going to transfer them to my pocket when he, in great alarm, yelled: "No, no!" and grabbing them, tied them up in the corner of his handkerchief, with great haste and evident pleasure. It had the effect of curing him, for he immediately shook hands and left without demanding more.
Cordoba, or Cordora, was established April 26, 1617, with 17 inhabitants. It was during the time of the Viceroy Diego Fernandez de Cordoba, Marquis of Guadalcazar, and was named for him. King Philip III. of Spain issued the charter on November 29 of the same year. The population to-day, composed of Mexicans, 2 Germans and 1 American, is 44,000. It is built compactly. The town is clean and healthful. Nearly all the streets are paved but everything was a quiet, Sunday-afternoon appearance. There are no public works, but the surrounding plantations, which mark it as one of the prettiest places in Mexico, furnish work for the populace. The Indians are cleaner and better looking than those around the City of Mexico, and children are not so plentiful. But one pulque shop is running, consequently there are less drunken people than elsewhere, yet the jail is full of prisoners. On Sunday people are permitted to visit their friends in jail. They cannot go in, but they can go as far as the bars and look through. The prisoners are herded like so many cattle. Their friends carry them food. They push a small basket through the bars, and the intervening officer puts it through another set of bars into the hands of the fortunate receiver. Sometimes the prisoners get a few pence and are enabled to buy what they want from the venders who come there to sell. Indeed, it is ofttimes difficult to say which mob looks the worse, the one on the inside or the visitors.
The market at present is situated on the ground around the plaza, but some well-disposed Spanish gentleman is building what will be one of the handsomest market houses in Mexico. It is situated on the edge of town, and the surroundings are most pleasing. On one side is the ruins of an old convent, famous for the goodness of the sisters, their exquisite needlework, their intelligence and beauty. But time has laid his hand heavily on the structure, and it has fallen into decay. At the back stands a high marble shaft, broken at the top, and dotted with green cacti which have sprung forth from the little crevices. It has the appearance of very old age, but was erected in honor of those who fell in the fight for liberty. One of the finest gardens in Mexico bounds the other side. It is the property of the gentleman who gave the ground and is building the market house, which alone will cost 150,000. It is a marvel of beautiful walks and cunning retreats. It seems absurd that such a spot, so fitted for love-making, should be placed in a country where they don't know how to make use of it. In the center stands a Swiss cottage built of cane, with a stained-glass window.
A stairway, also of cane, leads to the second story, and balconies surrounding the colored windows give one a lovely view of the entire valley and surrounding hills. I wish it were in my power to give some idea of the beautiful flowers which are forever opening up their pretty perfumed faces in this entrancing spot; there are thousands of roses, of all colors and shades, from the size of a gold dollar to that of the fashionable female's hat. One spot shows tiny flowers fit for the fairies, of wonderful shade and mold; next would be a large, healthy, rugged tree, which bore flowers as delicate and dainty as any plant in existence. It reminded one of a strong father with his tiny babe in his protecting arms; the handsome avenues are perfect bowers of beauty; the little birds in the foliage twitter softly but incessantly. It is all life, but in a subdued, gentle monotone, soft as the last lullaby over the little child who has closed its eyes and, with a smile, joined that heavenly band to which it rightly belongs.
This is the only place in Mexico where we found a man who knew enough to have the flowers seperated by a green lawn. It is the universal rule here to grow anything but grass, which is considered an unsightly weed. A Spanish gentleman once took me to see the grounds surrounding a Mexican mansion. The trees, flowers, and shrubs, as well as the statuary and fountains, could not be excelled, but the ground was bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard, and swept as clean as a dancing floor. "This place cost more than five million dollars, and thousands more yearly," explained the gentleman. "You have nothing in the States to compare with it."
Cordoba supports three public schools and male and female academies, one theater and about thirty churches. The finest church, located next to the plaza, cost thousands of dollars. It has a marble floor and twenty altars, dressed in the finest lace, with silver and gold ornaments. The frescoing displays exquisite workmanship. The images are wax-clad, and quaint.
The plantations surrounding Cordoba grow oranges, pine apples, coffee, bananas, tobacco, rice, cocoanuts and peanuts. Coffee was introduced into the West Indies in 1714, and here in 1800. It grows best in a temperate zone, and Vera Cruz raises more than any other state in Mexico. Most every variety requires protection from the sun, and will die if set out alone, so those having large groves plant coffee in them. Others make double use of their fertile land by planting groves of cocoa palms with the alternate rows of coffee trees. The leaf and bark of the coffee tree resemble that of a black cherry. The blossom is white and wax-like, with a faint perfume, and the berries grow on a branch like gooseberries. A tree will bear three years after planting the seed, and on one branch will have ripe and green coffee and blossoms all at the same time. When ripe it is gathered and laid on the ground to dry, being stirred every morning to dry it equally. This whips the hull off, and it is taken to the village, where it sells for four cents a pound. Each hull holds two grains. One tree will live and-bear, with little or no cultivation, for eighty years. Bananas are four before they bear. The finer banana is never seen in the States, as it will not bear shipping. The kind shipped there the people here consider unfit to eat unless cooked, and they prepare some very dainty dishes from them. There are more than fifty different varieties, from three inches in length to three-quarters of a yard. The small ones are the best. The leaves are used by merchants for wrapping-paper, and by the Indians for thousands of different things.
Tobacco now grows in about half the states of the republic, and thrives up to an elevation of six thousand feet. Formerly its cultivation was restricted to Orizaba and Cordoba, and a leaf of it found growing elsewhere, either accidentally or for private consumption, was, by law, promptly uprooted by officials appointed to watch for it. In 1820 two million pounds of it grew in this district, but now the output is greatly decreased, owing to the heavy taxes. Sugar cane grows in all but six states, up to an elevation of six thousand feet. It requires eighteen months for crops to mature, except in warmer soil, when it takes from eight to ten months.
One remarkable thing is, that the men who own the fine gardens surrounding the village do not live near them, as one would suppose, but inhabit stuffy little houses in the midst of the town. One bachelor has on his plantation plants from all parts of the world, over which he has traveled ten times. He cultivates all kinds of palms in existence, among which we noticed what is known as the "Traveler's tree." It is a strange looking thing, with long, flat, thick leaves growing up as though planted in the center and hanging loose at the ends. The flower is beautiful, with three long petals, the upper two white and the under one a sky blue. It is of a wax-like stiffness. Readers of books of travel will be familiar with the tree. It derives its name from the fact that it grows in the desert where no water is to be found. On thrusting a penknife into its body a clear stream of water, probably a pint and a half, will flow from one cut, and people traveling through the desert quench their thirst from this source, hence its name. The water is very cool and has a slight mineral taste, but is rather good and pleasing. It gives water freely all day, but, after the sun sets, is perfectly dry.
The bread and quinine trees (Cinchona) are among his interesting collection. One odd plant attracted attention. It bore a round, green leaf, but wherever there is to be a blossom the four leaves turn a pretty red and form a handsome flower which does not amount to much, being long and slim, like a honeysuckle, forms the stamens. It is of foreign importation, and grows in a climbing vine, whole arbors being covered with it. The grounds are surrounded by hedge of cactus, which is strong and impassable. The Yucca palm and fruit cactus grew off in a corner by themselves. Several small streams run through this plantation, spanned by lovely rustic bridges. In the deep ravines are found ferns of every variety known, and on the trees a collection of orchids which, I believe, has no equal in any country. The happy owner, who is a bachelor worth about $20,000,000, lives in a little house in the center of this town, which has never been furnished until last winter, but in the courtyard he has plants from every country in the world, for which the shipment alone cost $40,000.
Down by Cordoba I found a tribe of Indians who are not known to many Mexicans excepting those in their vicinity; they are called the Amatecos, and their village, which lies three miles from Cordoba, is called Amatlan; their houses, although small, are finer and handsomer than any in the republic. Flowers, fruit, and vegetables are cultivated by them, and all the pineapples, for which Cordoba is famous, come from their plantations; they weave all their own clothing, and have their own priest, church and school. Everything is a model of cleanliness, and throughout the entire village not one thing can be found out of place; the women are about the medium height, with slim but shapely bodies; their hands and feet are very small, and their faces of a beautiful Grecian shape; their eyes are magnificent, and their hair long and silky; they dress in full skirt, with an overdress made like that we see in pictures of Chinese women, or like vestments worn by priests of the Catholic Church. It is constructed of cotton in the style and pattern of lace. Around the neck and ends it is beautifully embroidered in colored silk, the dresses always being white. On the feet they wear woven slippers of a pink color, and on their heads a square pink cloth long enough in the back to cover the neck, like those worn by peasant girls in comic operas; the arms are bare, covered alone with bands and ornaments; the neck is encircled with beads of all descriptions, and is also hung with silver and gold ornaments; the ear-rings are very large hoops, like those introduced into the States last fall; they never carry a baby like other tribes, but all the children are left religiously at home.
The men are large and strongly built, not bad-featured, and wear a very white, low-necked blouse and pantaloons, which come down one-third the distance between waist and knee. They also wear many chains, ornaments, bracelets, and earrings. They are always spotlessly clean, and if they have a scratch on their body—of which they get many traveling the thorny—roads they do not go outside their village until entirely healed. They are industrious and rich, and never leave their homes but once a week, where they bring their marketing and sell to the Indians in Cordoba, as they are never venders themselves, selling always by the wholesale. Their language is different from all the others, but they also speak Spanish. The women are sweet and innocent. They look at one with a smile as frank as a good-humored baby and are undoubtedly the handsomest and cleanest people in the republic. I would not have missed them for anything, and can now believe there are some Indians like the writers of old painted them.
In the time of Maximilian a colony of Americans asked