Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 21
the emperor for land on which to settle. He kindly gave them their own choice, and they settled at Cordoba, where they had the advantage of the tropical clime and were secure from yellow fever. They were three hundred in number, and in a short time, with true American industry, they made business brisk. Three American hotels were established, and the plantations were the finest and most prosperous in the land. Maximilian looked on the little band with favor and gave them ample aid and protection. During the rebellion the liberty party made raids on their homes, destroyed their property, and not only made them prisoners and hurried them off to Yucatan—a place from which there is no escape—but murdered them whenever they wanted some new amusement. Maximilian was powerless to help those who had prospered under his care, and just when he was to be shot the last of the colony, who feared the liberty party, deserted their once happy homes and went to another country. Only one remained. Dr. A. A. Russell, who has been the solitary American here for twenty years. The hotels have disappeared, and the plantations, now possessed by Mexicans, bear no traces of their once tidy and prosperous appearance; this is the history of the first and last American colony ever formed in Mexico, given me by the last remaining colonist, who reminds one of the last chief, inconsolable and disconsolate, keeping vigil at the tombs of his people until death shall claim him too.
A MEXICAN ARCADIA.
"If you come over here you will get a better view," spoke a gentleman as he came from the back end of the car hauling us from Cordoba to this place. We were nearly breaking our backs in a vain endeavor to look over a man and wife, surrounded by almost as many children as belonged to the old woman in the shoe, down the perpendicular side of the mountain into the deep ravine beneath. We took a survey of the speaker, of his light woolen suit with wide sombrero to match, his pleasant, handsome face, and mentally decided that he was not only worth looking at, but also worth talking to. By the time the train had passed the barranca we were in a deep conversation, quite after the manner of Americans, and although none of us asked any impudent questions we were discussing marriage and women's rights.
"I think every woman should be taught some useful occupation" he said, "and their education should be unlimited. But the one great fault of the world is not paying a woman what she is worth. There are few things in which a woman is able to sell her talents at the same price as a man, and it is a reproach to humanity that it is so. I have three daughters now at school. The eldest 13 studying to be a physician, the second has great artistic ability which she is cultivating, and the third is a good musician. In either of these vocations they can take their place among men and receive the same recompense.
"I am living in Orizaba now," he continued, "and have been hunting deer for the past few days just below Cordoba. We saw plenty, but our man and dogs did not understand the game, so we returned empty handed. The only thing wounded is my friend back there, who fell out of a hammock while we were away and sprained his ankle." As we told him Orizaba was also our destination, the next question was where did we intend to stop, and found it was the place where he lived. After he had given the wounded man into the care of friends, we got on a car and soon reached our hotel. It was so dainty and nice that I cannot resist a brief description for the benefit of those who may some day be in its locality.
It is known as the La Borda, and is near the station, as well as the best in the town. The rooms are a model of cleanliness and neatly furnished. From the front one can survey part of the village, and the range of mountains outlined against the sky like immense waves, each one climbing higher, and above all the great mountain, that majestic monument which wears its snowy nightcap seventeen thousand two hundred feet above the level of the sea. At the rear of the house, just below the dining-room windows, is a never-ceasing waterfall which goes to feed some mills in the vicinity. In the first glimmer of day with our wakening senses we hear its murmuring song with that of the birds. Its sound is in a gentle, half-subdued manner, as though enticing the birds to come nearer to its brink and bathe their toes and quench their thirst with its foaming waves. Near midday it gets loud and boisterous, and you seem to hear: "The day is short, improve your time," over and over with a monotony that rather fascinates us.
Directly above this wonderful fall is a cozy little garden, cultivated by the landlady, who also deserves a word. She is a German, who accompanied her husband to this country some years ago. He died and left her in a strange land with two baby girls, whom she maintains by running this hotel. She is quite pretty, and speaks German and Spanish fluently, while she is studying English, and understands some now. She keeps her house, like most Germans, as clean as it can possibly be made, and endeavors to have all her guests feel at home. The cooking is so good and everything so comfortable that one would fain have the little German woman and the La Borda in every town in the republic.
Orizaba is a beautiful little valley surrounded by a chain of majestic mountains. The houses are white and most generally of one and two stories. There are 25,500 inhabitants. It was for a long time the capital of Vera Cruz. When this place was first founded in the year 1200 by the Tlascaltacas, its original name was Abanializapan, which, translated, meant "Pleasure in or on the water." The people prospered and lived in peace and happiness until the Aztec Emperor Montezuma reduced them to his dominion in 1457. Still under such a good and wise king they could not be otherwise than happy in this lovely garden, until Gonzalo Sandoval undertook and was successful in conquering them in 1521. But even war did not stop its progress, and in ten years later, in 1531, the governor gave it its present name, the Valley of Orizaba. The people grew in intelligence, and were industrious and religious. In 1534 they built their first parish church, Gonzalo de Olmedo, and as early as 1599 had put up a building and opened their first school. Inhabitants increased rapidly, and in 1774 it took the rank of town. Not satisfied yet, they built up, and the population increased by birth and new settlers until in 1830 it was declared to be a city.
Orizaba was for a long time capital of its state. Vera Cruz, and is now the pleasure and health resort for people from all over the republic, besides being the home of the wealthy people of Vera Cruz. No yellow fever or any of the other diseases come to this dainty valley, yet twelve doctors are holding forth and trying to gain a living in the vicinity. All are Spanish, with the exception of one, an Austrian, and only two speak English, one of whom used to write for an American paper. For the entire population there are but three baths (banos), but the poor can go to the river which runs near by. The only amusements are the billiard hall, bowling alley, and two fine theaters. One contains 272 lunetas, eighteen plateas, nineteen palcos, and one galeria. The other cost $100,000, and has a magnificent interior. It has 252 lunetas, eighty balconies, three grilles, thirteen first-class and thirteen second-class palcos, and one galeria.
On the map there are recorded but eleven churches, but even from our hotel window we could count many times the number. Those recorded are the San Antonie, Calverio, Concordid, Las Dolores, Santa Gertrudes, San Jose de Gracia (ex-convent), San Juan de Dios, San Maria, Tercer Orden and La Parroquis, which is the largest and finest. It is situated in the zocalo and has had its steeple knocked off three times by earthquakes. The latter seem to have a special grudge against this one church, for although they have caused the towers of many others to lean, they have never shaken any of them completely down. Orizaba must be a very naughty child—beautiful children most always are—for Dame Nature often gives it a shaking. She is an indulgent and not very severe mother, as little or no damage is ever done by the correction, excepting to this one cathedral. During our stay the earth shivered as though struck with a chill, but the people paid no more attention to it than we do to a summer shower; not half so much, in fact, as we do when the mentioned shower threatens to ruin our Easter bonnet.
Two little Spanish papers of four pages, or two sheets, about 8x6 inches square, retail at twelve and a half cents and furnish the news for the inhabitants. The children here should not be lacking in education, as there are ten schools for boys and six for girls; they can start at any age, and go as long as they wish. Besides this, the government sustains a preparatory college of one hundred and fifty students, at the yearly cost of eleven thousand dollars; a high school for girls, two hundred and fifteen pupils, at two thousand eight hundred dollars, and a model school for boys, one hundred and eighty students, at five thousand six hundred dollars. The government also gives a subsidy to five adult schools of six hundred dollars. The municipality schools, four for boys, three for girls and five for adults, cost yearly eight thousand dollars. In addition, there are twenty-nine private schools, with an attendance of five hundred and forty girls, six hundred and forty boys and sixteen adults; yet, with all this well-made report, there are in the Republic of Mexico two million five hundred thousand people who cannot read or write.
Orizaba has rather a big heart—they furnish a free home for men and one for women with hospitals attached, but one don't dare mention their cleanliness or order; they are under the superintendence of the Board of Charity. There is also a retreat for the insane, which, like ours in the States, occupies a spot free from all other habitations. The last year's report of the town's statistics shows that they received indirect contributions, $25,000; direct contributions, $20,000; miscellaneous sources, $4,000; municipal rights, $4,000; contribution of twenty-five per cent, to Federal district, $27,000. Pulque shops are scarce, there being only three, besides one lithographer, one public garden, two photographers, one dentist, four established cigarette manufactories, and one lottery, for it is impossible to find a Mexican town without. There are no Americans in the town, except those who belong to the railroad.
Many things of interest are to be seen in and around Orizaba. One who cares to climb can ascend the Cerro del Berrego and view the old ruins which mark the spot where the Mexicans were defeated during the French invasion, June 13, 1862. A little way out is Jalapilla, where Maximilian resided a short time after the French army had gone, and where he held the famous council to determine whether he should abdicate or not. One and a half miles south are large sugar plantations and mills. Besides, there are several waterfalls, between two and five miles distant, noted for their beauty and strangeness; the Cascade Rincon Grande is about one mile east; the water has a fall of over fifty feet, and all around is a luxuriant growth of vegetation, which helps to make the spot one of the prettiest in Mexico. Donn Tonardo Cordoba is a forty-foot fall, which disappears in a round hole in the earth, falling to a depth that has never been measured.
Another thing interesting to foreigners are the old Spanish deeds, written on parchment during the time of Cortes. They can be seen at the register's office by giving the man in charge two reals for his trouble. On Sunday afternoon bull-fights are held in an old convent, and what was once a fine church is now the barracks for a garrison and hall for the Masonic lodge.
Many people have a fancy to climb the peak of Orizaba, which is 17,200 feet high. It requires but five hours of a good climb to reach the summit. The last eruptions it had were in 1545 and 1566. Several times it has been reported smoking, but the rumors were finally, on investigation, pronounced unfounded. The well-to-do people occupy one and two-story houses with overhanging and tile roofs, while the poor class construct their mansions out of old boards, sugar cane stalks, barrel staves, pieces of matting, sun-dried bricks, and thatch them with palm leaves and dried strips of maguey. Their floor is always the ground. The highest temperature in the shade at Orizaba is 30 deg., the lowest 12 deg., but the average is mostly 21 deg., with always an east wind prevailing.
Orizaba is a delightful place for a stranger to stroll about in. We started out to see the town without guide or companion, and felt ourselves fully repaid by the many strange and delightful things we saw.
We went to the market, which is situated on an open square, and examined all the curious things. The birds especially attracted our attention, the many varieties, colors and shapes, and the extremely low prices, some selling for a medio (6¼ cents), others for a real. Young parrots were fifty cents, mocking-birds $1, and buglers, a bird shaped like the mocking-bird, but lighter in color and far superior in song, $2.50 and $3. All that restrains one from making a large investment is the fact that many cannot live in cages, as none know on what food they subsist, consequently they have to die. Little snow-white dogs, with bright black eyes and hair fine as silk, about three to five inches in length, sell for $2, while the famous Chihuahua dog, which weighs about half a pound when full grown, commands from $75 to $100, since tourists have ruined the prices.
Out by the unlucky Cathedral we saw the hearse of the town. It is the shape of a coffin, held aloft by springs above four wheels. It is draped with crape and plumes. Two black mules, stuck with plumes on every available spot, draw it, and the driver, dressed in black with high hat decorated with a plume, handles the reins, perched on a small seat about four feet above the rest of the hearse. The coffin is slid in at the back or end like the case in which coffins are often hermetically sealed.
Selecting a poor street, we started to make our way toward the mountains. On it we found a row of houses numbered in the following style: January 1, February 2, March 3, April 4, May 5, June 6, July 7, August 8, September 9, October 10, November 11, "December 12. Still further down we saw one called "The place of Providence," each different door designated as "The place of Providence A, the place of Providence B," and so on throughout the alphabet. Next we came to a laundry which did not remind us in the least of those at home. The river was the tub, a porous stone the washboard, and the little bushes and green bank the clothesline. In this manner all the washing of the town is done. We admired the washwomen for quite a while as they rubbed the clothes on the stone and then doused them up and down in the stream.
At last we concluded to jump across and go down on the other side, but we forgot we were women and that the dress of last fall was extremely narrow. We jumped from one washboard to another. We landed on it all right, but we did not stay long, but slipped back into the water, which was about three feet deep, much to our consternation. On our way home we stopped at the Tivoli, the bath-house and the main alameda, which is situated at the foot of an immense mountain, and is said to be one of the prettiest in the republic. The walks and drives are wide and nicely paved, a great variety of trees furnish the shade and musical fountains are plentiful. A music stand is in the center and is occupied nightly by a good band. The water-carriers were getting their supply from one of the large basins; they were also different from others we have seen. They have a long pole across their shoulders, and suspended from each end is a bucket containing the water, after the style of the milkmaids in the States. It seems strange that though every city has its water-carriers and that every one in the same town carries exactly alike, yet in no two towns do they carry in the same manner.
I cannot forget to introduce you to the pleasant gentleman we met on the train. He is Mr. A. Baker, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at Vera Cruz. He speaks fluently fifteen different languages, and when I asked him if he was not very proud of the fact, he replied: "Yes, until I met a waiter in a restaurant who could speak eighteen." He is a widower, and came here accompanied by his only son, while his three daughters are at school in Europe. The common expression made of him here is, that "he is good enough for an American." Now you can judge how agreeable he is. He has been knighted three different times, and was colonel in two different armies, yet he is still plain Mr. Baker. "Oh, I had ancestors," he said, jokingly, as we were discussing people's little vanities, "and they came over in the ship of the conquerors, also. My forefather was a cook. One day the bread was exhausted, and there was no way to procure more, so the cook made some pancakes, and waited in terror while they were taken in to his majesty. At last he got a summons to appear before him; trembling and expecting to be beheaded, the poor fellow sank at his sovereign's feet, when, instead of a sentence to be executed, he heard: 'Rise, Sir Baker.' Since then that has been the family name."
Accompanied by Mr. Baker, we started north to see a waterfall, and to take the train at the next station. We got in a car and went winding in between the high mountains from which the black marble is quarried until we reached a stretch of land, where we alighted and crossed the fields until we came to that wonderful stream. The water is quite cold and mineral, and as clear as crystal, one being able to see the bottom at the depth of twenty feet as though there was no water intervening. Down where the water was more shallow were several