The Story of Mexico/Chapter 37

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On the 28th of May, 1864, to the great joy of the Cabinet of the Tuileries, who had been much in fear that their scheme might fall through, the new sovereigns arrived at Vera Cruz. They were but coolly received by the merchants of that port, and passed through it without ceremony, followed by the large suite they brought with them. But the priests had aroused the Indians en masse to welcome new rulers, who would, they were promised, restore their liberties and raise their condition. Crowds of these people in serapes and rebozos, with dark eyes full of questions, stood along the route of the imperial cortége as it left Vera Cruz.

Nor was enthusiasm elsewhere wanting; a real imperialist party sprang up from the soil, spontaneously, on the appearance of the young prince and his consort. Had they known how to secure this popularity and make it permanent, these imported sovereigns might have reared for themselves a realm in the hearts of the impressionable people of Anahuac. Maximilian formed his idea of sovereignty upon the absolute rule of the Middle Ages. He would not stoop to make popularity; he expected it to be freely offered. Indeed, he had assented to come only when he was summoned by the voice of the whole Mexican people. This voice was the reluctant vote of a Junta got together by the clerical party on purpose to satisfy his demand. But the charm of his presence, which was dignified and princely, and the winning manner of Carlotta, well fitted to play the part of gracious sovereign to an adoring people, won all hearts for the moment.

A splendid reception was prepared in the capital. Triumphal arches spanned the principal avenues to the city, inscribed with the names of the personages who had brought about the glorious intervention. The streets, especially San Francisco and Plateros, were hung with banners of every color, set with exquisite flowers and plants. Rows of citizens and troops, dressed in their best, lined the way through which the open carriage of Maximilian and Carlotta made its way, preceded by the officers of state, and followed by a long retinue of public functionaries and persons of the highest aristocracy. Balconies and azoteas were crowded with curious gazers, and vivas were not wanting; yet it is said that the populace kept away from the solemnity, or looked on coldly, at the advent of the foreign intruders.

Maximilian was accompanied by a crowd of followers,—his escort, household servants, and retinue; and brought with him all the material for establishing in a new country a throne of the "right divine." Quantities of these things, for want of lumber-room, are now stored at the National Museum at Mexico, where one may see in glass cases much heavy silver TSOM D391 San Luis de Potosi.pngsan luis de potosi

plate with the imperial arms, destined for the feasts of this descendant of Charles V.; the decorations of the Emperor; and below in the courtway stands the great glass coach in which he sat with the Empress, as once sat Cinderella in a similar one. All these insignia of royalty they brought to impose upon their new thralls.

And so the young sovereigns set about organizing their ideal court. All society was at their feet, and the society in Mexico at that time, if more provincial than that of Paris or Vienna, yet had for Maximilian and Carlotta the merit of being their own domain. They were monarchs of all they surveyed. It was indeed a romance. All their debts paid by a generous Napoleon in the background, a French army full-fledged to protect them, a throne, a court, a people ready-made to order,—all they had to do was to enter in and enjoy them.

Marshal Bazaine, at the head of military affairs, set about the restoration of the arsenal, and repairing the damages made by the United States war. On his arrival he found the service of artillery entirely disorganized. Molino del Rey he restored to its functions of a foundry, so that it could furnish arms and munitions for the country.

Napoleon had promised that the French troops should remain about Maximilian for six years, or until his own national army should be on such a footing as to be a proper protection to its Emperor. Bazaine was therefore occupied with the reconstruction of the army, with an eye to the distant day when he and his force might be recalled. TSOM D393 Chapultepec in the time of Maximillian.pngchapultepec in the time of maximilian.

Meanwhile, Maximilian began to govern, according to his lights, which were liberal as far as the limit of absolute monarchy allowed. He sought to gain the friendship of the party allied to Juarez, holding the idea that this native chief of a half-civilized people had been driven off the field for good, and that it was to be an easy task to replace his crude government with one based on loftier planes. He paid no attention to the new code of the reform, but began to impose his own regulations, and to legislate on all matters as if Mexico were still in its natural and primitive state. He readily listened to all sorts of plans for the construction of telegraphs, railways, and other enterprises for the improvement of the country, with little heed to their vast expense.

Among these was the restoration of the palace at Chapultepec, then in dismal ruin since the attack of the Americans. From their first glimpse of it the new sovereigns decided that here should be their home, the chosen dwelling which should recall the delights of Miramar; recognizing it as the loveliest spot in all the broad valley of Anahuac. So thought the Aztec chiefs who sought its shade in their leisure moments; so thought the viceroy, Galvez; and so thinks every one now who drives from the city over the broad Paseo, built in the time of Maximilian, as a fit approach to the charmed palace.

It stands on a height of two hundred feet above the valley; a winding road from the avenue below, shaded by huge trees, leads to a platform where are the great stone buildings of the lower terrace belonging to the Military Academy. On these buildings, which form its basement, is all the range of Maximilian's palace, including not only a suite of state apartments and smaller rooms, but, planted on soil brought up from below, a series of hanging gardens, surrounded by galleries with marble columns. From the tangle of shrubbery and climbing masses of neglected roses, can be seen below, stretching far and wide, the extensive landscape, and from the terrace the incomparable view of the volcanoes, with the broad interval between.

The interior decoration of Maximilian's palace was in imitation of Pompeii. It was furnished in the French taste with light stuffs and gold, very well suited to its sunny height and the pure atmosphere of the valley of Mexico.

Fêtes, receptions, dinners, and dances, every form of gay life, ruled the home at Chapultepec. The young Empress, animated and brilliant, was the centre of her court. For a time no shadow fell upon the bright prospect of the new Empire.

The capital presented an unusually lively aspect. The French garrison filled the city with well-dressed regiments; business received a new impulse from foreign merchants of all sorts, who came, attracted by the demands of a court for luxury; the rich families of the capital displayed their wealth in all the splendor of luxurious living. After many years of discord and depression, the reaction brought about by this burst of prosperity pervaded the capital. It was true that this satisfaction was felt only by high society. There was no real improvement as yet in the resources of the country; the middle class, with no greater facilities for living than before the new order of things, were poor and discontented, and murmured at the sight of rejoicing and luxury they could not share. Carlotta, with an open hand, distributed alms, drawn from the fortunate purse at her disposition; but this, without method or definite aim, had no great effect upon the general prosperity.

In fact it was by no means the purse of a benevolent French Emperor that furnished funds for so much expenditure. A heavy loan was negotiated by the crown in 1864, in Paris and London, which brought it to its use plenty of ready money, but entailed upon the nation a debt, of which it is not yet free. The cities and separate states of Mexico, at first readily surrendered to the troops of Maximilian, small foreign garrisons being left in each of the principal ones to maintain his authority by their presence. It was necessary to maintain military rule, however, for fear of relapse towards the Republic, and on account of vast guerrilla bands, espousing the liberal cause, which infested roads and small villages, where constant encounters and actions took place with imperial troops.

But the gay court of Maximilian little heeded these things. They left the army to Bazaine, and the government to the ministers. Never was Mexico so brilliant, so triumphant, so apparently at the zenith of prosperity, as during the brief time of the French intervention.