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Title: Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras — Being the Random Notes of an Incurable Vagabond
Author: Franck, Harry Alverson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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TRAMPING THROUGH MEXICO, GUATEMALA AND HONDURAS


Being the Random Notes of an Incurable Vagabond


By Harry A. Franck


Author Of
  "A Vagabond Journey Around The World,"
  "Zone Policeman 88,"
  etc.

Illustrated With Photographs By The Author


To The Mexican Peon With Sincerest Wishes For His Ultimate Emancipation



FOREWORD

This simple story of a journey southward grew up of itself. Planning a
comprehensive exploration of South America, I concluded to reach that
continent by some less monotonous route than the steamship's track; and
herewith is presented the unadorned narrative of what I saw on the
way,--the day-by-day experiences in rambling over bad roads and into
worse lodging-places that infallibly befall all who venture afield south
of the Rio Grande. The present account joins up with that of five months
on the Canal Zone, already published, clearing the stage for a larger
forthcoming volume on South America giving the concrete results of four
unbroken years of Latin-American travel.

Harry A. Franck.
New York, May, 1916.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

   I  INTO THE COOLER SOUTH

  II  TRAMPING THE BYWAYS

 III  IN A MEXICAN MINE

  IV  ROUND ABOUT LAKE CHAPALA

   V  ON THE TRAIL IN MICHOACÁN

  VI  TENOCHTITLAN OF TO-DAY

 VII  TROPICAL MEXICO

VIII  HURRYING THROUGH GUATEMALA

  IX  THE UPS AND DOWNS OF HONDURAS

   X  THE CITY OF THE SILVER HILLS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

A street of Puebla, Mexico, and the Soledad Church.

The first glimpse of Mexico. Looking across the Rio Grande at Laredo.

A corner of Monterey from my hotel window.

A peon restaurant in the market-place of San Luís Potosí.

A market woman of San Luís Potosí.

Some sold potatoes no larger than nuts.

A policeman and an arriero.

The former home, in Dolores Hidalgo, of the Mexican "Father of his
Country".

Rancho del Capulín, where I ended the first day of tramping in Mexico.

View of the city of Guanajuato.

Fellow-roadsters in Mexico.

Some of the pigeon-holes of Guanajuato's cemetery.

A _pulque_ street-stand and one of its clients.

Prisoners washing in the patio of the former "Alóndiga".

Drilling with compressed-air drills in a mine "heading".

As each car passed I snatched a sample of its ore.

Working a "heading" by hand.

Peon miners being searched for stolen ore as they leave the mine.

Bricks of gold and silver ready for shipment. Each is worth something
like $1250.

In a natural amphitheater of Guanajuato the American miners of the
region gather on Sundays for a game of baseball.

Some of the peons under my charge about to leave the mine.

The easiest way to carry a knapsack--on a peon's back.

The ore thieves of Peregrina being led away to prison.

One of Mexico's countless "armies".

Vendors of strawberries at the station of Irapuato.

The wall of Guadalajara penitentiary against which prisoners are shot.

The liver-shaking stagecoach from Atequisa to Chapala.

Lake Chapala from the estate of Ribero Castellanos.

The head farmer of the estate under an aged fig-tree.

A Mexican village.

Making glazed floor tiles on a Mexican estate.

Vast seas of Indian corn stretch to pine-clad hills, while around them
are guard-shacks at frequent intervals.

Interior of a Mexican hut at cooking time.

Fall plowing near Patzcuaro.

Modern transportation along the ancient highway from Tzintzuntzan, the
former Tarascan capital.

In the church of ancient Tzintzuntzan is a "Descent from the Cross"
ascribed to Titian.

Indians waiting outside the door of the priest's house in Tzintzuntzan.

A corner of Morelia, capital of Michoacán, and its ancient aqueduct.

The spot and hour in which Maximilian was shot, with the chapel since
erected by Austria.

The market of Tlaxcala, the ancient inhabitants of which aided Cortez in
the conquest of Mexico.

A _rural_ of the state of Tlaxcala on guard before a barracks.

A part of Puebla, looking toward the peak of Orizaba.

Popocatepetl and the artificial hill of Cholula on which the Aztecs had
a famous temple, overthrown by Cortez.

A typical Mexican of the lowlands of Tehuantepec.

A typical Mexican boy of the highlands.

Looking down on Maltrata as the train begins its descent.

A residence of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

On the banks of the Coatzacoalcos, Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Women of Tehuantepec in the market-place.

On the hillside above Tehuantepec are dwellings partly dug out of the
cliffs.

A rear-view of the remarkable head-dress of the women of Tehuantepec,
and one of their decorated bowls.

A woman of northern Guatemala.

A station of the "Pan-American" south of Tehuantepec.

An Indian boy of Guatemala on his way home from market.

Three "gringoes" on the tramp from the Mexican boundary to the railway
of Guatemala.

Inside the race-track at Guatemala City is a relief map of the entire
country.

One of the jungle-hidden ruins of Quiraguá.

The last house in Guatemala, near the boundary of Honduras.

A woman shelling corn for my first meal in Honduras.

A vista of Honduras from a hillside, to which I climbed after losing the
trail.

A resident of Santa Rosa, victim of the hook-worm.

The chief monument of the ruins of Copán.

I topped a ridge and caught sight at last of Santa Rosa, first town of
any size in Honduras.

Soldiers of Santa Rosa eating in the market-place.

Christmas dinner on the road in Honduras.

Several times I met the families of soldiers tramping northward with all
their possessions.

A fellow-roadster behind one of my cigars.

An arriero carrying a bundle of Santa Rosa cigars on his own back as he
drives his similarly laden animals.

The great military force of Esperanza compelled to draw up and face my
camera.

The prisoners in their chains form an interested audience across the
street.

Honduras, the Land of Great Depths.

A corner of Tegucigalpa.

The "West Pointers" of Honduras in their barracks, a part of the
national palace.

View of Tegucigalpa from the top of Picacho.

Repairing the highway from Tegucigalpa to the Coast.

A family of Honduras.

Approaching Sabana Grande, the first night's stop on the tramp to the
coast.

A beef just butchered and hung out in the sun.

A dwelling on the hot lands of the Coast, and its scantily clad
inhabitants.

Along the Pasoreal River.

The mozo pauses for a drink on the trail.

One way of transporting merchandise from the coast to Tegucigalpa.

The other way of bringing goods up to the capital.

The garrison of Amapala.

Marooned "gringoes" waiting with what patience possible at the "Hotel
Morazán," Amapala.

Unloading cattle in the harbor of Amapala.

The steamer arrives at last that is to carry us south to Panama.

We lose no time in being rowed out to her.

MAP

The Author's Itinerary



CHAPTER I

INTO THE COOLER SOUTH

You are really in Mexico before you get there. Laredo is a
purely--though not pure--Mexican town with a slight American
tinge. Scores of dull-skinned men wander listlessly about trying to sell
sticks of candy and the like from boards carried on their heads. There
are not a dozen shops where the clerks speak even good pidgin English,
most signs are in Spanish, the lists of voters on the walls are chiefly
of Iberian origin, the very county officers from sheriff down--or
up--are names the average American could not pronounce, and the
saunterer in the streets may pass hours without hearing a word of
English. Even the post-office employees speak Spanish by preference and
I could not do the simplest business without resorting to that tongue.
I am fond of Spanish, but I do not relish being forced to use it in my
own country.

On Laredo's rare breeze rides enough dust to build a new world. Every
street is inches deep in it, everything in town, including the minds of
the inhabitants, is covered with it. As to heat--"Cincinnati Slim" put
it in a nutshell even as we wandered in from the cattleyards where the
freight train had dropped us in the small hours: "If ever hell gets full
this'll do fine for an annex."

Luckily my window in the ruin that masqueraded as a hotel faced such
wind as existed. The only person I saw in that institution during
twenty-four hours there was a little Mexican boy with a hand-broom,
which he evidently carried as an ornament or a sign of office. It seemed
a pity not to let Mexico have the dust-laden, sweltering place if they
want it so badly.

I had not intended to lug into Mexico such a load as I did. But it was a
Jewish holiday, and the pawnshops were closed. As I passed the lodge on
the north end of the bridge over the languid, brown Rio Grande it was a
genuine American voice that snapped: "Heh! A nickel!"

Just beyond, but thirty-six minutes earlier, the Mexican official
stopped me with far more courtesy, and peered down into the corners of
my battered "telescope" without disturbing the contents.

"Monterey?" he asked.

"Sí, señor."

"No revólver?" he queried suspiciously.

"No, señor," I answered, keeping the coat on my arm unostentatiously
over my hip pocket. It wasn't a revolver; it was an automatic.

The man who baedekerized Mexico says Nuevo Laredo is not the place to
judge that country. I was glad to hear it. Its imitation of a
street-car, eight feet long, was manned by two tawny children without
uniforms, nor any great amount of substitute for them, who smoked
cigarettes incessantly as we crawled dustily through the baked-mud
hamlet to the decrepit shed that announced itself the station of the
National Railways of Mexico. It was closed, of course. I waited an hour
or more before two officials resplendent in uniforms drifted in to take
up the waiting where I had left off. But it was a real train that pulled
in toward three, from far-off St. Louis, even if it had hooked on behind
a second-class car with long wooden benches.

For an hour we rambled across just such land as southern Texas, endless
flat sand scattered with chaparral, mesquite, and cactus; nowhere a sign
of life, but for fences of one or two barb-wires on crooked sticks--not
even bird life. The wind, strong and incessant as at sea, sounded as
mournful through the thorny mesquite bushes as in our Northern winters,
even though here it brought relief rather than suffering. The sunshine
was unbrokenly glorious.

Benches of stained wood in two-inch strips ran the entire length of our
car, made in Indiana. In the center were ten double back-to-back seats
of the same material. The conductor was American, but as in Texas he
seemed to have little to do except to keep the train moving. The
auditor, brakeman, and train-boy were Mexicans, in similar uniforms, but
of thinner physique and more brown of color. The former spoke fluent
English. The engineer was American and the fireman a Negro.

Far ahead, on either side, hazy high mountains appeared, as at sea. By
the time we halted at Lampazos, fine serrated ranges stood not far
distant on either hand. From the east came a never-ceasing wind,
stronger than that of the train, laden with a fine sand that crept in
everywhere. Mexican costumes had appeared at the very edge of the
border; now there were even a few police under enormous hats, with tight
trousers and short jackets showing a huge revolver at the hip. Toward
evening things grew somewhat greener. A tree six to twelve feet high,
without branches, or sometimes with several trunk-like ones, growing
larger from bottom to top and ending in a bristling bunch of leaves,
became common. The mountains on both sides showed fantastic peaks and
ridges, changing often in aspect; some, thousands of feet high with flat
tableland tops, others in strange forms the imagination could animate
into all manner of creatures.

A goatherd, wild, tawny, bearded, dressed in sun-faded sheepskin, was
seen now and then tending his flock of little white goats in the sand
and cactus. This was said to be the rainy season in northern Mexico.
What must it be in the dry?

Toward five the sun set long before sunset, so high was the mountain
wall on our right. The sand-storm had died down, and the sand gave way
to rocks. The moon, almost full, already smiled down upon us over the
wall on the left. We continued along the plain between the ranges, which
later receded into the distance, as if retiring for the night. Flat,
mud-colored, Palestinian adobe huts stood here and there in the
moonlight among patches of a sort of palm bush.

Monterey proved quite a city. Yet how the ways of the Spaniard appeared
even here! Close as it is to the United States, with many American
residents and much "americanizado," according to the Mexican, the city
is in architecture, arrangement, customs, just what it would be a
hundred miles from Madrid; almost every little detail of life is that of
Spain, with scarcely enough difference to suggest another country, to
say nothing of another hemisphere. England brings to her colonies some
of her home customs, but not an iota of what Spain does to the lands she
has conquered. The hiding of wealth behind a miserable facade is almost
as universal in Mexico of the twentieth century as in Morocco of the
fourth. The narrow streets of Monterey have totally inadequate sidewalks
on which two pedestrians pass, if at all, with the rubbing of
shoulders. Outwardly the long vista of bare house fronts that toe them
on either side are dreary and poor, every window barred as those of a
prison. Yet in them sat well-dressed señoritas waiting for the lovers
who "play the bear" to late hours of the night, and over their shoulders
the passerby caught many a glimpse of richly furnished rooms and flowery
patios beyond.

The river Catalina was drier than even the Manzanares, its rocky bed,
wide enough to hold the upper Connecticut, entirely taken up by mule and
donkey paths and set with the cloth booths of fruit sellers. As one
moves south it grows cooler, and Monterey, fifteen hundred feet above
sea-level, was not so weighty in its heat as Laredo and southern
Texas. But, on the other hand, being surrounded on most sides by
mountains, it had less breeze, and the coatless freedom of Texas was
here looked down upon. During the hours about noonday the sun seemed to
strike physically on the head and back whoever stepped out into it, and
the smallest fleck of white cloud gave great and instant relief. From
ten to four, more or less, the city was strangely quiet, as if more than
half asleep, or away on a vacation, and over it hung that indefinable
scent peculiar to Arab and Spanish countries. Compared with Spain,
however, its night life and movement was slight.

Convicts in perpendicularly striped blue and white pajamas worked in the
streets. That is, they moved once every twenty minutes or so, usually
to roll a cigarette. They were without shackles, but several guards in
brown uniforms and broad felt hats, armed with thick-set muskets, their
chests criss-crossed with belts of long rifle cartridges, lolled in the
shade of every near-by street corner. The prisoners laughed and chatted
like men perfectly contented with their lot, and moved about with great
freedom. One came a block to ask me the time, and loafed there some
fifteen minutes before returning to his "labor."

Mexico is strikingly faithful to its native dress. Barely across the
Rio Grande the traveler sees at once hundreds of costumes which in any
American city would draw on all the boy population as surely as the
Piper of Hamelin. First and foremost comes always the enormous hat,
commonly of thick felt with decorative tape, the crown at least a foot
high, the brim surely three feet in diameter even when turned up
sufficient to hold a half gallon of water. That of the peon is of
straw; he too wears the skintight trousers, and goes barefoot but for a
flat leather sandal held by a thong between the big toe and the rest. In
details and color every dress was as varied and individual as the shades
of complexion.

My hotel room had a fine outlook to summer-blue mountains, but was
blessed with neither mirror, towel, nor water. I descended to the
alleyway between "dining-room" and barnyard, where I had seen the
general washbasin, but found the landlady seated on the kitchen floor
shelling into it peas for our _almuerzo_. This and the evening
_comida_ were always identically the same. A cheerful but
slatternly Indian woman set before me a thin soup containing a piece of
squash and a square of boiled beef, and eight hot corn tortillas of the
size and shape of our pancakes, or _gkebis_, the Arab bread, which
it outdid in toughness and total absence of taste. Next followed a
plate of rice with peppers, a plate of tripe less tough than it should
have been, and a plate of brown beans which was known by the name of
_chile con carne_, but in which I never succeeded in finding
anything carnal. Every meal ended with a cup of the blackest coffee.

Out at the end of calle B a well-worn rocky path leads up to a ruined
chapel on the summit of a hill, the famous Obispado from which the city
was shelled and taken by the Americans in 1847. Below, Monterey lies
flat, with many low trees peering above the whitish houses, all set in a
perfectly level plain giving a great sense of roominess, as if it could
easily hold ten such cities. At the foot of the hill, some three hundred
feet high, is an unoccupied space. Then the city begins, leisurely at
first, with few houses and many gardens and trees, thickening farther
on. All about are mountains. The Silla (Saddle), a sharp rugged height
backing the city on the right, has a notch in it much like the seat of a
Texas saddle; to the far left are fantastic sharp peaks, and across the
plain a ragged range perhaps fifteen miles distant shuts off the view.
Behind the chapel stand Los Dientes, a teeth or saw-like range
resembling that behind Leceo in Italy. Only a young beggar and his
female mate occupied the ruined chapel, built, like the town, of whitish
stone that is soft when dug but hardens upon exposure to the air. They
cooked on the littered floor of one of the dozen rooms, and all the
walls of the chamber under the great dome were set with pegs for birds,
absent now, but which had carpeted the floor with proof of their
frequent presence.

At five the sun set over the city, so high is the Dientes range, but for
some time still threw a soft light on the farther plain and hills.
Compared with our own land there is something profoundly peaceful in
this climate and surroundings. Now the sunshine slipped up off the
farther ranges, showing only on the light band of clouds high above the
farther horizon, and a pale-faced moon began to brighten, heralding a
brilliant evening.

Fertile plains of corn stretched south of the city, but already dry, and
soon giving way to mesquite and dust again. Mountains never ceased, and
lay fantastically heaped up on every side. We rose ever higher, though
the train kept a moderate speed. At one station the bleating of a great
truckload of kids, their legs tied, heaped one above the other, was
startlingly like the crying of babies. We steamed upward through a
narrow pass, the mountains crowding closer on either hand and seeming to
grow lower as we rose higher among them. The landscape became less
arid, half green, with little or no cactus, and the breeze cooled
steadily. Saltillo at last, five thousand feet up, was above the reach
of oppressive summer and for perhaps the first time since leaving
Chicago I did not suffer from the heat. It was almost a pleasure to
splash through the little puddles in its poorly paved streets. Its
plazas were completely roofed with trees, the view down any of its
streets was enticing, and the little cubes of houses were painted all
possible colors without any color scheme whatever. Here I saw the first
_pulquerías_, much like cheap saloons in appearance, with swinging
doors, sometimes a pool table, and a bartender of the customary
I-tell-yer-I'm-tough physiognomy. Huge earthen jars of the fermented
cactus juice stood behind the bar, much like milk in appearance, and was
served in glazed pots, size to order. In Mexico _pulquería_ stands
for saloon and _peluquería_ for barber-shop, resulting now and then
in sad mistakes by wandering Yankees innocent of Spanish.

There were a hundred adult passengers by actual count, to say nothing of
babies and unassorted bundles, in the second-class car that carried me
on south into the night. Every type of Mexican was represented, from
white, soft, city-bred specimens to sturdy countrymen so brown as to be
almost black. A few men were in "European" garb. Most of them were
dressed _á la peón_, very tight trousers fitting like long
leggings, collarless shirts of all known colors, a gay _faja_ or
cloth belt, sometimes a coat--always stopping at the waist. Then last,
but never least, the marvelous hat. Two peons trying to get through the
same door at once was a sight not soon to be forgotten. There were felt
and straw hats of every possible grade and every shade and color except
red, wound with a rich band about the crown and another around the
brim. Those of straw were of every imaginable weave, some of rattan,
like baskets or veranda furniture. The Mexican male seems to be able to
endure sameness of costume below it, but unless his hat is individual,
life is a drab blank to him. With his hat off the peon loses seven
eights of his impressiveness. The women, with only a black sort of thin
shawl over their heads, were eminently inconspicuous in the forest of
hatted men.

Mournfully out of the black drizzling night about the station came the
dismal wails of hawkers at their little stands dim-lighted by pale
lanterns; "_Anda pulque!_" Within the car was more politeness--or
perhaps, more exactly, more unconscious consideration for others--than
north of the Rio Grande. There were many women among us, yet all the
night through there was not a suggestion of indecency or
annoyance. Indian blood largely predominated, hardy, muscular,
bright-eyed fellows, yet in conduct all were _caballeros_. Near me
sat a family of three. The father, perhaps twenty, was strikingly
handsome in his burnished copper skin, his heavy black hair, four or
five inches long, hanging down in "bangs" below his hat. The mother was
even younger, yet the child was already some two years old, the
chubbiest, brightest-eyed bundle of humanity imaginable. In their fight
for a seat the man shouted to the wife to hand him the child. He caught
it by one hand and swung it high over two seats and across the car, yet
it never ceased smiling. The care this untutored fellow took to give
wife and child as much comfort as possible was superior to that many a
"civilized" man would have shown all night under the same
circumstances. Splendid teeth were universal among the peons. There was
no chewing of tobacco, but much spitting by both sexes. A delicate,
child-like young woman drew out a bottle and swallowed whole glassfuls
of what I took to be milk, until the scent of pulque, the native
beverage, suddenly reached my nostrils.

The fat brown auditor addressed señora, the peon's wife, with the
highest respect, even if he insisted on doing his duty to the extent of
pushing aside the skirts of the women to peer under the long wooden
bench for passengers. A dispute soon arose. Fare was demanded of a
ragged peon for the child of three under his arm. The peon shook his
head, smiling. The auditor's voice grew louder. Still the father smiled
silently. The ticket collector stepped back into the first-class car and
returned with the train guard, a boyish-looking fellow in peon garb from
hat to legging trousers, with a brilliant red tie, two belts of enormous
cartridges about his waist, in his hand a short ugly rifle, and a
harmless smile on his face. There was something fascinating about the
stocky little fellow with his half-embarrassed grin. One felt that of
himself he would do no man hurt, yet that a curt order would cause him
to send one of those long steel-jacketed bullets through a man and into
the mountain side beyond. Luckily he got no such orders. The auditor
pointed out the malefactor, who lost no time in paying the child's
half-fare.

This all-night trip must be done sooner or later by all who enter Mexico
by way of Laredo, for the St. Louis-Mexico City Limited with its
sleeping-car behind and a few scattered Americans in first-class is the
only one that covers this section. Residents of Vanegas, for example,
who wish to travel south must be at the station at three in the morning.

Most of the night the train toiled painfully upward. As a man scorns to
set out after a hearty meal with a lunch under his arm, so in the
swelter of Texas I had felt it foolish to be lugging a bundle of heavy
clothing. By midnight I began to credit myself with foresight. The
windows were closed, yet the land of yesterday seemed far behind
indeed. I wrapped my heavy coat about me. Toward four we crossed the
Tropic of Cancer into the Torrid Zone, without a jolt, and I dug out my
gray sweater and regretted I had abandoned the old blue one in an empty
box-car. Twice I think I drowsed four minutes with head and elbow on my
bundle, but except for two or three women who jack-knifed on the long
bench no one found room to lie down during the long night.

From daylight on I stood in the vestibule and watched the drab landscape
hurry steadily past. No mountains were in sight now because we were on
top of them. Yet no one would have suspected from the appearance of the
country that we were considerably more than a mile above sea-level. The
flat land looked not greatly different from that of the day before. The
cactus was higher; some of the "organ" variety, many of the "Spanish
bayonet" species, lance-like stalks eight to ten feet high. The rest was
bare ground with scattered mesquite bushes. Had I not known the altitude
I might have attributed the slight light-headedness to a sleepless
night.

Certainly a hundred ragged _cargadores_, hotel runners, and boys
eager to carry my bundle attacked me during my escape from the station
of San Luis Potosi at seven, and there were easily that many carriages
waiting, without a dozen to take them. The writer of Mexico's Baedeker
speaks of the city as well-to-do. Either it has vastly changed in a few
years or he wrote it up by absent treatment. Hardly a town of India
exceeds it in picturesque poverty. Such a surging of pauperous humanity,
dirt, and uncomplaining misery I had never before seen in the Western
Hemisphere. Plainly the name "republic" is no cure for man's ills. The
chief center was the swarming market. Picture a dense mob of several
thousand men and boys, gaunt, weather-beaten, their tight trousers
collections of rents and patchwork in many colors, sandals of a soft
piece of leather showing a foot cracked, blackened, tough as a hoof, as
incrusted with filth as a dead foot picked up on a garbage heap, the
toes always squirting with mud, the feet not merely never washed but the
sandal never removed until it wears off and drops of its self. Above
this a collarless shirt, blouse or short jacket, ragged, patched, of
many faded colors, yet still showing half the body. Then a dull,
uncomplaining, take-things-as-they-come face, unwashed, never
shaved--the pure Indian grows a sort of dark down on his cheeks and the
point of the chin, the half-breeds a slight beard--all topped by the
enormous hat, never missing, though often full of holes, black with
dirt, weather-beaten beyond expression.

Then there were fully as many women and girls, even less fortunate, for
they had not even sandals, but splashed along barefoot among the small
cold cobblestones. Their dress seemed gleaned from a rag-heap and their
heads were bare, their black hair combed or plastered flat. Children of
both sexes were exact miniatures of their elders. All these wretches
were here to sell. Yet what was for sale could easily have been tended
by twenty persons. Instead, every man, woman, and child had his own
stand, or bit of cloth or cobblestone on which to spread a few scanty,
bedraggled wares. Such a mass of silly, useless, pathetic articles, toy
jars, old bottles, anything that could be found in all the dump-heaps of
Christendom. The covered market housed only a very small percentage of
the whole. There was a constant, multicolored going and coming, with
many laden asses and miserable, gaunt creatures bent nearly double under
enormous loads on head or shoulders. Every radiating narrow mud-dripping
street for a quarter-mile was covered in all but the slight passageway
in the center with these displays. Bedraggled women sat on the cobbles
with aprons spread out and on them little piles of six nuts each, sold
at a centavo. There were peanuts, narrow strips of cocoanut, plantains,
bananas short and fat, sickly little apples, dwarf peaches, small wild
grapes, oranges green in color, potatoes often no larger than marbles,
as if the possessor could not wait until they grew up before digging
them; cactus leaves, the spines shaved off, cut up into tiny squares to
serve as food; bundles of larger cactus spines brought in by hobbling
old women or on dismal asses and sold as fuel, _aguacates_, known
to us as "alligator pears" and tasting to the uninitiated like
axle-grease; pomegranates, pecans, cheeses flat and white, every species
of basket and earthen jar from two-inch size up, turnips, some cut in
two for those who could not afford a whole one; onions, flat slabs of
brown, muddy-looking soap, rice, every species of _frijole_, or
bean, shelled corn for tortillas, tomatoes--_tomate coloradito_,
though many were tiny and green as if also prematurely gathered--peppers
red and green, green-corn with most of the kernels blue, lettuce,
radishes, cucumbers, carrots, cabbages, melons of every size except
large, string-beans, six-inch cones of the muddiest of sugar, the first
rough product of the crushers wound in swamp grass and which prospective
purchasers handled over and over, testing them now and then by biting
off a small corner, though there was no apparent difference; sausages
with links of marble size, everything in the way of meat, tossed about
in the dirt, swarming with flies, handled, smelled, cut into tiny bits
for purchasers; even strips of intestines, the jaw-bone of a sheep with
barely the smell of meat on it; all had value to this gaunt community,
nothing was too green, or old, or rotten to be offered for
sale. Chickens with legs tied lay on the ground or were carried about
from day to day until purchasers of such expensive luxuries
appeared. There were many men with a little glass box full of squares of
sweets like "fudge," selling at a half-cent each; every possible odd and
end of the shops was there; old women humped over their meager wares,
smoking cigarettes, offered for sale the scraps of calico left over from
the cutting of a gown, six-inch triangles of no fathomable use to
purchasers. There were entire blocks selling only long strips of leather
for the making of sandals. Many a vendor had all the earmarks of
leprosy. There were easily five thousand of them, besides another market
on the other side of the town, for this poverty-stricken city of some
fifty thousand inhabitants. The swarming stretched a half mile away in
many a radiating street, and scores whose entire stock could not be
worth fifteen cents sat all day without selling more than half of it. An
old woman stopped to pick up four grains of corn and greedily tucked
them away in the rags that covered her emaciated frame. Now and then a
better-dressed _potosino_ passed, making purchases, a peon, male or
female, slinking along behind with a basket; for it is a horrible breach
of etiquette for a ten-dollar-a-month Mexican to be publicly seen
carrying anything.

One wondered why there was not general suicide in such a community of
unmitigated misery. Why did they not spring upon me and snatch the purse
I displayed or die in the attempt? How did they resist eating up their
own wares? It seemed strange that these sunken-chested, hobbling, halt,
shuffling, shivering, starved creatures should still fight on for
life. Why did they not suddenly rise and sack the city? No wonder those
are ripe for revolution whose condition cannot be made worse.

Policemen in sandals and dark-blue shoddy cap and cloak looked little
less miserable than the peons. All about the covered market were peon
restaurants, a ragged strip of canvas as roof, under it an ancient
wooden table and two benches. Unwashed Indian women cooked in several
open earthen bowls the favorite Mexican dishes,--_frijoles_ (a stew
of brown beans), chile con carne, rice, stews of stray scraps of meat
and the leavings of the butcher-shops. These were dished up in brown
glazed jars and eaten with strips of tortilla folded between the
fingers, as the Arab eats with _gkebis_. Indeed there were many
things reminiscent of the markets and streets of Damascus, more customs
similar to those of the Moor than the Spaniard could have brought over,
and the brown, wrinkled old women much resembled those of Palestine,
though their noses were flatter and their features heavier.

Yet it was a good-natured crowd. In all my wandering in it I heard not
an unpleasant word, not a jest at my expense, almost no evidence of
anti-foreign feeling, which seems not indigenous to the peon, but
implanted in him by those of ulterior motives. Nor did they once ask
alms or attempt to push misery forward. The least charitable would be
strongly tempted to succor any one of the throng individually, but here
a hundred dollars in American money divided into Mexican centavos would
hardly go round. Here and there were pulquerías full of besotted,
shouting men--and who would not drink to drown such misery?

There was not a male of any species but had his colored blanket, red,
purple, Indian-yellow, generally with two black stripes, the poorer with
a strip of old carpet. These they wound about their bodies, folding them
across the chest, the arms hugged together inside in such a way as to
bring a corner across the mouth and nose, leaving their pipe-stem legs
below, and wandered thus dismally about in the frequent spurts of cold
rain. Now and then a lowest of the low passed in the cast-off remnants
of "European" clothes, which were evidently considered far inferior to
peon garb, however bedraggled. Bare or sandaled feet seemed impervious
to cold, again like the Arab, as was also this fear of the raw air and
half covering of the face that gave a Mohammedan touch, especially to
the women. To me the atmosphere was no different than late October in
the States. The peons evidently never shaved, though there were many
miserable little barber-shops. On the farther outskirts of the hawkers
were long rows of shanties, shacks made of everything under the sun,
flattened tin cans, scraps of rubbish, two sticks holding up a couple of
ragged bags under which huddled old women with scraps of cactus and
bundles of tiny fagots.

Scattered through the throng were several "readers." One half-Indian
woman I passed many times was reading incessantly, with the speed of a
Frenchman, from printed strips of cheap colored paper which she offered
for sale at a cent each. They were political in nature, often in verse,
insulting in treatment, and mixed with a crass obscenity at which the
dismal multitude laughed bestially. Three musicians, one with a rude
harp, a boy striking a triangle steel, sang mournful dirges similar to
those of Andalusia. The peons listened to both music and reading
motionless, with expressionless faces, with never a "move on" from the
policeman, who seemed the least obstrusive of mortals.

San Luís Potosí has many large rich churches, misery and pseudo-religion
being common joint-legacies of Spanish rule. Small chance these
creatures would have of feeling at home in a place so different from
their earthly surroundings as the Christian heaven. The thump of church
bells, some with the voice of battered old tin pans, broke out
frequently. Now and then one of these dregs of humanity crept into
church for a nap, but the huge edifices showed no other sign of
usefulness. On the whole there was little appearance of "religion." A
few women were seen in the churches, a book-seller sold no novels and
little literature but "mucho de religión," but the great majority gave
no outward sign of belonging to any faith. Priests were not often seen
in the streets. Mexican law forbids them to wear a distinctive costume,
hence they dressed in black derbies, Episcopal neckbands, and black
capes to the ankles. Not distinctive indeed! No one could have guessed
what they were! One might have fancied them prize-fighters on the way
from training quarters to bathroom.

There is comparative splendor also in San Luís, as one may see by peeps
into the lighted houses at night, but it is shut in tight as if fearful
of the poor breaking in. As in so many Spanish countries, wealth shrinks
out of sight and misery openly parades itself.

Out across the railroad, where hundreds of ragged boys were riding
freight cars back and forth in front of the station, the land lay flat
as a table, some cactus here and there, but apparently fertile, with
neither sod to break nor clearing necessary. Yet nowhere, even on the
edge of the starving city, was there a sign of cultivation. We of the
North were perhaps more kind to the Indian in killing him off.



CHAPTER II

TRAMPING THE BYWAYS

Heavy weather still hung over the land to the southward. Indian corn,
dry and shriveled, was sometimes shocked as in the States. The first
field of maguey appeared, planted in long rows, barely a foot high, but
due in a year or two to produce pulque, the Mexican scourge, because of
its cheapness, stupefying the poorer classes. When fresh, it is said to
be beneficial in kidney troubles and other ailments, but soon becomes
over-fermented in the pulquerías of the cities and more harmful than a
stronger liquor.

Within the car was an American of fifty, thin and drawn, with huddled
shoulders, who had been beaten by rebel forces in Zacatecas and robbed
of his worldly wealth of $13,000 hidden in vain in his socks. Numbers of
United States box-cars jolted across the country end to end with
Mexican; the "B. & O." behind the "Norte de Méjico," the "N. Y. C.,"
followed by the "Central Mejicano." Long broad stretches of plain, with
cactus and mesquite, spread to low mountains blue with cold morning
mist, all but their base hung with fog. Beyond Jesús María, which is a
sample of the station names, peons lived in bedraggled tents along the
way, and the corn was even drier. The world seemed threatening to dry up
entirely. At Cartagena there began veritable forests of cactus trees,
and a wild scrub resembling the olive. Thousands of _tunas_, the
red fruit of the cactus, dotted the ground along the way. The sun
sizzled its way through the heavy sky as we climbed the flank of a rocky
range, the vast half-forested plain to the east sinking lower and lower
as we rose. Then came broken country with many muddy streams. It was
the altitude perhaps that caused the patent feeling of exhilaration, as
much as the near prospect of taking again to the open road.

As the "garrotero" ("twister," or "choker" as the brakeman is called in
Mexico) announced Dolores Hidalgo, I slipped four cartridges into my
automatic. The roadways of Mexico offered unknown possibilities. A
six-foot street-car drawn--when at all--by mules, stood at the station,
but I struck off across the rolling country by a footpath that probably
led to the invisible town. A half-mile lay behind me before I met the
first man. He was riding an ass, but when I gave him "Buenos días," he
replied with a whining: "Una limosnita! A little alms, for the love of
God." He wore a rosary about his neck and a huge cross on his
chest. When I ignored his plea he rode on mumbling. The savage bellow of
a bull not far off suggested a new possible danger on the road in this
unfenced and almost treeless country. More men passed on asses, mules,
and horses, but none afoot. Finally over the brown rise appeared Dolores
Hidalgo; two enormous churches and an otherwise small town in a
tree-touched valley. The central plaza, with many trees and hedges
trimmed in the form of animals, had in its center the statue of the
priest Hidalgo y Costilla, the "father of Mexican independence." A block
away, packed with pictures and wreathes and with much of the old
furniture as he left it, was the house in which he had lived before he
started the activities that ended in the loss of his head.

Well fortified at the excellent hotel, I struck out past the patriot
priest's house over an arched bridge into the open country. As in any
unknown land, the beginning of tramping was not without a certain mild
misgiving. The "road" was only a trail and soon lost itself. A boy
speaking good Spanish walked a long mile to set me right, and valued his
services at a _centavo_. A half-cent seemed to be the fixed fee for
anything among these country people. A peon carrying a load of
deep-green alfalfa demanded as much for the privilege of photographing
him when he was "not dressed up." He showed no sign whatever of
gratitude when I doubled it and added a cigarette.

The bright sun had now turned the day to early June. The so-called road
was a well-trodden sandy path between high cactus hedges over rolling
country. An hour out, the last look back on Dolores Hidalgo showed also
mile upon mile of rolling plain to far, far blue sierras, all in all
perhaps a hundred square miles visible. There were many travelers,
chiefly on foot and carrying bundles on their heads. The greeting of
these was "Adiós," while the better-to-do class on horse or mule back
used the customary "Buenas tardes!" Thirst grew, but though the country
was broken, with many wash-outs cutting deep across the trail, the
streams were all muddy. Now and then a tuna on the cactus hedges was
red ripe enough to be worth picking and, though full of seeds, was at
least wet. It was harder to handle than a porcupine, and commonly left
the fingers full of spines. Two men passed, offering _dulces_, a
species of native candy, for sale. I declined. "Muy bien, give us a
cigarette." I declined again, being low in stock. "Very well, adiós,
señor," they replied in the apathetic way of their race, as if it were
quite as satisfactory to them to get nothing as what they asked.

The Rancho del Capulin, where night overtook me, was a hamlet of eight
or ten houses, some mere stacks of thatch, out of the smoky doorway of
which, three feet high, peered the half-naked inmates; others of adobe,
large bricks of mud and chopped straw, which could be picked to pieces
with the fingers.

From one of the kennels a woman called out to know if I would eat. I
asked if she could give lodging also and she referred me to her husband
inside. I stopped to peer in through the doorway and he answered there
was not room enough as it was, which was evident to the slowest-witted,
for the family of six or eight of all ages, more or less dressed, lying
and squatted about the earth floor dipping their fingers into bowls of
steaming food, left not a square foot unoccupied. He advised me to go
"beg license" of the "señora" of the house farther on, a low adobe
building with wooden doors.

"There is nothing but the place opposite," she answered.

This was a sort of mud cave, man-made and door-less, the uneven earth
floor covered with excrement, human and otherwise. I returned to peer
into the mat-roofed yard with piles of corn-stalks and un-threshed
beans, and met the man of the house just arriving with his labor-worn
burros. He was a sinewy peasant of about fifty, dressed like all country
peons in shirt and tight trousers of thinnest white cotton, showing his
brown skin here and there. As he hesitated to give me answer, the wife
made frantic signs to him from behind the door, of which the cracks were
inches wide. He caught the hint and replied to my request for lodging:

"Only if you pay me three centavos."

Such exorbitance! The regulation price was perhaps one. But I yielded,
for it was raining, and entered, to sit down on a heap of unthreshed
beans. The woman brought me a mat three feet long, evidently destined
to be my bed. I was really in the family barnyard, with no end walls,
chickens overhead and the burros beyond. The rain took to dripping
through the mat roof, and as I turned back toward the first hut for the
promised frijoles and tortillas the woman called to me to say she also
could furnish me supper.

The main room of the house was about ten by ten, with mud walls five
feet high, a pitched roof of some sort of grass with several holes in
it. In the center of the room was a fireplace three feet high and four
square, with several steaming glazed pots over a fire of _encinal_
fagots. The walls were black with soot of the smoke that partly wandered
out of an irregular hole in the farther end of the room. The
eight-year-old son of the family was eating corn-stalks with great
gusto, tearing off the rind with his teeth and chewing the stalk as
others do sugar-cane. I handed him a loaf of potosino bread and he
answered a perfunctory "Gracias," but neither he nor any of the family
showed any evidence of gratitude as he wolfed it. The man complained
that all the corn had dried up for lack of rain. The woman set before me
a bowl of "sopita," with tortillas, white cheese, and boiled whole
peppers. A penniless peon traveler begged a cigarette and half my
morning loaf, and went out into the night and rain to sleep in the
"chapel," as the mud cave across the way was called. There several
travelers had settled down for the night. A girl of seventeen or so
splashed across from it to beg "a jar of water for a poor prostitute,"
apparently announcing her calling merely as a curious bit of
information.

The family took at last to eating and kept it up a full hour, meanwhile
discussing me thoroughly. Like most untutored races, they fancied I
could not understand their ordinary tones. When they wished to address
me they merely spoke louder. It is remarkable how Spain has imposed her
language on even these wild, illiterate Indians as England has not even
upon her colonies. As the rain continued to pour, I was to sleep in the
kitchen. Drunken peons were shouting outside and the family seemed much
frightened, keeping absolute silence. The four by two door with its
six-inch cracks was blocked with a heavy pole, the family retired to the
other room, and I stretched out in the darkness on the unsteady wooden
bench, a foot wide, my head on my knapsack. I was soon glad of having a
sweater, but that failed to cover my legs, and I slept virtually not at
all through a night at least four months long, punctuated by much
howling of dogs.

It was still pitch dark when the "senora" entered, to spend a long time
getting a fire started with wet fagots. Then she began making
_atole_. Taking shelled corn from an earthen jar, she sprinkled it
in the hallow of a stone and crushed it with much labor. This was put
into water, strained through a sieve, then thrown into a kettle of
boiling water. It was much toil for little food. Already she had labored
a full hour. I asked for coffee, and she answered she had none but would
buy some when the "store" opened. It grew broad daylight before this
happened and I accepted atole. It was hot, but as tasteless as might be
the water from boiled corn-stalks. There had been much discussion,
supposedly unknown to me, the night before as to how much they dared
charge me. The bill was finally set at twelve centavos (six cents),
eight for supper, three for lodging, and one for breakfast. It was
evidently highly exorbitant, for the family expressed to each other
their astonishment that I paid it without protest.

At the very outset there was a knee-deep river to cross, then miles of a
"gumbo" mud that stuck like bad habits. My feet at times weighed twenty
pounds each. Wild rocky hillsides alternated with breathless
climbs. Many cattle were scattered far and wide over the mountains, but
there was no cultivation. I passed an occasional _rancho_,
villages of six or seven adobe or thatch huts, with sometimes a ruined
brick chapel. Flowers bloomed thickly, morning glories, geraniums,
masses of a dark purple blossom. The "road" was either a mud-hole or a
sharp path of jagged rolling stones in a barren, rocky, tumbled
country. Eleven found me entering another rancho in a wild valley. My
attempts to buy food were several times answered with, "Más arribita"--
"A little higher up." I came at last to the "restaurant." It was a
cobble-stone hut hung on a sharp hillside, with a hole two feet square
opening on the road. Two men in gay sarapes, with guns and belts of huge
cartridges, reached it at the same time, and we squatted together on the
ground at an angle of the wall below the window and ate with much
exchange of banter the food poked out to us. The two had come that
morning from Guanajuato, whither I was bound, and were headed for
Dolores. It was the first time I had any certain information as to the
distance before me, which had been variously reported at from five to
forty leagues. We ate two bowls of frijoles each, and many tortillas and
chiles. One of the men paid the entire bill of twenty-seven centavos,
but accepted ten from me under protest.

Beyond was a great climb along a stony, small stream up into a blackish,
rocky range. The sun shone splendidly, also hotly. Apparently there was
no danger to travelers even in these wild parts. The peons I met were
astonishingly incurious, barely appearing to notice my existence. Some
addressed me as "jefe" (chief), suggesting the existence of mines in the
vicinity. If I drew them into conversation they answered merely in
monosyllables: "Sí, señor." "No, jefe." Not a word of Indian dialect
had I heard since entering the country. Two hours above the restaurant a
vast prospect of winding, tumbled, rocky valley and mountain piled upon
mountain beyond opened out. From the summit, surely nine thousand feet
up, began the rocky descent to the town of Santa Rosa, broken by short
climbs and troublesome with rocks. I overtook many donkeys loaded with
crates of cactus fruit, railroad ties, and the like, and finally at
three came out in sight of the famous mining city of Guanajuato.

It would take the pen of a master to paint the blue labyrinth of
mountains heaped up on all sides and beyond the long, winding city in
the narrow gorge far below, up out of which came with each puff of wind
the muffled sound of stamp-mills and smelters. As I sat, the howling of
three drunken peons drifted up from the road below. When they reached
me, one of them, past forty, thrust his unwashed, pulque-perfumed face
into mine and demanded a cigarette. When I declined, he continued to beg
in a threatening manner. Meanwhile the drunkest of the three, a youth of
perhaps seventeen, large and muscular, an evil gleam in his eye, edged
his way up to me with one arm behind him and added his demands to that
of the other. I suddenly pulled the hidden hand into sight and found in
it a sharp broken piece of rock weighing some ten pounds. Having
knocked this out of his grasp, I laid my automatic across my knees and
the more sober pair dragged the belligerent youth on up the mountain
trail.

For an hour the way wound down by steep, horribly cobbled descents, then
between mud and stone huts, and finally down a more level and wider
cobbled street along which were the rails of a mule tramway. The narrow
city wound for miles along the bottom of a deep gully, gay everywhere
with perennial flowers. The main avenue ran like a stream along the
bottom, and he who lost himself in the stair-like side streets had only
to follow downward to find it again as surely as a tributary its main
river. Masses of rocky mountains were piled up on all sides.

The climate of Guanajuato is unsurpassed. Brilliant sunshine flooded
days like our early June, in which one must hurry to sweat in the noon
time, while two blankets made comfortable covering at night. This is
true of not only one season but the year around, during which the
thermometer does not vary ten degrees. July is coldest and a fireplace
not uncomfortable in the evening. An American resident who went home to
one of the States bordering on Canada for his vacation sat wiping the
sweat out of his eyes there, when one of his untraveled countrymen
observed:

"You must feel very much at home in this heat after nine years in
Mexico."

Whereupon the sufferer arose in disgust, packed his bag, and sped south
to mosquitoless coolness.

The evening air is indescribable; all nature's changes of striking
beauty; and the setting sun throwing its last rays on the Bufa, the
salient points of that and the other peaks purple with light, with the
valleys in deep shadow, is a sight worth tramping far to see.

I drifted down along the gully next morning, following the main street,
which changed direction every few yards, "paved" with three-inch
cobbles, the sidewalks two feet wide, leaving one pedestrian to jump off
it each time two met. A diminutive streetcar drawn by mules with
jingling bells passed now and then. Peons swarmed here also, but there
was by no means the abject poverty of San Luis Potosi, and Americans
seemed in considerable favor, as their mines in the vicinity give the
town its livelihood. I was seeking the famous old "Alóndiga," but the
policeman I asked began looking at the names of the shops along the way
as if he fancied it some tobacco booth. I tried again by designating it
as "la cárcel." He still shook his head sadly. But when I described it
as the place where Father Hidalgo's head hung on a hook for thirteen
years, a great light broke suddenly upon him and he at once abandoned
his beat and led me several blocks, refusing to be shaken off. What I
first took for extreme courtesy, however, turned out to be merely the
quest of tips, an activity in which the police of most Mexican cities
are scarcely outdone by the waiters along Broadway.

The ancient building was outwardly plain and nearly square, more massive
than the rest of the city. High up on each of its corners under the
rusted hooks were the names of the four early opponents of Spanish rule
whose heads had once hung there. Inside the corridor stood the statue of
the peon who is said to have reached and fired the building under cover
of the huge slab of stone on his back. When I had waited a while in the
anteroom, the _jefe político_, the supreme commander of the city
appointed by the governor of the State, appeared, the entire roomful of
officials and visitors dropping their cigarettes and rising to greet him
with bared heads. He gave me permission to enter, and the
_presidente_, a podgy second jailor, took me in charge as the iron
door opened to let me in. The walls once red with the blood of Spaniards
slaughtered by the forces of the priest of Dolores had lost that tint in
the century since passed, and were smeared with nothing more startling
than a certain lack of cleanliness. The immense, three-story, stone
building of colonial days enclosed a vast patio in which prisoners
seemed to enjoy complete freedom, lying about the yard in the brilliant
sunshine, playing cards, or washing themselves and their scanty clothing
in the huge stone fountain in the center. The so-called cells in which
they were shut up in groups during the night were large chambers that
once housed the colonial government. By day many of them work at weaving
hats, baskets, brushes, and the like, to sell for their own benefit,
thus being able to order food from outside and avoid the mess brought in
barrels at two and seven of each afternoon for those dependent on
government rations. Now and then a wife or feminine friend of one of
the prisoners appeared at the grating with a basket of food. Several of
the inmates were called one by one to the crack of an iron door in the
wall to hear the sentence the judge had chosen to impose upon them in
the quiet of his own home; for public jury trial is not customary in
Spanish America.

In the fine gallery around the patio, in the second-story, we were
joined by an American from Colorado, charged with killing a Mexican, but
who seemed little worried with his present condition or doubtful of his
ultimate release. From the flat roof, large enough for a school
playground, there spread out a splendid view of all the city and its
surrounding mountains. There were, all told, some five hundred
prisoners. A room opening on the patio served as a school for convicts,
where a man well advanced in years, bewhiskered and of a decidedly
pedagogical cast of countenance in spite of his part Indian blood, sat
on his back, peering dreamily through his glasses at the seventy or more
pupils, chiefly between the ages of fifteen and twenty, who drowsed
before him.

There is a no less fine view from the hill behind, on which sits the
Panteon, or city cemetery. It is a rectangular place enclosing perhaps
three acres, and, as all Guanajuato has been buried here for centuries,
considerably crowded. For this reason and from inherited Spanish custom,
bodies are seldom buried, but are pigeonholed away in the deep niches
two feet square into what from the outside looks to be merely the
enclosing wall. Here, in more exact order than prevails in life, the
dead of Guanajuato are filed in series, each designated by a
number. Series six was new and not yet half occupied. A funeral ends by
thrusting the coffin into its appointed pigeonhole, which the Indian
employees brick up and face with cement, in which while still soft the
name of the defunct and other information is commonly rudely scratched
with a stick, often with amateur spelling. Here and there is one in
English:--"My Father's Servant--H. B." Some have marble headpieces with
engraved names, and perhaps a third of the niches bear the information
"En Perpetuidad," indicating that the rent has been paid up until
judgment day. The majority of the corpses, however, are dragged out
after one to five years and dumped in the common bone-yard, as in all
Spanish-speaking countries. The Indian attendants were even then opening
several in an older series and tossing skulls and bones about amid
facetious banter. The lower four rows can be reached readily, but not a
few suffer the pain of being "skied," where only those who chance to
glance upward will notice them.

There were some graves in the ground, evidently of the poorer Indian
classes. Several had been newly dug, unearthing former occupants, and a
grinning skull sat awry on a heap of earth amid a few thigh bones and
scattered ribs, all trodden under sandaled foot-prints. In one hole lay
the thick black hair of what had once been a peon, as intact as any
actor's wig. There is some property in the soil of Guanajuato's Panteón
that preserves bodies buried in the ground without coffins, so that its
"mummies" have become famous. The director attended me in person and,
crossing the enclosure, opened a door in the ground near the fourth
series of niches, where we descended a little circular iron
stairway. This opened on a high vaulted corridor, six feet wide and
thirty long. Along this, behind glass doors, stood some hundred more or
less complete bodies shrouded in sheets. They retained, or had been
arranged, in the same form they had presented in life--peon carriers
bent as if still under a heavy burden, old market women in the act of
haggling, _arrieros_ plodding behind their imaginary burros. Some
had their mouths wide open, as if they had been buried alive and had
died shouting for release. One fellow stood leaning against a support,
like a man joking with an elbow on the bar, a glass between his fingers,
in the act of laughing uproariously. Several babies had been placed
upright here and there between the elders. Most of the corpses wore old
dilapidated shoes. In the farther end of the corridor were stacked
thighbones and skulls surely sufficient to fill two box-cars, all facing
to the front. I asked how many deaths the collection represented, and
the director shrugged his shoulders with an indifferent "Quién sabe?" He
who would understand the Mexican, descendant of the Aztecs, must not
overlook a certain apathetic indifference to death, and a playful manner
with its remains.

Once on earth again, I gave the director a handful of coppers and
descended to the town, motley now with market-day. The place swarmed
with color; ragged, unwashed males and females squatted on the narrow
sidewalks with fruit, sweets, gay blankets and clothing, cast-off shoes
and garments, piles of new sandals, spread out in the street before
them. Amid the babel of street cries the most persistent was
"Agua-miel!"--"Honey water," as the juice of the maguey is called during
the twelve hours before fermentation sets in. From twelve to thirty-six
hours after its drawing it is intoxicating; from then on, only fit to be
thrown away. But the sour stench from each pulquería and many a passing
peon proved a forced longevity. Several lay drunk in the streets, but
passers-by stepped over or around them with the air of those who do as
they hope to be done by. Laughter was rare, the great majority being
exceedingly somber in manner. Even their songs are gloomy wails,
recalling the Arabs. A few children played at "bull-fight," and here and
there two or three, thanks to the American influence, were engaged in
what they fancied was baseball. But for the most part they were not
playful. The young of both Indians and donkeys are trained early for the
life before them. The shaggy little ass-colts follow their mothers over
the cobbled streets and along mountain trails from birth, and the peon
children, wearing the same huge hat, gay sarape, and tight breeches as
their fathers, or the identical garb of the mothers, carry their share
of the family burden almost from infancy. Everything of whatever size or
shape was carried on the backs or heads of Indians with a supporting
strap across the forehead. A peon passed bearing on his head the corpse
of a baby in an open wooden coffin, scattered with flowers. Trunks of
full size are transported in this way to all parts of the mountain town,
and the Indian who carries the heaviest of them to a mine ten miles away
and two thousand feet above the city over the rockiest trails considers
himself well paid at thirty cents. Six peons dog-trotted by from the
municipal slaughter-house with a steer on their backs: four carried a
quarter each; one the head and skin; and the last, heart, stomach, and
intestines. Horseshoers worked in the open streets, using whatever shoes
they had on hand without adjustment, paring down the hoofs of the animal
to fit them. Here and there a policeman on his beat was languidly
occupied in making brushes, like the prisoners of the Alóndiga, and two
I saw whiling away the time making lace! Several of them tagged my
footsteps, eager for some errand. One feels no great sense of security
in a country whose boyish, uneducated, and ragged guardians of order
cringe around like beggar boys hoping for a copper.

Saturday is beggar's day, when those who seek alms more or less
surreptitiously during the week are permitted to pass in procession
along the shops, many of which disburse on this day a fixed sum, as high
as twenty dollars, in copper centavos. Now and then the mule-cars bowled
over a laden ass, which sat up calmly on its haunches, front feet in the
air, until the obstruction passed. All those of Indian blood were
notable for their strong white teeth, not one of which they seem ever to
lose. In the church a bit higher up several bedraggled women and
pulque-besotted peons knelt before a disgusting representation of the
Crucifixion. The figure had real hair, beard, eyebrows, and even
eyelashes, with several mortal wounds, barked knees and shins, half the
body smeared with red paint as blood, all in all fit only for the
morgue. Farther on, drowsed the post-office, noted like all south of the
Rio Grande for its unreliability. Unregistered packages seldom arrive at
their destination, groceries sent from the States to American residents
are at least half eaten en route. A man of the North unacquainted with
the ways of Mexico sent unregistered a Christmas present of a dozen
pairs of silk socks. The addressee inquired for them daily for
weeks. Finally he wrote for a detailed description of the hectic lost
property, and had no difficulty in recognizing at least two pairs as the
beak-nosed officials hitched up their trousers to tell him again nothing
whatever had come for him. Not long before my arrival a Mexican
mail-car had been wrecked, and between the ceiling and the outer wall
were found over forty thousand letters postal clerks had opened and
thrown there.

I drifted into an "Escuela Gratuita para Niños." The heavy, barn-like
door gave entrance to a cobbled corridor, opening on a long schoolroom
with two rows of hard wooden benches on which were seated a half hundred
little peons aged seven to ten, all raggedly dressed in the identical
garb, sandals and all, of their fathers in the streets, their huge straw
hats covering one of the walls. The _maestro_, a small,
down-trodden-looking Mexican, rushed to the door to bring me down to the
front and provide me with a chair. The school had been founded some six
months before by a woman of wealth, and offered free instruction to the
sons of peons. But the Indians as always were suspicious, and for the
most part refused to allow their children to be taught the "witchcraft"
of the white man. The teacher asked what class I cared to hear and then
himself hastily suggested "cuentitas." The boys were quick at figures,
at least in the examples the maestro chose to give them, but he declined
to show them off in writing or spelling. Several read aloud, in that
mumbled and half-pronounced manner common to Mexico, the only
requirement appearing to be speed. Then came a class in "Historia
Santa," that is, various of the larger boys arose to spout at full
gallop and the distinct enunciation of an "El" train, the biblical
account of the creation of the world, the legends of Adam and Eve, Cain
and Abel, and Noah's travels with a menagerie, all learned by rote. The
entire school then arose and bowed me out.

A visit to a mixed school, presided over by carelessly dressed maidens
of uncertain age and the all-knowing glance of those who feel the world
and all its knowledge lies concentrated in the hollow of their hands,
showed a quite similar method of instruction. On the wall hung a great
lithograph depicting in all its dreadful details the alleged horrors of
"alcoolismo." Even the teachers rattled off their questions with an
atrocious, half-enunciated pronunciation, and he must have been a
Spanish scholar indeed who could have caught more than the gist of the
recited answers. This indistinctness of enunciation and the Catholic
system of learning by rote instead of permitting the development of
individual power to think were as marked even in the _colegio_,
corresponding roughly to our high schools. Even there the professor
never commanded, "More distinctly!" but he frequently cried, "Faster!"

On the wall of this higher institution was a stern set of rules, among
which some of the most important were:

"Students must not smoke in the presence of professors," though this was
but mildly observed, for when I entered the study room with the director
and his assistant, all of us smoking, the boys, averaging fifteen years
of age, merely held their lighted cigarettes half out of sight behind
them until we passed. Another rule read: "Any student frequenting a
tavern, café chantant, or house of ill-fame may be expelled." He might
run that risk in most schools, but none but the Latinized races would
announce the fact in plain words on the bulletin-boards. The director
complained that the recent revolutions had set the school far back, as
each government left it to the next to provide for such secondary
necessities.



CHAPTER III

IN A MEXICAN MINE

A classmate of my boyhood was superintendent of the group of mines round
about Guanajuato. From among them we chose "Pingüico" for my temporary
employment. The ride to it, 8200 feet above the sea, up along and out of
the gully in which Guanajuato is built, and by steep rocky trails
sometimes beside sheer mountain walls, opens out many a marvelous vista;
but none to compare with that from the office veranda of the mine
itself. Two thousand feet below lies a plain of Mexico's great
table-land, stretching forty miles or more across to where it is shut
off by an endless range of mountains, backed by chain after blue chain,
each cutting the sky-line in more jagged, fantastic fashion than the
rest, the farther far beyond Guadalajara and surely more than a hundred
miles distant, where Mexico falls away into the Pacific. On the left
rises deep-blue into the sky the almost perfect flattened cone of a lone
mountain. Brilliant yet not hot sunshine illuminated even the far
horizon, and little cloud-shadows crawled here and there across the
landscape. The rainy season had left on the plain below many shallow
lakes that reflected the sun like immense mirrors. From the veranda it
seemed quite flat, though in reality by no means so, and one could all
but count the windows of Silao, Irapuato, and other towns; the second,
though more than twenty miles away, still in the back foreground of the
picture. Thread-like, brown trails wound away over the plain and up
into the mountains, here and there dotted by travelers crawling ant-like
along them a few inches an hour. Take the most perfect day of late May
or early June in our North, brush off the clouds, make the air many
times fresher and clearer, add October nights, and multiply the sum
total by 365, and it is more easily understood why Americans who settle
in the Guanajuato region so frequently remain there.

The room I shared with a mine boss was of chilly stone walls and floor,
large and square, with a rug, two beds, and the bare necessities. The
mine mess, run by a Chinaman, furnished meals much like those of a
25-cent restaurant in Texas, at the rate of $5 a week. No Mexican was
permitted to eat with the Americans, not even with the "rough-necks."
When the whistle blew at seven next morning, some forty peons, who had
straggled one by one in the dawn to huddle up together in their red
sarapes among the rocks of the drab hillside, marched past the
timekeeper, turning over their blankets at a check counter, and with
their lunches, of the size of the round tortilla at the bottom and four
to six inches high, in their handkerchiefs, climbed into the six-foot,
iron ore-bucket until it was completely roofed with their immense straw
hats. Near by those of the second night-shift, homeward bound, halted,
to stand one by one on a wooden block with outstretched arms to be
carefully searched for stolen ore by a tried and trusted fellow-peon. A
pocketful of "high-grade" might be worth several dollars. The American
"jefe" sat in the hoisthouse, writing out requisitions for candles,
dynamite, and kindred supplies for the "jefecitos," or straw bosses, of
the hundred or more peons still lined up before the shaft. With the last
batch of these in the bucket, we white men stepped upon the platform
below it and dropped suddenly into the black depths of the earth, with
now and then a stone easily capable of cracking a skull bounding swiftly
with a hollow sound past us back and forth across the shaft.

Not infrequently in the days to come some accident to the hoist-engine
above left us to stand an hour or more packed tightly together in our
suspended four-foot space in unmitigated darkness. For this and other
reasons no peon was ever permitted to ride on the platform with an
American. Twelve hundred feet down we stepped out into a winding, rock
gallery nearly six feet wide and high, where fourteen natives were
loading rock and mud into iron dump-cars and pushing them to a near-by
chute. Even at this depth flies were thick. A facetious boss asserted
they hatched on the peons. My task here was to "sacar muestras"--"take
samples," as it was called in English. From each car as it passed I
snatched a handful of mud and small broken rock and thrust it into a
sack that later went to the assay office to show what grade of ore the
vein was producing.

Once an hour I descended to a hole far beneath by a rope ladder, life
depending on a spike driven in the rock above and a secure handhold, for
the handful of "pay dirt" two peons were grubbing down out of a lower
_veta_, a long narrow alleyway of soft earth and small stones that
stretched away into the interior of the mountain between solid walls of
rock. No inexperienced man would have supposed this mud worth more than
any other. But silver does not come out of the earth in minted dollars.

In the mine the peons wore their hats, a considerable protection against
falling rocks, but were otherwise naked but for their sandals and a
narrow strip of once white cloth between their legs, held by a string
around the waist. Some were well-built, though all were small, and in
the concentrated patch of light the play of their muscles through the
light-brown skins was fascinating. Working thus naked seemed so much
more dangerous; the human form appeared so much more feeble and soft,
delving unclothed in the fathomless, rocky earth. Many a man was marked
here and there with long deep scars. It was noticeable how character,
habits, dissipation, which show so plainly in the face, left but little
sign on the rest of the body, which remained for the most part smooth
and unwrinkled.

The peons were more than careless. All day long dynamite was tossed
carelessly back and forth about me. A man broke up three or four sticks
of it at a time, wrapped them in paper, and beat the mass into the form
of a ball on a rock at my feet. Miners grow so accustomed to this that
they note it, if at all, with complete indifference, often working and
serenely smoking seated on several hundred pounds of explosives. One
peon of forty in this gang had lost his entire left arm in a recent
explosion, yet he handled the dangerous stuff as carelessly as ever.
Several others were mutilated in lesser degrees. They depend on charms
and prayers to their favorite saint rather than on their own
precautions. Every few minutes the day through came the cry: "'Stá
pegado!" that sent us skurrying a few feet away until a dull, deafening
explosion brought down a new section of the vein. Not long before, there
had been a cave-in just beyond where we were working, and the several
men imprisoned there had not been rescued, so that now and then a skull
and portions of skeleton came down with the rock. The peons had first
balked at this, but the superintendent had told them the bones were
merely strange shapes of ore, ordered them to break up the skulls and
throw them in with the rest, and threatened to discharge and blackball
any man who talked of the matter.

By law a Mexican injured in the mine could not be treated on the spot,
but must be first carried to Guanajuato--often dying on the way--to be
examined by the police and then brought back to the mine hospital. Small
hurts were of slight importance to the peons. During my first hour
below, a muddy rock fell down the front of a laborer, scraping the skin
off his nose, deeply scratching his chest and thighs, and causing his
toes to bleed, but he merely swore a few round oaths and continued his
work. The hospital doctors asserted that the peon has not more than one
fourth the physical sensitiveness of civilized persons. Many a one
allowed a finger to be amputated without a word, and as chloroform is
expensive the surgeon often replaced it with a long draught of
_mescal_ or _tequila_, the native whiskies.

Outwardly the peons were very deferential to white men. I could rarely
get a sentence from them, though they chattered much among themselves,
with a constant sprinkling of obscenity. They had a complete language of
whistles by which they warned each other of an approaching "jefe,"
exchanged varied information, and even entered into discussion of the
alleged characteristics of their superiors in their very presence
without being understood by the uninitiated. Frequently, too, amid the
rumble of the "veta madre" pouring down her treasures, some former
Broadway favorite that had found its way gradually to the theater of
Guanajuato sounded weirdly through the gallery, as it was whistled by
some naked peon behind a loaded car. A man speaking only the pure
Castilian would have had some difficulty in understanding many of the
mine terms. Many Indian words had crept into the common language, such
as "chiquihuite" for basket.

Some seventy-five cars passed me during the morning. Under supervision
the peons worked at moderately good speed; indeed, they compared rather
favorably with the rough American laborers with whom I had recently
toiled in railroad gangs, in a stone-quarry of Oklahoma, and the
cotton-fields of Texas. The endurance of these fellows living on corn
and beans is remarkable; they were as superior to the Oriental coolie as
their wages to the latter's eight or ten cents a day. In this case, as
the world over, the workmen earned about what he was paid, or rather
succeeded in keeping his capacity down to the wages paid him. Many
galleries of the mine were "worked on contract," and almost all gangs
had their self-chosen leader. A peon with a bit more standing in the
community than his fellows, wearing something or other to suggest his
authority and higher place in the world--such perhaps as the pink shirt
the haughty "jefecito" beside me sported--appeared with twelve or more
men ready for work and was given a section and paid enough to give his
men from fifty to eighty cents a day each and have something over a
dollar left for himself. Miners' wages vary much throughout Mexico, from
twelve dollars a month to two a day in places no insuperable distances
apart. Conditions also differ greatly, according to my experienced
compatriots. The striking and booting of the workmen, common in some
mines, was never permitted in "Pingüico." In Pachuca, for example, this
was said to be the universal practice; while in the mines of Chihuahua
it would have been as dangerous as to do the same thing to a stick of
dynamite. Here the peon's manner was little short of obsequious
outwardly, yet one had the feeling that in crowds they were capable of
making trouble and those who had fallen upon "gringoes" in the region
had despatched their victims thoroughly, leaving them mutilated and
robbed even of their clothing. The charming part of it all was one could
never know which of these slinking fellows was a bandit by avocation and
saving up his unvented anger for the boss who ordered him about at his
labors.

It felt pleasant, indeed, to bask in the sun a half hour after dinner
before descending again. Toward five I tied and tagged the sacks of
samples and followed them, on peon backs, to the shaft and to the world
above with its hot and cold shower-bath, and the Chinaman's promise,
thanks to the proximity of Irapuato, of "stlaybelly pie." Though the
American force numbered several of those fruitless individuals that
drift in and out of all mining communities, it was on the whole of
rather high caliber. Besides "Sully the Pug," a mere human animal, hairy
and muscular as a bear, and two "Texicans," as those born in the States
of some Mexican blood and generally a touch of foreign accent are
called, there were two engineers who lived with their "chinitas," or
illiterate _mestizo_ Mexican wives and broods of peon children down
in the valley below the dump-heap. Caste lines were not lacking even
among the Americans in the "camp," as these call Guanajuato and its
mining environs. More than one complained that those who married Mexican
girls of unsullied character and even education were rated "squaw-men"
and more or less ostracized by their fellow countrymen, and especially
country-women, while the man who "picked up an old rounder from the
States" was looked upon as an equal. The speech of all Mexico is
slovenly from the Castilian point of view. Still more so was that of
both the peon and the Americans, who copied the untutored tongue of the
former, often ignorant of its faults, and generally not in the least
anxious to improve, nor indeed to get any other advantage from the
country except the gold and silver they could dig out of it. Laborers
and bosses commonly used "pierra" for piedra; "sa' pa' fuera" for to
leave the mine, "croquesí" for I believe so, commonly ignorant even of
the fact that this is not a single word. In the mess-hall were heard
strange mixtures of the two languages, as when a man rising to answer
some call shouted over his shoulder: "Juan, deja mi pie alone!" Thanks
to much peon intercourse, almost all the Americans had an unconsciously
patronizing air even to their fellows, as many a pedagogue comes to
address all the world in the tone of the schoolroom. The Mexican, like
the Spaniard, never laughs at the most atrocious attempts at his tongue
by foreigners, and even the peons were often extremely quick-witted in
catching the idea from a few mispronounced words. "The man with the
hair----," I said one day, in describing a workman I wished summoned;
and not for the moment recalling the Castilian for curly, I twirled my
fingers in the air.

"Chino!" cried at least a half-dozen peons in the same breath.

Small wonder the Mexican considers the "gringo" rude. An American boss
would send a peon to fetch his key or cigarettes, or on some equally
important errand; the workman would run all the way up hill and down
again in the rarified air, removing his hat as he handed over the
desired article, and the average man from the States would not so much
as grunt his thanks.

The engineers on whom our lives depended as often as we descended into
or mounted from the mine, had concocted and posted in the engine-room
the following "ten commandments":

"Notice To Visitors And Others

"Article 1. Be seated on the platform. It is too large for the engineer
anyway.

"Art. 2. Spit on the floor. We like to clean up after you.

"Art. 3. Talk to the engineer while he is running. There is no
responsibility to his job.

"Art. 4. If the engineer does not know his business, please tell him. He
will appreciate it.

"Art. 5. Ask him as many questions as you like. He is paid to answer
them.

"Art. 6. Please handle all the bright work. We have nothing to do but
clean it.

"Art. 7. Don't spit on the ceiling. We have lost the ladder.

"Art. 8. Should the engineer look angry don't pay any attention to
him. He is harmless.

"Art. 9. If you have no cigarettes take his. They grow in his garden.

"Art. 10. If he is not entertaining, report him to the superintendent
and he will be fired at once."

On the second day the scene of my operations was changed to the eighth
level, a hundred feet below that of the first. It was a long gallery
winding away through the mountain, and connecting a mile beyond with
another shaft opening on another hill, so that the heavy air was
tempered by a constant mild breeze.

Side shafts, just large enough for the ore-cars to pass, pierced far
back into the mountain at frequent intervals. Back in these it was
furnace hot. From them the day-gang took out 115 car-loads, though the
chute was blocked now and then by huge rocks that must be "shot" by a
small charge of dynamite stuck on them, a new way of "shooting the
chutes" that was like striking the ear-drums with a club.

The peons placed in each gallery either a cross or a lithograph of the
Virgin in a shrine made of a dynamite-box, and kept at least one candle
always burning before it. In the morning it was a common sight to see
several appear with a bunch of fresh-picked flowers to set up before the
image. Most of the men wore a rosary or charm about the neck, which they
did not remove even when working naked, and all crossed themselves each
time they entered the mine. Not a few chanted prayers while the cage was
descending. As often as they passed the gallery-shrine, they left off
for an instant the vilest oaths, in which several boys from twelve to
fourteen excelled, to snatch off their hats to the Virgin, then
instantly took up their cursing again. Whenever I left the mine they
begged the half-candle I had left, and set it up with the rest. Yet they
had none of the touchiness of the Hindu about their superstitions, and
showed no resentment whatever even when a "gringo" stopped to light his
cigarette at their improvised "altars."

Trusted miners hired to search the others for stolen ore as they leave
the shaft were sometimes waylaid on the journey home and beaten almost
or quite to death. Once given a position of authority, they were harsher
with their own kind than were the white men. The scarred and seared old
"Pingüico" searcher, who stood at his block three times each twenty-four
hours, had already killed three men who thus attacked him. Under no
provocation whatever would the peons fight underground, but lay for
their enemies only outside. A shift-boss in a neighboring mine remained
seven weeks below, having his food sent down to him, and continued to
work daily with miners who had sworn to kill him once they caught him on
earth. One of our engineers had long been accustomed at another mine to
hand his revolver to the searcher when the shift appeared and to arm
himself with a heavy club. One day the searcher gave the superintendent
a "tip," and when the hundred or more were lined up they were suddenly
commanded to take off their _huarachas_. A gasp of dismay sounded,
but all hastily snatched off their sandals and something like a bushel
of high-grade ore in thin strips lay scattered on the ground. But a few
mornings later the searcher was found dead half way between the mine and
his home.

Some of the mines round about Guanajuato were in a most chaotic state,
especially those of individual ownership. The equipment was often so
poor that fatal accidents were common, deaths even resulting from rocks
falling down the shafts. Among our engineers was one who had recently
come from a mine where during two weeks' employment he pulled out from
one to four corpses daily, until "it got so monotonous" he resigned. In
that same mine it was customary to lock in each shift until the
relieving one arrived, and many worked four or five shifts, thirty-two
to forty hours without a moment of rest, swallowing a bit of food now
and then with a sledge in one hand. "High-graders," as ore-thieves are
called, were numerous. The near-by "Sirena" mine was reputed to have in
its personnel more men who lived by stealing ore than honest
workmen. There ran the story of a new boss in a mine so near ours that
we could hear its blasting from our eighth level, long dull thuds that
seemed to run through the mountain like a shudder through a human body,
who was making his first underground inspection when his light suddenly
went out and he felt the cold barrel of a revolver against his temple. A
peon voice sounded in the darkness close to his ear:

"No te muevas, hijo de----, si quieres vivir!"

Another light was struck and he made out some twenty peons, each with a
sack of "high-grade," and was warned to take his leave on the
double-quick and not to look around on penalty of a worse fate than that
of Lot's wife.

Bandit gangs were known to live in out-of-the-way corners of several
mines, bringing their blankets and tortillas with them and making a
business of stealing ore. Not even the most experienced mining engineer
could more quickly recognize "pay dirt" than the peon population of
Guanajuato vicinity.

Though he is obsequious enough under ordinary circumstances, the mine
peon often has a deep-rooted hatred of the American, which vents itself
chiefly in cold silence, unless opportunity makes some more effective
way possible. Next on his black-list comes the Spaniard, who is reputed
a heartless usurer who long enjoyed protection under Diaz. Third,
perhaps, come the priests, though these are endured as a necessary evil,
as we endure a bad government. The padre of Calderón drifted up to the
mine one day to pay his respects and drink the mine health in good
Scotch whisky. Gradually he brought the conversation around to the
question of disobedience among the peons, and summed up his advice to
the Americans in a vehement explosion:

"Fine them! Fine them often, and much!

"Of course," he added, as he prepared to leave, "you know that by the
laws of Mexico and the _Santa Iglesia_ all such fines go to the
church."

Intercourse between the mine officials and native authorities was almost
always sure to make it worth while to linger in the vicinity. My
disrespectful fellow countrymen were much given to mixing with the most
courteous Spanish forms of speech asides in English which it was well
the pompous native officials did not understand. I reached the office
one day to find the chief of police just arrived to collect for his
services in guarding the money brought out on pay-day.

"Ah, senor mio," cried the superintendent, "Y como esta usted? La
familia buena? Y los hijos--I'll slip the old geaser his six bones and
let him be on his way--Oh, sí, señor. Cómo no? Con muchísimo gusto--and
there goes six of our good bucks and four bits and--Pues adiós, muy
señor mio! Vaya bien!--If only you break your worthless old neck on the
way home--Adiós pues!"

After the shower-bath it was as much worth while to stroll up over the
ridge back of the camp and watch the night settle down over this
upper-story world. Only on the coast of Cochinchina have I seen sunsets
to equal those in this altitude. Each one was different. To-night it
stretched entirely across the saw-toothed summits of the western hills
in a narrow, pinkish-red streak; to-morrow the play of colors on
mountains and clouds, shot blood-red, fading to saffron yellow, growing
an ever-thicker gray down to the horizon, with the unrivaled blue of the
sky overhead, all shifting and changing with every moment, would be
hopelessly beyond the power of words. Often rain was falling in a spot
or two far to the west, and there the clouds were jet black. In one
place well above the horizon was perhaps a brilliant pinkish patch of
reflected sun, and everything else an immensity of clouded sky running
from Confederate gray above to a blackish-blue that blended with range
upon range to the uttermost distance.

There was always a peculiar stillness over all the scene. Groups of
sandaled mine peons wound noiselessly away, a few rods apart, along
undulating trails, the red of their sarapes and the yellow of their
immense hats giving the predominating hue. In the vast landscape was
much green, though more gray of outcropping rocks. Here and there a
lonely telegraph wire struck off dubiously across the rugged
country. Rocks as large as houses hung on the great hillsides, ready to
roll down and destroy at the slightest movement of the earth, like
playthings left by careless giant children. Along some rocky path far
down in the nearer valley a small horse of the patient Mexican breed,
under its picturesque, huge-hatted rider, galloped sure-footed up and
down steep faces of rock. Cargadores bent half double, with a rope
across their brows, came straining upward to the mine. Bands of peons
released from their underground labors paused here and there on the way
home to wager cigarettes on which could toss a stone nearest the next
mud puddle. Flocks of goats wandered in the growing dusk about swift
stony mountain flanks. Farther away was a rocky ridge beaten with
narrow, bare, crisscross trails, and beyond, the old Valenciana mine on
the flanks of the jagged range shutting off Dolores Hidalgo, appearing
so near in this clear air of the heights that it seemed a man could
throw a stone there; yet down in the valley between lay all Guanajuato,
the invisible, and none might know how many bandits were sleeping out
the day in their lurking-places among the wild, broken valleys and
gorges the view embraced. Down in its rock-tumbled valley spread the
scattered town of Calderón, and the knell of its tinny old church bells
came drifting up across the divide on the sturdy evening breeze, tinged
with cold, that seemed to bring the night with it, so silently and
coolly did it settle down. The immense plain and farther mountains
remained almost visible in the starlight, in the middle distance the
lamps of Silao, and near the center of the half-seen picture those of
Irapuato, while far away a faint glow in the sky marked the location of
the city of Leon.

Excitement burst upon the mess-table one night. Rival politicians were
to contend the following Sunday for the governorship of the State, and
the "liberal" candidate had assured the peons that he would treble their
wages and force the company to give them full pay during illness, and
that those who voted for his rival were really casting ballots for "los
gringos" who had stolen away their mines. All this was, of course, pure
campaign bunco; as a matter of fact the lowest wages in all the mines of
Mexico were in those belonging to the then "liberal" President of the
republic, and accident pay would have caused these insensible fellows to
drop rocks on themselves to enjoy its benefits. For several mornings
threatening political posters had appeared on the walls of the company
buildings. But this time word came that "liberal" posters had been stuck
up in the galleries of the mine itself. The boss sprang to his feet, and
without even sending for his revolver went down into the earth. An hour
or more later he reappeared with the remnants of the posters. Though
the mine was populated with peons and there was not then another
American below ground, they watched him tear down the sheets without
other movement than to cringe about him, each begging not to be believed
guilty. Later a peon was charged with the deed and forever forbidden to
work in the mines of the company. The superintendent threatened to
discharge any employee who voted for the "liberal" candidate, and,
though he could not of course know who did, their dread of punishment no
doubt kept many from voting at all.

Work in the mine never ceased. Even as we fell asleep the engine close
at hand panted constantly, the mild clangor of the blacksmith-shop
continued unbroken, cars of rock were dumped every few minutes under the
swarming stars, the mine pulse beat unchanging, and far down beneath our
beds hundreds of naked peons were still tearing incessantly at the rocky
entrails of the earth.

Though the mine throbbed on, I set off one sunny Sunday morning to walk
to town and the weekly ball game. It was just warm enough for a summer
coat, a breeze blew as at sea, an occasional telephone pole was singing
as with contentment with life in this perfect climate. Groups of
brownish-gray donkeys with loads on their backs passed me or crawled
along far-away trails, followed by men in tight white trousers, their
striped and gay-colored sarapes about their bodies and their huge hats
atop. Over all was a Sunday stillness, broken only by the occasional
bark of a distant dog or a cockcrow that was almost musical as it was
borne by on the wind. Everywhere were mountains piled into the
sky. Valenciana, where so many Spaniards, long since gone to whatever
reward awaited them, waxed rich and built a church now golden brown with
age, sat on its slope across the valley, down in which no one would have
guessed huddled a city of some 60,000 inhabitants. Much nearer and a
bit below drowsed the old town of Calderón, home of many of our peons, a
bright red blanket hung over a stone wall giving a splash of brilliancy
to the vast stretch of grayish, dull-brown, and thirsty green. The road
wound slowly down and ever down, until the gullies grew warmer as the
rising mountains cut off the breeze and left the sun in undisputed
command. Along the way were flowers uncountable, chiefly large, white,
lily-like blossoms growing on a bush, then thick patches of
orange-yellow. Horsemen, Mexicans on burros, peon men, women, and
children afoot were legion. There were no Americans, though I passed
one huge Negro with a great black beard who gave me "Good morning" from
his horse in the tone of a man who had not met an equal before in some
time. At length appeared the emerald-green patch of the upper Presa,
with its statue of Hidalgo, and the café-au-lait pond that stores the
city's water, and over the parapet of which hung _guanajuatenses_
watching with wonder the rowboat of the American hospital doctor, the
only water craft the great majority of them have ever seen.

A natural amphitheater encloses the ball-ground in which were gathered
the wives of Americans, in snowy white, to watch a game between teams
made up chiefly of "gringoes" of the mines, my one-time classmate still
at short-stop, as in our schoolboy days, thanks to which no doubt
Guanajuato held the baseball championship of Mexico. Like the English
officials of India, the Americans in high places here were noticeable
for their youth, and, at least here on the ball-ground, for their
democracy, known to all by their boyhood nicknames, yet held almost in
reverence by the Mexican youths that filled in the less important
positions. At the club after the game the champion Mexican player
discoursed on the certainty of ultimate American intervention and
expressed his own attitude with:

"Let it come, for I am not a politician but a baseball player."

It was election day, and I passed several doorways, among them that of
the company stable, in which a half-dozen old fossils in their most
solemn black garb crouched dreamily over wooden tables with registers,
papers, and ink bottles before them. Now and then a frightened peon
slunk up hat in hand to find whether they wished him to vote, and how,
or to see if perhaps he had not voted already--by absent treatment. The
manager of one of the mines had come into the office of the jefe
pólitico of his district the night before and found the ballots already
made out for the "liberal" candidate. He tore them up and sent his own
men to watch the election, with the result that there was a strong
majority in that precinct in favor of the candidate more pleasing to the
mine owners. The pulquerias and saloons of the peons had been closed,
but not the clubs and resorts of the white men. In one of these I sat
with the boss, watching him play a game of stud poker. A dissipated
young American, who smoked a cigar and a cigarette at the same time, was
most in evidence, a half Comanche Indian of an utterly impassive
countenance did the dealing, and fortunes went up and down amid the
incessant rattle of chips far into the morning. At three the boss broke
away, nine dollars to the good, while the proprietor of the place ended
with an enormous heap of chips in front of him; another American, making
out to him a check for $90, and calling for his horse, rode back to his
mine to earn it--the shoes of the horse clanking on the cobbles in the
silence of the night and passing now and then a policeman's lantern set
in the middle of the street, while that official huddled in his white
uniform in a dark corner, ostensibly keeping guard.

On another such a day I turned back about dusk up the gorge on the
return to the mine. The upper park where the band had played earlier was
now completely deserted. The road was nearly five miles long; the trail,
sheer up the wild tumble of mountains before me, little more than
two. This was vaguely reputed dangerous, but I was not inclined to take
the rumor seriously.

Black night fell. Soon I came upon the vanguard of the day-shift from
"Pingüico," straggling down the face of the mountain, shouting and
whistling to each other in their peculiar language. Some carried torches
that flashed along the mountain wall above me and threw long quaint
shadows of the tight-trousered legs. The grade was more than forty-five
degrees, with much slipping and sliding on unseen rocks. Two or three
groups had passed when one of the men recognized me and with a "Buenas
noches, jefe!" insisted on giving me the torch he carried, a mine candle
with a cloth wrapped around it as a protection in the strong wind. I had
soon to cast this away, as it not only threatened to burn my hand but
left the eyes unable to pierce the surrounding wall of darkness. In the
silence of the night there came to mind the assertion of by no means our
most timorous engineer, that he never passed over this trail after dark
without carrying his revolver cocked in his hand. My fellow countrymen
of the region all wore huge "six-shooters" with a large belt of
cartridges always in sight, less for use than the salutary effect of
having them visible, in itself a real protection. Conditions in Mexico
had led me to go armed for the first time in my travels; or more
exactly, to carry one of the "vest pocket automatics" so much in
vogue--on advertising pages--in that season. My experienced fellow
Americans refused to regard this weapon seriously. One had made the
very fitting suggestion that each bullet should bear a tag with the
devise, "You're shot!" An aged "roughneck" of a half-century of Mexican
residence had put it succinctly: "Yer travel scheme's all right; but
I'll be ---- ---- if I like the gat you carry." However, such as it was,
I drew it now and held it ready for whatever it might be called upon to
attempt.

A half hour of heavy climbing brought me to the summit, with a strong
cool breeze and a splendid view of the spreading lights of Guanajuato in
the narrow winding gully far below. The trail wound round a peak and
reached the first scattered huts of Calderón just as a number of shots
sounded not far away. These increased until all the dogs for miles
around took up the hue and cry. The shots multiplied, with much shouting
and uproar, soon sounding on both sides and ahead and behind me, while
the whistling language shrilled from every gully and hillside. Evidently
drunken peons were harmlessly celebrating their Sunday holiday, but the
shots sounded none the less weirdly out of the black night as I stumbled
on over the rocky, tumbled country, for the only smooth way thereabouts
was the Milky Way faintly seen overhead. Gradually the shooting and
shouting drifted behind me and died out as I surmounted the last knoll
and descended to bed. It was only at breakfast next morning that I
learned I had serenely strolled through a pitched battle between bandits
that haunted the recesses of the mountains about Calderón and the town
which, led by its jefe político, had finally won the bout with four
outlaw corpses to its credit. It was my luck not to have even a
bullet-hole through my cap to prove the story. There were often two or
three such battles a week in the vicinity.

That morning I was given a new job. The boss led the way, candle in
hand, a half mile back through the bowels of the mountain, winding with
the swinging of the former ore vein. This alone was enough to get
hopelessly lost in, even without its many blind-alley branches. Now and
then we came upon another shaft-opening that seemed a bottomless hole a
few feet in diameter in the solid rock, from far down which came up the
falsetto voices and the stinking sweat of peons, and the rap, rap of
heavy hammers on iron rock-bars. But we had only started. Far back in
the gallery we took another hoist and descended some two hundred feet
more, then wound off again through the mountain by more labyrinthian
burrowings in the rock, winding, undulating passages, often so low we
must crawl on hands and knees, with no other light than the flickering
candles half-showing shadowy forms of naked, copper-colored beings; the
shadows giving them often fiendish faces and movements, until we could
easily imagine ourselves in the realms of Dante's imagination. In time
we came to a ladder leading upward into a narrow dark hole, and when the
ladder ended we climbed on our bellies some forty feet higher up a ledge
of rock to another "heading." Along this we made our way another
hundred yards or more to where a dozen naked peons were operating
compressed-air drills, then wormed our way like snakes over the
resultant debris to the present end of the passage, where more peons
were drilling by hand, one man holding a bar of iron a few feet long
which another was striking with a five-pound sledge that luckily never
missed its mark. This was indeed working in Mexico. It would have been
difficult to get farther into it; and a man could not but dully wonder
if he would ever get out again.

We were evidently very close to the infernal regions. Here, indeed,
would have been a splendid setting for an orthodox hell. Peons whose
only garment was the size of a postcard, some even with their hats off,
glistened all over their brown bodies as under a shower-bath. In five
minutes I had sweated completely through my garments, in ten I could
wring water out of my jacket; drops fell regularly at about half-second
intervals from the end of my nose and chin. The dripping sweat formed
puddles beneath the toilers, the air was so scarce and second-hand every
breath was a deep gasp; nowhere a sign of exit, as if we had been walled
up in this narrow, low-ceiled, jagged-rock passageway for all time.

My work here was to take samples from the "roof." A grinning peon who
called himself "Bruno Básques" (Vásquez) followed me about, holding his
hat under the hammer with which I chipped bits of rock from above, back
and forth across the top of the tunnel, every few feet. The ore ran very
high in grade here, the vein being some six feet of whitish rocky
substance between sheer walls of ordinary rock. It struck one most
forcibly, this strange inquisitiveness of man that had caused him to
prowl around inside the earth like a mole, looking for a peculiar kind
of soil or stone which no one at first sight could have guessed was of
any particular value. The peons, smeared all over with the drippings of
candle-grease, worked steadily for all the heat and stuffiness. Indeed,
one could not but wonder at the amount of energy they sold for a day's
wages; though of course their industry was partly due to my "gringo"
presence. We addressed them as inferiors, in the "tu" form and with the
generic title "hombre," or, more exactly, in the case of most of the
American bosses, "húm-bray." The white man who said "please" to them, or
even showed thanks in any way, such as giving them a cigarette, lost
caste in their eyes as surely as with a butler one might attempt to
treat as a man. I tried it on Bruno, and he almost instantly changed
from obsequiousness to near-insolence. When I had put him in his place
again, he said he was glad I spoke Spanish, for so many "jefes" had
pulled his hair and ears and slapped him in the face because he did not
understand their "strange talk." He did not mention this in any spirit
of complaint, but merely as a curious fact and one of the many
visitations fate sees fit to send those of her children unluckily born
peons. His jet black hair was so thick that small stones not only did
not hurt his head as they fell from under my hammer, but remained buried
in his thatch, so that nearly as many samples were taken from this as
from the roof of the passage.

Thus the sweat-dripping days passed, without a hint of what might be
going on in the world far above, amid the roar and pounding of air and
hand-drills, the noisy falling of masses of rock as these broke it
loose, the constant ringing of shovels, the rumble of iron ore-cars on
their thread-like rails, cries of "'stá pegado!" quickly followed by the
stunning, ear-splitting dynamite blast, screams of "No vás echar!" as
some one passed beneath an opening above, of "Ahora sí!" when he was out
of danger; the shrill warning whistling of the peons echoing back and
forth through the galleries and labyrinthian side tunnels, as the crunch
of shoes along the track announced the approach of some boss; the
shouting of the peons "throwing" a loaded car along the track through
the heavy smoke-laden air, so thick with the smell of powder and thin
with oxygen that even experienced bosses developed raging headaches, and
the Beau Brummel secretary of the company fell down once with dizziness
and went to bed after the weekly inspection.

When the first day was done I carried the ten sacks of samples--via
Bruno's shoulders--through the labyrinth of corridors and shafts to be
loaded on a car and pushed to the main shaft, where blew a veritable
sea-breeze that gave those coming from the red-hot pockets a splendid
chance for catching cold which few overlooked. In the _bodega_, or
underground office, I changed my dripping garments for dry ones, but
waited long for the broken-down motor to lift me again finally to pure
air. In the days that followed I was advanced to the rank of car-boss in
this same level, and found enough to do and more in keeping the tricky
car-men moving. A favorite ruse was to tip over a car on its way to the
chute and to grunt and groan over it for a half-hour pretending to lift
it back on the rails; or to tuck away far back in some abandoned "lead"
the cars we needed, until I went on tours of investigation and ferreted
them out.

During the last days of October I drew my car-boss wages and set out to
follow the ore after it left the mine. From the underground chutes it
was drawn up to the surface in the iron buckets, dumped on "gridleys"
(screens made of railroad rails separated a like width) after weighing,
broken up and the worthless rock thrown out on the "dump," a great
artificial hill overhanging the valley below and threatening to bury the
little native houses huddled down in it. A toy Baldwin locomotive
dragged the ore trains around the hill to the noisy stamp-mill spreading
through another valley, with a village of adobe huts overgrown with
masses of purple flowers and at the bottom a plain of white sand waste
from which the "values" had been extracted. The last samples I had taken
assayed nine pounds of silver and 23 grams of gold to the ton. The
carloads were dumped into bins at the top of the mill.

The nature of the country had been taken advantage of in the building,
which hung twelve stories high on the steep hillside, making gravitation
the chief means of transportation during the refining process. Rocks
were screened into one receptacle and broken up by hand. The finer stuff
went direct to the stamps. Stones of ordinary size were spread by
machinery on a broad leather belt that passed three peon women, who
picked out and tossed away the oreless stones. Their movements were
leisurely, but they were sharp-eyed and very few worthless bits got by
the three of them. A story below, the picked material went under
deafening stamps weighing tons and striking several blows a second,
while water was turned in to soften the material. This finally ran down
another story in liquid form into huge cylinders where it was rolled and
rolled again and at last flowed on, smelling like mortar or wet lime,
onto platforms of zinc constantly shaking as with the ague and with
water steadily flowing over them. Workmen about the last and most
concentrated of these were locked in rooms made of chicken-wire. Below,
the stuff flowed into enormous vats, like giants' washtubs, and was
stirred and watered here for several days until the "values" had settled
and were drawn off at the bottom. There were three stories, or some
thirty, of these immense vats. The completed process left these full of
white sand which a pair of peons spent several days shoveling out and
carrying down into the valley.

The "values" were next run down into smaller vats and treated with zinc
shavings, precipitating a 50 per cent. pure metal, black in color, which
was put into melting-pots in a padlocked room overseen by an
American. Here it was cast in large brick molds, these being knocked off
and the metal left to slack, after which it was melted again and finally
turned into gray-black blocks of the size and form of a paving-brick, 85
per cent. pure, about as heavy as the average lady would care to lift,
and worth something like $1250 each. Two or four of these were tied on
the back of a donkey and a train of them driven under guard to the town
office, whence they were shipped to Mexico City, and finally made into
those elusive things called coins, or sundry articles for the
vainglorious, shipped abroad or stolen by revolutionists. On this same
ground the old colonial Spaniards used to spread the ore in a cobbled
patio, treat it with mercury, and drive mules round and round in it for
weeks until they pocketed whatever was left to them after paying the
king's fifth and the tithes of the church.

My rucksack on the back of a peon--and it is astonishing how much more
easily one's possessions carry in that fashion; as if it were indeed
that automatic baggage on legs I have long contemplated inventing--I set
off to the neighboring mine of "Peregrina." As the peon was accustomed
to carry anything short of a grand piano, he did not complain at this
half-day excursion under some twenty pounds. Being drawn out, he grew
quite cheery on this new fashion of carrying--"when the load is not
much." In the cool morning air, with a wind full of ozone sweeping
across the high country, the trail lay across tumbled stretches of rocky
ground, range behind range of mountains beyond and a ruined stone hut or
corral here and there carrying the memory back to Palestine. For a half
hour we had Guanajuato in full sight in its narrow gully far below. Many
donkeys pattered by under their loads of encinal fagots, the ragged,
expressionless drivers plodding silently at their heels.

Ahead grew the roar of "Peregrina's" stamp-mill, and I was soon winding
through the gorge-hung village. According to the manager, I had chosen
well the time of my coming, for there was "something doing." We strolled
about town until he had picked up the jefe político, a handsome Mexican,
built as massive as an Aztec stone idol, under a veritable haystack of
hat, who ostensibly at least was a sworn friend of the mining
company. With him we returned to the deafening stamp-mill and brought up
in the "zinc room," where the metal is cast into bricks. Here the
stealing of ore by workmen is particularly prevalent, and even the
searching by the trusty at the gate not entirely effective, for even the
skimming off of the scum leaves the floor scattered with chips of silver
with a high percentage of gold which even the American in charge cannot
always keep the men from concealing. Hence there occurs periodically the
scene we were about to witness.

When the native workmen of the "zinc room" enter for the day, they are
obliged to strip in one chamber and pass on to the next to put on their
working clothes, reversing the process when they leave. To-day all five
of them were herded together in one dressing-room, of which, the three
of us being admitted, the door was locked. The jefe político, as the
government authority of the region, set about searching them, and as his
position depended on the good-will of the powerful mining company, it
was no perfunctory "frisking." The ragged fellows were called up one by
one and ordered to strip of blouses, shirts, and trousers, and even
_huarachas_, their flat leather sandals, the jefe examining
carefully even the seams of their garments. Indeed, he even searched the
hairs of their bodies for filings of "high-grade."

The men obeyed with dog-like alacrity, though three of them showed some
inner emotion, whether of guilt, fear, or shame, it was hard to
guess. Two had been carefully gone over without the discovery of
anything incriminating, when the jefe suddenly snatched up the hat of
the first and found in it a knotted handkerchief containing a scrap of
pure metal some two inches long. From then on his luck increased. The
fourth man had been fidgeting about, half disrobing before the order
came, when all at once the local authority turned and picked up a piece
of ore as large as a silver dollar, wrapped in paper, which the fellow
had surreptitiously tossed away among a bunch of mats against the
wall. The jefe cuffed him soundly and ordered him to take off his
shoes--he was the only one of the five sporting that luxury--and
discovered in the toe of one of them a still larger booty. The last of
the group was a cheery little fellow barely four feet high, likable in
spite of his ingrained lifetime lack of soap. He showed no funk, and
when ordered to undress turned to the "gringo" manager with: "Me too,
jefe?" Then he quickly stripped, proving himself not only honest but
the biggest little giant imaginable. He had a chest like a wine-barrel
and legs that resembled steel poles, weighed fifty-two kilos, yet
according to the manager, of whom he was one of the trusties, frequently
carried four-hundred-pound burdens up the long hill below the mine. The
jefe found something tied up in his old red cloth belt, but little
Barrel-chest never lost his smile, and the suspicious lump proved to be
a much-folded old chromo print of some saint.

"What's he got that for?" asked the manager.

"To save him from the devil," sneered the jefe, wadding it up and
tossing it back at him.

When he was dressed again the little giant was sent to town for
policemen, a sign of confidence which seemed greatly to please him. For
a half hour we smoked and joked and discussed, like so many cattle in
the shambles, the three prisoners, two found guilty and the third
suspected, who stood silent and motionless against the wall. Three
policemen in shoddy uniforms, armed with clubs and enormous revolvers
sticking out through their short coat-tails, at length appeared, of the
same class and seeming little less frightened than the prisoners. They
were ordered to tie ropes about the waists of the criminals and stood
clutching these and the tails of the red sarapes, when the jefe
interrupted some anecdote to shout the Spanish version of:

"What in ---- are you waiting for?"

They dodged as if he had thrown a brick, and hurried their prisoners
away to the cold, flea-ridden, stone calaboose of the town, where in all
probability they lay several months before their case was even called
up; while the manager and I ascended to his veranda and flower-grown
residence and sat down to a several course dinner served by a squad of
solemn servants. As in many another land, it pays to be a white man in
Mexico.

Stealing is rarely a virtue. But it was not hard to put oneself in the
place of these wretches and catch their point of view that made such
thievery justifiable. As they saw it, these foreigners had made them go
down into their own earth and dig out its treasures, paid them little
for their labors, and searched them whenever they left that they should
not keep even a little bit of it for themselves. Now they had made
their own people shut them up because they had picked up a few dollars'
worth of scraps left over from the great burro-loads of which, to their
notion, the hated "gringoes" were robbing them. Like the workingmen of
England, they were only "getting some of their own back." They were no
doubt more "aficionados al pulque" and gambling than to their families,
but so to some extent were the "gringoes" also, and they were by no
means the only human beings who would succumb to the same temptation
under the same circumstances.

The ancient "Peregrina" mine was different from "Pingüico." Here we
entered by a level opening and walked down most of the two thousand
feet, much of it by narrow, slimy, slippery, stone steps, in some places
entirely worn away by the bare feet of the many generations of peons
that as slaves to the Spaniards of colonial days used to carry the ore
up on their backs from the very bottom of the mine. "Peregrina"
mountain was almost another Mammoth Cave, so enormous are the caverns
that have been "stoped out" of it in the past four centuries. In many a
place we could see even with several candles only the ground underfoot
and perhaps a bit of the nearest sidewall; the rest was a dank,
noiseless, blank space, seeming square miles in extent. For three hours
we wandered up and down and in and out of huge unseen caves, now and
then crawling up or down three or four hundred foot "stopes" on hands
and knees, by ladders, stone steps, or toe-holes in the rock. Through it
all it was raining much of the time in torrents--in the mine, that is,
for outside the sun was shining brightly--with mud underfoot and streams
of water running along much of the way; and, unlike the sweltering
interior of "Pingüico," there was a dank dungeon chill that reached the
marrow of the bones. Even in the shafts which we descended in buckets,
cold water poured down upon us, and, far from being naked, the miners
wore all the clothing they possessed. Here the terror of the peons was
an old American mine-boss rated "loco" among them, who went constantly
armed with an immense and ancient revolver, always loaded and reputed of
"hair trigger," which he drew and whistled in the barrel whenever he
wished to call a workman. A blaze crackling in the fireplace was
pleasant during the evening in the manager's house, for "Peregrina" lies
even higher above the sea than "Pingüico"; but even here by night or day
the peons, and especially the women, went barefoot and in thinnest garb.

A native horse, none of which seem noted for their speed, carried me out
to the famous old mining town of La Luz, where the Spaniards first began
digging in this region. The animal made little headway forward, but
fully replaced this by the distance covered up and down. To it a trot
was evidently an endeavor to see how many times and how high it could
jump into the air from the same spot. The ancient Aztecs, seeing us
advancing upon them, would never have made the mistake of fancying man
and horse parts of the same animal. Moreover, the pesky beast had an
incurable predilection for treading, like a small boy "showing off," the
extreme edge of pathways at times not six inches from a sheer fall of
from five hundred to a thousand feet down rock-faced precipices.

Still it was a pleasant three-hour ride in the brilliant sunshine,
winding round and over the hills along pitching and tossing
trails. Peons obsequiously lifted their hats when I passed, which they
do not to a man afoot; a solemn stillness of rough-and-tumble mountains
and valleys, with deep-shadowed little gorges scolloped out of the
otherwise sun-flooded landscape, broad hedges of cactus and pitching
paths, down which the animal picked its way with ease and assurance,
alternated with mighty climbs over a dozen rises, each of which I
fancied the last.

La Luz is a typical town of mountainous Mexico. A long, broken adobe
village lies scattered along a precipitous valley, scores of "roads" and
trails hedged with cactus wind and swoop and climb again away over steep
hills and through deep _barrancos_, troops of peons and donkeys
enlivening them; flowers give a joyful touch, and patches of green and
the climate help to make the place reminiscent of the more thickly
settled portions of Palestine. From the town we could see plainly the
city of Leon, fourth in Mexico, and a view of the plain, less striking
than that from "Pingüico," because of the range rising to cut it off in
the middle distance. The mountains of all this region are dotted with
round, white, cement monuments, the boundary marks of different mining
properties. By Mexican law each must be visible from the adjoining two,
and in this pitched and tumbled country this requires many.

Beyond the village we found, about the old Spanish workings, ancient,
roofless, stone buildings with loop-holed turrets for bandits and niches
for saints. These structures, as well as the waste dumped by the
Spaniards, were being "repicked for values," and broken up and sent
through the stamp-mill, the never-ending rumble of which sounded
incessantly, like some distant water-fall; for with modern methods it
pays to crush rock with even a few dollars a ton value in it, and the
Americans of to-day mine much that the Spaniards with their crude
methods cast aside or did not attempt to work. At a mine in the vicinity
the ancient stone mansion serving as residence of the superintendent was
torn down and sent through the stamping-mill, and a new one of less
valuable rock erected. We descended 1600 feet into the mine of La Luz
down a perfectly round, stone-lined shaft in a small iron bucket held by
a one-inch wire cable and entirely in charge of peons--who fortunately
either had nothing against us or did not dare to vent it.



CHAPTER IV

BOUND ABOUT LAKE CHAPALA

With the coming of November I left Guanajuato behind. The branch line
down to Silao was soon among broad plains of corn, without rocks even
along the flat, ragged, country roads, bringing to mind that it was long
since I had walked on level and unobstructed ground. The crowding of the
second-class car forced me to share a bench with a chorus girl of the
company that had been castilianizing venerable Broadway favorites in
Guanajuato's chief theater. She was about forty, looked it with compound
interest, was graced with the form of a Panteón mummy, and a face--but
some things are too horrible even to be mentioned in print. Most of the
way she wept copiously, apparently at some secret a pocket mirror
insisted on repeating to her as often as she drew it out, and regained
her spirits only momentarily during the smoking of each of several
cigarettes. Finally she took to saying her beads in a sepulchral,
moaning voice, her eyes closed, and wagging her head from side to side
in the rhythm of her professional calling, until we pulled into the
one-story, adobe, checkerboard town. All the troupe except the two
"stars" rode second-class, dressed much like peons, and carried their
possessions in misshapen bundles under their arms. If the one
performance I had seen was typical, this was far better treatment than
they deserved.

The express from El Paso and the North set me down in the early night at
Irapuato, out of the darkness of which bobbed up a dozen old women, men,
and boys with wailing cries of "Fresas!" For this is the town of
perennial strawberries. The basket of that fruit heaped high and fully a
foot in diameter which sat before me next morning as we rambled away
westward toward Guadalajara cost _cuatro reales_--a quarter, and if
the berries grew symmetrically smaller toward the bottom, an all-day
appetite by no means brought to light the tiniest. The way lay across a
level land bathed in sunshine, of extreme fertility, and watered by
harnessed streams flowing down from the distant hills. All the day one
had a sense of the richness of nature, not the prodigality of the
tropics to make man indolent, but just sufficient to give full reward
for reasonable exertion. The rich, black, fenceless plains were
burnished here and there with little shallow lakes of the rainy season,
and musical with wild birds of many species. Primitive well-sweeps
punctuated the landscape, and now and then the church towers of some
adobe village peered through the mesquite trees. In the afternoon
grazing grew more frequent and herds of cattle and flocks of goats
populated all the scene. Within the car and without, the hats of the
peons, with all their sameness, were never exactly alike. Each bore some
individuality, be it in shape, shade, material, or manner of wearing, as
distinct as among the fair sex in other lands; and that without
resorting to decorating them with flowers, vegetables, or dead
birds. Some wore around them ribbons with huge letters proposing, "Viva
----" this or that latest aspirant to the favor of the primitive-minded
"pela'o," but these were always arranged in a manner to add to rather
than detract from the artistic ensemble. Many a young woman of the same
class was quite attractive in appearance, though thick bulky noses
robbed all of the right to be called beautiful. They did not lose their
charms, such as they were, prematurely, as do so many races of the
South, and the simplicity of dress and hair arrangement added much to
the pleasing general effect.

As night descended we began to pant upward through low hills, wooded,
but free from the rocks and boulders of a mining region, and in the
first darkness drew up at Guadalajara, second city of Mexico. It is a
place that adorns the earth. Jalisco State, of which this is the
capital, has been called the Andalusia of Mexico, and the city is indeed
a Seville of the West, though lacking in her spontaneity of life, for
this cruder people is much more tempered with a constant fear of
betraying their crudeness and in consequence much weighed down by
"propriety." But its bright, central plaza has no equal to the
north. Here as the band plays amid the orange trees heavy with ripening
fruit, the more haughty of the population promenade the inner square,
outside which stroll the peons and "lower classes"; though only custom
seems responsible for the division. One misses in Mexico the genuine
democracy of Spain. The idea of a conquered race still holds, and
whoever has a strain of white in his veins--or even in the hue of his
collar--considers it fitting to treat the Indian mass with a cold,
indifferent tone of superiority. Yet in the outer circle the
unprejudiced observer found more pleasing than within. One was reminded
of Mark Twain's suggestion that complexions of some color wear best in
tropical lands. In this, above all, the women of the rebozo were vastly
superior to those who stepped from their carriages at about the
beginning of the third number and took to parading, the two sexes in
pairs marching in opposite directions at a snail's pace. The "women of
the people" had more sense of the fitness of things than to ape the
wealthy in dress, like the corresponding class in our own land, and
their simplicity of attire stood out in attractive contrast to the pasty
features and unexercised figures in "Parisian" garb of the inner circle.

Guadalajara has the requisites of a real city. Its streets are well
paved with macadam, and it even possesses garbage wagons. Indeed, in
some respects it has carried "progress" too far, as in the case of the
winking electric sign of Broadway proportions advertising a
_camisería_--a local "shirtery," before which fascinated peons from
the distant villages stand gazing as at one of the seven wonders of the
universe. Beggars are few and there is none of the oppressive poverty of
other Mexican cities. This, it is agreed, is due not merely to the
extreme fertility of Jalisco, but to the kindness of nature in refusing
to produce the maguey in the vicinity, so that drunkenness is at its
lowest Mexican ebb and the sour stink of pulque shops nowhere assails
the nostrils. For this curse of the peon will not endure long
transportation. An abundance of cheap labor makes possible many little
conveniences unknown in more industrial lands, and the city has a
peaceful, soothing air and temperature, due perhaps to its ideal
altitude of six thousand feet, that makes life drift along like a
pleasant dream.

But its nights are hideous. The Mexican seems to relish constant uproar,
and if Guadalajara is ever to be the open-air health resort for frayed
nerves and weakened lungs it aspires to, there must come a diligent
suppression of unnecessary noises. As the evening gathering evaporates,
leaving the plaza sprinkled with a few dreamy mortals and scattered
policemen eating the lunch their wives bring and share with them,
pandemonium seems to be released from its confinement. First these same
preservers of law and order take to blowing their hair-raising whistles
at least every ten minutes from one to another back and forth through
every street, as if mutually to keep up their courage. Scores of the
gilded youth on the way home from "playing the bear" before their
favorite _rejas_ join together in bands to howl into the small
hours their glee at the kindness of life, the entire stock of
street-cars seems to be sent out nightly on some extended excursion with
orders never to let their gongs fall silent, and long before dawn even
the few who have succeeded in falling into a doze are snatched awake by
an atrocious din of church-bells sufficient in number to supply heaven,
nirvana, the realm of houris, and the Irish section of purgatory, with
enough left over to furnish boiling pots for the more crowded section of
the Hereafter. Then with a dim suggestion of dawn every living dog and
fighting-cock, of which each inhabitant appears to possess at least a
score, joins the forty thousand vendors of forty thousand different
species of uselessness howling in at least as many different voices and
tones, each a bit louder than all the others, until even an unoccupied
wanderer concludes that sleep is an idle waste of an all too short
existence.

I brought up a day of random wandering in state's prison. The
_Penitenciaría_ of Guadalajara is a huge, wheel-shaped building in
the most modern style of that class of architecture. The bullet-headed
youth in soldier's uniform and the complexion of a long-undusted carpet,
leaning on his musket at the entrance, made no move to halt me, and I
stepped forth on a patio forested with orange trees, to find that most
of the public had preceded me, including some hundred fruit, tortilla,
cigarette, and candy vendors. Here was no sign of prisoners. I
approached another stern boy armed like a first-class cruiser in war
time and he motioned upward with his gun barrel. The dwelling of the
_comandante_ faced the patio on the second-story corridor. His son,
aged five, met me with the information:

"Papá 'stá dormido."

But he was misinformed, for when his mother introduced me into the
parlor, father, in shirt-sleeves, was already rubbing the sleep out of
his eyes and preparing to light the first after-siesta cigarette. When
my impressiveness had penetrated his reawakening intellect, he prepared
me a document which, reduced to succinct English, amounted to the
statement that the prison and all it contained was mine for the asking.

A whiff of this sesame opened like magic the three immense iron doors
through anterooms in charge of trusties, in prison garb of the material
of blue overalls and caps shaped like a low fez. Inside, a "preso de
confianza" serving as turnkey led the way along a great stone corridor
to a little central patio with flowers and a central fountain babbling
merrily. From this radiated fifteen other long-vaulted passages,
seeming each fully a half mile in length; for with Latin love of the
theatrical the farther ends had been painted to resemble an endless
array of cells, even the numbers being continued above the false doors
to minute infinity. Besides these imaginary ones there were some forty
real places of confinement on each side of each corridor,
three-cornered, stone rooms with a comfortable cot and noticeable
cleanliness. The hundred or more convicts, wandering about or sitting in
the sun of the patio, were only locked in them by night. Whenever we
entered a corridor or a room, two strokes were sounded on a bell and all
arose and stood at attention until we had passed. Yet the discipline was
not oppressive, petty matters being disregarded. The corridor of those
condemned to be shot was closed with an iron-barred gate, but the
inmates obeyed with alacrity when my guide ordered them to step forth to
be photographed.

One of the passageways led to the _talleres_ or workshops, also
long and vaulted and well-lighted by windows high up in the curve of the
arched roof.

These showed the stone walls to be at least four feet thick, yet the
floor was of earth. On it along the walls sat men weaving straw ribbons
to be sewn into hats on the American sewing-machines beyond. In side
rooms were blacksmith, carpenter, and tinsmith shops in which all work
was done by hand, the absence of machinery suggesting to the trusty in
charge that Mexico is "muy pobre" as compared with other lands. Convicts
were obliged to work seven hours a day. Scattered through the building
were several small patios with patches of sun, in which many prisoners
were engaged in making ingenious little knickknacks which they were
permitted to sell for their own benefit. The speciality of one old
fellow under life sentence was a coin purse with the slightly
incongruous device, "Viva la Independencia!"

There was a complete absence of vicious faces, at least faces more so
than those of the great mass of peons outside. I recalled the assertions
of cynical American residents that all Mexicans are criminals and that
those in jail were only the ones who have had the misfortune to get
caught. Certainly there was nothing in their outward appearance to
distinguish the inmates from any gathering of the same class beyond
prison walls. Off one corridor opened the bath patio, large, and gay
with sunshine and flowers, with a large swimming pool and several
smaller baths. The prisoners are required to bathe at least every
Sunday. Within the penitentiary was a garden of several acres, on the
walls above which guards patroled with loaded muskets and in which
prisoners raised every species of fruit and vegetable known in the
region. The institution indeed was fully self-supporting. The kitchen
was lined with huge vats into which bushels of beans, corn, and the like
were shoveled, and like the prison tailor, shoe, and barber shops, was
kept in excellent order. Several short-time prisoners, among them many
boys, volunteered to stand in appropriate attitudes before the heavy
wall at the end of a three-cornered court where condemned men are shot
at three paces in the dawn of many an early summer day. In one corridor
the prison band, entirely made up of prisoners, was practising, and when
I had been seated in state on a wooden bench they struck up several
American favorites, ending with our national hymn, all played with the
musical skill common to the Mexican Indian, even among those unable to
read a note. On the whole the prison was as cheery and pleasant as
fitted such an institution, except the women's ward, into which a
vicious-looking girl admitted me sulkily at sight of the comandante's
order. A silent, nondescript woman of forty took me in charge with all
too evident ill-will and marched me around the patio on which opened the
rooms of female inmates, while the fifty or more of them left off their
cooking and washing for the male prisoners and stood at disgruntled
attention in sullen silence. Their quarters were noticeably dirtier than
those of the men. My guide took leave of me at the first of the three
iron doors, having still to postpone his exit a year or more, and these
again, fortunately, swung on their hinges as if by magic to let pass
only one of the thousand of us within.

On the mule-car that dragged and jolted us out to the "Niagara of
Mexico" were three resident Germans who strove to be "simpático" to the
natives by a clumsy species of "horse play." Their asininity is worth
mention only because among those laughing at their antics was a peon who
had been gashed across the hand, half-severing his wrist, yet who sat on
the back platform without even a rag around the wound, though with a
rope tourniquet above. Two gray and decrepit policemen rode with him and
half way out stopped at a stone hut to arrest the perpetrator of the
deed and bring him along, wrapped in the customary red sarape and
indifference.

The waterfall over a broad face of rock was pleasing but not
extraordinary, and swinging on my rucksack I struck off afoot. The
lightly rolling land was very fertile, with much corn, great droves of
cattle, and many shallow lakes, its climate a pleasant cross between
late spring and early fall. From El Castillo the path lay along the
shimmering railroad, on which I outdid the train to Atequisa station.

The orange vendors lolling here under the shade of their hats gave the
distance to Chapala as fifteen miles, and advised me to hire a horse or
take passage in the stage. This primitive bone-shaker, dark-red in
color, the body sitting on huge leather springs, was drawn by four teams
of mules in tandem, and before revolution spread over the land was
customarily packed to the roof and high above it with excursionists to
Mexico's chief inland watering-place. Now it dashed back and forth
almost empty.

I preferred my own legs. A soft road led between orange-groves--at the
station were offered for sale seedless oranges compared to which those
of California are pigmies--to the drowsing town of Atequisa. Through one
of its crumbling stone gates the way spread at large over its sandy,
sun-bathed plaza, then contracted again to a winding wide trail, rising
leisurely into the foothills beyond. A farmer of sixty, homeward bound
to his village of Santa Cruz on a loose-eared ass, fell in with me. He
lacked entirely that incommunicative manner and half-resentful air I had
so often encountered in the Mexican, and his country dialect whiled away
the time as we followed the unfenced "road" around and slowly upward
into hills less rugged than those about Guanajuato and thinly covered
with coarse grass and small brush. Twenty-one years ago he had worked
here as _mozo_ for "gringoes," my compatriots. They had offered
him a whole peso a day if he would not get married. But "he and she both
wanted," so "qué quiera usté'"? They had started farming on a little
piece of rocky ridge. He would point it out to me when we came
nearer. By and by he had bought another piece of land for fifty pesos
and then _poco á poco_ for forty pesos some more. Then for
twenty-four pesos and fifty centavos he had bought a cow, and the
_vaca_ before long gave them a fine calf and twelve
_cuartillos_ of milk a day. So that he was able to buy another
heifer and then an ox and finally another ox and--

Whack! It took many a thump and prod and "Bur-r-r-r-r-r-o!" to make the
pretty little mouse-colored donkey he was riding keep up with me--and
what did I think he paid for him? Eighteen pesos! Sí, señor, ní más ní
menos. A bargain, eh? And for the other one at home, which is larger,
only twenty-two pesos, and for the one _they_ stole from him,
fifteen pesos and a bag of corn. And once _they_ stole all three of
the _burritos_ and he ran half way to Colima and had them arrested
and got the _animalitos_ back. So that now he had two oxen--pray
God they were still safe--and two burros and three pieces of land and a
good wife--only yesterday she fell down and broke her arm and he had had
to cut sticks to tie it up and she would have to work without using it
for a long time--

Whack! "Anda bur-r-r-r-r-ro!" and once he owned it he never could get
himself to sell an animalito. They were sometimes useful to plow and
plant anyway, and this life of _sembrar_ and _cosechar_ was
just the one for him. The cities, bah!--though he had been twice to
Guadalajara and only too glad to get away again--and wasn't I tired
enough to try the burrito a while, I should find her pace smooth as
sitting on the ground. No? Well, at least if I got tired I could come
and spend the night in his _casita_, a very poor little house, to
be sure, which he had built himself long ago, soon after they were
married, but there I would be in my own house, and his wife--or perhaps
now he himself--would _ordeñar la vaca_ and there would be fresh
milk and--

So on for some seven or eight miles. Here and there the road passed
through an open gate as into a farmyard, though there were no adjoining
fences to mark these boundaries of some new hacienda or estate. From the
highest point there was a pretty retrospect back on Atequisa and the
railroad and the broad valley almost to far-off Guadalajara, and ahead,
also still far away, Lake Chapala shimmering in the early
sunset. Between lay broad, rolling land, rich with flowers and
shrubbery, and with much cultivation also, one vast field of ripening
Indian corn surely four miles long and half as wide stretching like a
sea to its surrounding hills, about its edge the leaf and branch shacks
of its guardians. Maize, too, covered all the slope down to the
mountain-girdled lake, and far, far away on a point of land, like Tyre
out in the Mediterranean, the twin towers of the church of Chapala stood
out against the dimming lake and the blue-gray range beyond.

Two leagues off it the peasant pointed out the ridge that hid his casita
and his animalitos and his good wife--with her broken arm now--and
regretting that I would not accept his poor hospitality, for I must be
tired, he rode away down a little barranca walled by tall bushes with
brilliant masses of purple, red, and pink flowers and so on up to the
little patch of corn which--yes, surely, I could see a corner of it from
here, and from it, if only I would come, I should see the broad blue
view of Chapala lake, and--My road descended and went down into the
night, plentifully scattered with loose stones. Before it had grown
really dark I found myself casting a shadow ahead, and turned to find an
enormous red moon gazing dreamily at me from the summit of the road
behind. Then came the suburbs and enormous ox-carts loaded with
everything, and donkeys without number passing silent-footed in the
sand, and peons, lacking entirely the half-insolence and pulque-sodden
faces of Guanajuato region, greeted me unfailingly with "Adiós" or
"Buenas noches."

But once in the cobble-paved village I must pay high in the "Hotel
Victor"--the larger ones being closed since anarchy had confined the
wealthy to their cities--for a billowy bed and a chicken centuries old
served by waiters in evening dress and trained-monkey manners. The free
and easy old _casa de asistencia_ of Guadalajara was far more to my
liking. But at least the landlord loaned me a pair of trunks for a
moonlight swim in Lake Chapala, whispering some secret to its sandy
beaches in the silence of the silver-flooded night.

It is the largest lake in Mexico, second indeed only to Titicaca among
the lofty sheets of water of the Western world. More than five thousand
feet above the sea, it is shallow and stormy as Lake Erie. Waves were
dashing high at the foot of the town in the morning. Its fishermen are
ever fearful of its fury and go to pray for a safe return from every
trip before their patron St. Peter in the twin-spired village church up
toward which the lake was surging this morning as if in anger that this
place of refuge should be granted its legitimate victims.

Its rage made the journey by water I had planned to Ribera Castellanos
inadvisable, even had an owner of one of the little open boats of the
fishermen been willing to trust himself on its treacherous bosom, and by
blazing eleven I was plodding back over the road of yesterday. The
orange vendors of Atequisa gathered around me at the station, marveling
at the strength of my legs. In the train I shared a bench with a
dignified old Mexican of the country regions, who at length lost his
reserve sufficiently to tell me of the "muy amigo gringo" whose picture
he still had on the wall of his house since the day twenty-seven years
ago when my compatriot had stopped with him on a tour of his native
State, carrying a small pack of merchandise which gave him the entrée
into all houses, but which he purposely held at so high a price that
none would buy.

From Ocotlán station a broad level highway, from which a glimpse is had
of the sharp, double peak of Colima volcano, runs out to Ribera
Castellanos. Sam Rogers was building a tourist hotel there. Its broad
lawn sloped down to the edge of Lake Chapala, lapping at the shores like
some smaller ocean; from its verandas spread a view of sixty miles
across the Mexican Titicaca, with all vacation sports, a perennial
summer without undue heat, and such sunsets as none can describe. The
hacienda San Andrés, also American owned, embraced thousands of acres of
rich bottom land on which already many varieties of fruit were producing
marvelously, as well as several mountain peaks and a long stretch of
lake front. The estate headquarters was like some modern railway
office, with its staff of employees. In the nearby stables horses were
saddled for us and we set off for a day's trip all within the confines
of the farm, under guidance of the bulky Mexican head overseer in all
his wealth of national garb and armament.

For miles away in several directions immense fields were being plowed by
dozens of ox-teams, the white garments of the drivers standing out
sharply against the brown landscape. Two hours' riding around the lagoon
furnishing water for irrigation brought us to a village of some size,
belonging to the estate. The wife of one of the bee-tenders emerged
from her hut with bowls of clear rich honey and tortillas, and the
manner of a serf of medieval times before her feudal lord. The bees
lived in hollow logs with little thatched roofs. For several miles more
the rich bottom lands continued. Then we began to ascend through bushy
foothills, and cultivation dropped behind us, as did the massive head
overseer, whose weight threatened to break his horse's back. Well up we
came upon the "chaparral," the hacienda herdsman, tawny with sunburn
even to his leather garments. He knew by name every animal under his
charge, though the owners did not even know the number they possessed. A
still steeper climb, during the last of which even the horses had to be
abandoned, brought us to a hilltop overlooking the entire lake, with the
villages on its edge, and range after range of the mountains of Jalisco
and Michoacán. Our animals were more than an hour picking their way
down the stony trails between all but perpendicular cornfields, the
leaves of which had been stripped off to permit the huge ear at the top
the more fully to ripen. A boulder set in motion at the top of a field
would have been sure death to the man or horse it struck at the bottom.

The hotel launch set me across the lake next morning. From the
rock-tumbled fisher-town of La Palma an arriero pointed out to me far
away across the plains of Michoacán a mountain of striking resemblance
to Mt. Tabor in Palestine, as the landmark on the slopes of which to
seek that night's lodging. The treeless land of rich black loam was flat
as a table, yet the trail took many a turn, now to avoid the dyke of a
former governor and Porfirio Diaz, who planned to pump dry this end of
the lake, now for some reason only those with Mexican blood in their
veins could fathom. Peons were fishing in the irrigating ditches with
machetes, laying their huge, sluggish victims all but cut in two on the
grass behind them.

Noon brought Sahuayo, a large village in an agricultural district, in
one of the huts of which ten cents produced soup, pork, frijoles,
tortillas, and coffee, to say nothing of the tablecloth in honor of so
unexpected a guest and a dozen oranges for the thirst beyond. The new
trail struck off across the fields almost at right angles to the one
that had brought me. I was already on the hacienda Guaracha, largest of
the State of Michoacán, including within its holdings a dozen such
villages as this, but the owner to whom I bore a letter lived still
leagues distant. Dwellers on the estate must labor on it when required
or seek residence elsewhere, which means far distant. All with whom I
spoke on the subject, native or foreigners, seemed agreed that the peon
prefers this plan to being thrown on his own responsibility.

The traveler could easily fancy himself in danger in this vast fenceless
and defenseless space. Enormous herds were visible for miles in every
direction, bulls roamed here and there, bellowing moodily, cattle and
horses by hundreds waded and grazed in the shallow swamps across which
the dyked path led. All the brilliant day "Mt. Tabor" stood forth in
all its beauty across the plain in this clear air, and the sun brought
sweat even at more than a mile above the sea.

I was in the very heart of Birdland. These broad, table-flat stretches
of rich plateau, now half inundated, seemed some enormous outdoor
aviary. Every species of winged creature one had hoped ever to see even
in Zoo cages or the cases of museums seemed here to live and fly and
have its songful being. Great sluggish _zopilotes_ of the horrid
vulture family strolled or circled lazily about, seeking the scent of
carrion. Long-legged, snow-white herons stood in the marshes. Great
flocks of small black birds that could not possibly have numbered less
than a hundred thousand each rose and fell and undulated in waves and
curtains against the background of mountains beyond, screening it as by
some great black veil. There were blood-red birds, birds blue as
turquoise, some of almost lilac hue, every grassy pond was overspread
with wild ducks so tame they seemed waiting to be picked up and
caressed, eagles showed off their spiral curves in the sky above like
daring aviators over some admiring field of spectators; everywhere the
stilly hum of semi-tropical life was broken only by the countless and
inimitable bird calls.

As my shadow grew ungainly, the dyked path struck across a long wet
field against the black soil of which the dozens of white-clad peons
with their mattocks gleamed like grains of rice on an ebony surface.
Beyond, it entered foothills, flanked a peak, and joined a wide road
leading directly to an immense cluster of buildings among trees. The sun
was firing the western horizon. From every direction groups of
white-garbed peons were drawing like homing pigeons toward this center
of the visible landscape. I reached it with them and, passing through
several massive gates, mounted through a corral or cobbled stable yard
with many bulky, two-wheeled carts and fully two hundred mules, then up
an inclined, cobbled way through a garden of flowers to the immense
pillared veranda with cement floor of the owner's hacienda residence.

The building was in the form of a hollow square, enclosing a flowery
patio as large as many a town plaza. Don Diego was not at home, nor
indeed were any of his immediate family, who preferred the urban
pleasures of Guadalajara. The Indian door-tender brought me to "Don
Carlos," a fat, cheerful man of forty in a white jacket, close-fitting
trousers, and an immense revolver attached to the left side of his broad
and heavily weighted cartridge-belt. I presented my letter of
introduction from an American friend of the owner and was soon entangled
in the coils of Mexican pseudo-politeness. Don Carlos tore himself
away from his priceless labors as manager of the hacienda and took me up
on the flat roof of the two-story house, from which a fine view was had
for miles in all directions; indeed, nearly a half of the estate could
be seen, with its peon villages, its broad stretches of new-plowed
fields, and the now smokeless chimney of the sugar mill among the trees.

The interest of the manager did not extend beyond the cut-and-dried
formalities common to all Mexicans. In spite of his honeyed words, it
was evident he looked upon me as a necessary evil, purposely come to the
hacienda to seek food and lodging, and to be gotten rid of as soon as
possible, compatible with the sacred Arabian rules of hospitality. I had
not yet learned that a letter of introduction in Latin America, given on
the slightest provocation, is of just the grade of importance such
custom would warrant. Not that Don Carlos was rude. Indeed, he strove
outwardly to be highly _simpático_. But one read the insincerity
underneath by a kind of intuition, and longed for the abrupt but
honestly frank Texan.

The two front corners of the estate residence were taken up by the
hacienda store and church respectively--a handy arrangement by virtue of
which whatever went out the pay window to the peons (and it was not
much) came in again at one or the other of the corner doors. Adjoining
the building and half surrounding it was an entire village, with a
flowery plaza and promenades for its inhabitants. The owners of the
estate were less churlishly selfish than their prototypes in our own
country, in that they permitted the public, which is to say their own
workmen and families, to go freely anywhere in the family residence and
its patio, except into the dwelling-rooms proper.

When darkness came on we sat in the piazza garden overlooking the
mule-yard. The evening church service over, the estate priest came to
join us, putting on his huge black "Texas" hat and lighting a cigarette
on the chapel threshold. He wore an innumerable series of long black
robes, which still did not conceal the fact that the curve from chest to
waist was the opposite of that common to sculptured figures, and his
hand-shake was particularly soft and snaky. He quickly took charge of
the conversation and led it into anecdotes very few of which could be
set down by the writers of modern days, denied the catholic privileges
of old Boccaccio and Rabelais.

Toward eight supper was announced. But instead of the conversational
feast amid a company of educated Mexican men and women I had pictured to
myself during the day's tramp, I was led into a bare stone room with a
long, white-clothed table, on a corner of which sat in solitary state
two plates and a salt cellar. A peon waiter brought an ample, though by
no means epicurean, supper, through all which Don Carlos sat smoking
over his empty plate opposite me, alleging that he never ate after
noonday for dread of taking on still greater weight, and striving to
keep a well-bred false politeness in the voice in which he answered my
few questions. He had spent a year in a college of New Jersey, but had
not even learned to pronounce the name of that State. Having pointed
out to me the room I was to occupy, he excused himself for a
"momentito," and I have never seen him since.

Evidently horrified at the sight of a white man, even if only a
"gringo," traveling on foot, the manager had insisted on lending me a
horse and mozo to the railroad station of Moreno, fifteen miles distant,
but still within the confines of the hacienda. It may be also that he
gave orders to have me out of his sight before he rose. At any rate it
was barely three when a knock at the door aroused me and by four I
stumbled out into the black starlit night to find saddled for me in the
mule-corral what might by a considerable stretch of the word be called a
horse. The mozo was well mounted, however, and the family chauffeur,
carrying in one hand a basket of eggs he had been sent to fetch the
estate owner in Guadalajara, rode a magnificent white animal. Without
even the formal leave-taking cup of coffee, we set off on the road to
the eastward. For road in Mexico always read--at best a winding stretch
of dried mud with narrow paths meandering through the smoother parts of
it, the whole tumbled everywhere with stones and rocks and broken by
frequent unexpected deep cracks and stony gorges. My "horse" was as
striking a caricature of that species of quadruped as could have been
found in an all-night search in the region, which indeed there was
reason to believe had been produced in just that manner. But at least it
had the advantage of being unable to keep up with my companions, leaving
me alone behind in far more pleasant company.

We wound through several long peon villages, mere grass huts on the bare
earth floors of which the inhabitants lay rolled up in their blankets. I
had not been supplied with spurs, essential to all horsemanship in
Mexico, and was compelled at thirty second intervals to prick up the
jade between my legs with the point of a lead pencil, the only weapon at
hand, or be left behind entirely. As the stars dimmed and the horizon
ahead took on a thin gray streak, peons wrapped in their sarapes passed
now and then noiselessly in their soft leather _huarachas_ close
beside me. In huts along the way frowsy, unwashed women might be heard
already crushing in their stone mortars, under stone rolling-pins, maize
for the morning atole and tortillas, while thick smoke began to wander
lazily out from the low doorways. Swiftly it grew lighter until suddenly
an immense red sun leaped full-grown above the ragged horizon ahead,
just as we sighted an isolated station building in the wilderness that
now surrounded us on all sides.

A two-car train rambled through a light-wooded, half-mountainous
country, stopping at every collection of huts to pick up or set down a
peon or two, and drew up at length in Zamora. It was a populous,
flat-roofed, ill-smelling, typical Mexican city of checkerboard pattern,
on the plaza of which faced the "Hotel Morelos," formerly the "Porfirio
Diaz," but with that seditious name now carefully painted over. Being
barely a mile above sea-level, the town has a suggestion of the tropics
and the temperature of midday is distinctly noticeable.

Zamora ranks as the most fanatical spot in Michoacán, which is itself
so throttled by the church that it is known as the "estado torpe," the
torpid State. Its bishop is rated second in all Mexico only to that of
the sacred city of Guadalupe. Here are monasteries, and monks, and
nuns in seclusion, priests roam the streets in robes and vestments,
form processions, and display publicly the "host" and other
paraphernalia of their faith; all of which is forbidden by the laws of
Mexico. When I emerged from the hotel, every person in sight, from
newsboys to lawyers in frock coats, was kneeling wherever he happened
to be, on his veranda, on the sidewalk, or in the middle of the
street, his hat laid on the ground before him, facing a high churchman
in flowing robes and a "stove-pipe" hat strutting across the plaza
toward the cathedral. Traveling priests wear their regalia of office
as far as Yurécuaro on the main line, changing there to civilian garb.

Nor is the power of the church here confined to things spiritual. Vast
portions of the richest sections of the State are church owned, though
ostensibly property of the lawyers that control them. Holding the
reins, the ecclesiastics make it impossible for companies to open up
enterprises except under their tutelage. The population of the State is
some eighty per cent, illiterate, yet even foreigners find it impossible
to set up schools for their own employees. The women _of all
classes_ are almost without exception illiterate. The church refuses
to educate them, and sternly forbids any one else to do so. An American
Catholic long resident reported even the priests ignorant beyond belief,
and asserted that usury and immorality was almost universal among the
churchmen of all grades. The peasants are forced to give a tenth of all
they produce, be it only a patch of corn, to the church, which holds its
stores until prices are high, while the poverty-stricken peon must sell
for what he can get. Those married by the church are forbidden to
contract the civil ceremony, though the former is unlawful and lack of
the latter makes their children legally illegitimate. The local form of
worship includes many of the barbaric superstitions of the Indians
grafted on the stems of Catholicism, and weird pagan dances before the
altar are a part of many a _fiesta_. The town has already churches
sufficient to house easily all the population, yet an immense new
cathedral is building. The purpose of its erection, according to the
bishop, is "for the greater glorification of God."

I spent two days with the American superintendent of "Platanal," the
electric plant run by water power a few miles out of town through fields
of head-high maize. The night before my arrival bandits had raided the
establishment and one of them had been killed. The president of Zamora
had profusely thanked the "gringo" in charge when he presented himself
in town with the body. On pay-day the manager went and came from the
bank with two immense revolvers and a loaded rifle.

The current supplied by the rapids of "Platanal" is carried on
high-tension wires to several cities far distant, including Guanajuato,
a hundred miles away. Let the dynamo here break down and the cage of
"Pingüico" mine hangs suspended in its shaft and Stygian darkness falls
in the labyrinth below. In the rainy season lightning causes much
trouble, and immense flocks of birds migrating south or north, according
to the period of year, keep the repair gangs busy by flying against the
wires and causing short circuits through their dead bodies. Woodpeckers
eat away the wooden cross-pieces on the iron towers with disheartening
rapidity. The company is philanthropically inclined toward its
employees. Even the peons are given two weeks' vacation on full pay,
during which many rent a patch of land on the mountainside to plant with
corn. A savings bank system is maintained, strict sanitation is insisted
upon in the houses furnished by the company, and the methods of the
haciendas of the region, of paying the peon the lowest possible wages
for his labor and produce and selling to him at the highest possible
prices at the estate store, thereby keeping him in constant debt and a
species of slavery, are avoided. The result is a permanent force of
high Mexican grade. All attempts of the company to introduce schools,
however, even on its own property, have been frustrated by the powerful
churchmen. A bright young native in the plant was an expert at figures,
which he had been surreptitiously taught by his "gringo" superior, but
he could not sign his name.



CHAPTER V

ON THE TRAIL IN MICHOACÁN

My compatriot strongly opposed my plan of walking to Uruapan--at least
without an armed guard! The mountains were full of bandits, the Tarascan
Indians, living much as they did at the time of the Conquest, did not
even speak Spanish, they were unfriendly to whites, and above all
dangerously superstitious on the subject of photography. There are
persons who would consider it perilous to walk the length of Broadway,
and lose sight even of the added attraction of that reputed drawback.

I was off at dawn. Hundreds of Indians from the interior had slept in
scattered groups all along the road to town, beside the produce they had
come to sell on market day. For it is against the law to be found out of
doors in Zamora after ten! My compatriot had twice fallen foul of the
vigilant police there and been roundly mulcted--once the bolt of the
hired carriage in which he was riding broke, the conveyance turned
turtle, mashed his foot, and covered his face with blood, and he was
imprisoned and fined for "escándalo." On another occasion he spent some
time in jail because his mozo behind him accidentally knocked over the
lantern of a policeman set in the middle of the street.

But let us leave so straight-laced a spot behind. The rocky "road"
could not hold to the same opinion for a hundred consecutive yards, but
kept changing its mind as often as it caught sight of some new corner of
the landscape. The Indians, who crowded the way during the first hour,
were not friendly, but neither did they show any dangerous propensities,
and never failed in greeting if spoken to first. There were many of them
of pure aboriginal blood. The stony road climbed somewhat to gain
Tangantzicuaro, then stumbled across a flatter country growing more
wooded to Chilota, a large town with a tiny plaza and curious,
overhanging eaves, reminiscent of Japan, stretching down its
checker-board streets in all directions.

The trail, which had gone a mile or more out of its way to visit the
place, no sooner left it than it fell abruptly into the bed of what in
other weather would have been a rocky mountain torrent, and set off with
it in a totally new direction, as if, having fallen in with congenial
company, it had entirely forgotten the errand on which it had first set
forth. The land was fertile, with much corn. In time road and river bed
parted company, though only after several attempts, like old gossips,
and the former took to climbing upward through thin forests of pine in
which the wind whispered an imitation of some distant, small
waterfall. For some miles there were no houses. Up and down and in and
out of valleys thin with pine we wandered, with now and then a rough
shelter of rubbish and thatch, halting places of traveling Indians or
the guard-houses of their fields, while the sky ahead was always filled
half-way up by peaks of many shapes wooded in every inch with brightest
evergreens. Michoacán is celebrated for its forests.

The population showed no great difference from the peasants elsewhere. I
ran early into their superstitions against photography, however, their
belief, common to many uncivilized races, being that once their image is
reproduced any fate that befalls it must occur to them in person. When I
stepped into a field toward a man behind his wooden plow, he said in a
very decided tone of voice, "No, señor, no quiero!"

"Why not?" I asked.

"Porque no quiero, señor," and he swung the sort of small adze he
carried to break up the clods of the field rather loosely and with a
determined gleam in his eye. I did not want the picture so badly as all
that.

There was no such objection in the straggling town made of thatch and
rubbish I found along the way early in the afternoon. The hut I entered
for food had an unleveled earth floor, many wide cracks in the roof, and
every inch within was black with soot of the cooking-stove--three large
stones with a steaming earthen pot on them. There was _carne de
carnero_, tortillas and water, all for five cents. The weak-kneed
table was spread with a white cloth, there were several awkward,
_shallow_, home-made chairs, and against the wall a large primitive
sideboard with glistening brown earthen pots and carefully polished
plates and bowls. When I had photographed the interior, la senora asked
if I would take a second picture, and raced away to another hut. She
soon returned with a very small and poor amateur print of two peons in
Sunday dress. One of them was her son, who had been killed by a falling
pine, and the simple creature fancied the magic contrivance I carried
could turn this tiny likeness into a life-size portrait.

Beyond, were more rocks and wooded mountains, with vast seas of Indian
corn stretching to pine-clad cliffs, around the "shores" of which were
dozens of make-shift shacks for the guardians against theft of the
grain. Later I passed an enormous field of maize, which more than a
hundred Indians of both sexes and every age that could stand on its own
legs were harvesting. It was a communal corn-field, of which there are
many in this region. They picked the ears from the dry stalks still
standing and, tossing them into baskets, heaped them up in various parts
of the field and at little temporary shanties a bit above the general
level on the surrounding "coast." As I passed, the gang broke up and
peons in all colors, male, female, and in embryo, went away in all
directions like a scattering flock of birds.

Thus far there had been no suggestion of the reputed dangers of the
road. But trouble is never far off in Mexico, since the failure of its
rapidly changing governments to put down bands of marauders has given
every rascal in the country the notion of being his own master. The sun
was just setting when, among several groups coming and going, I heard
ahead five peons, maudlin with mescal, singing and howling at the top of
their voices. As they drew near, one of them said something to his
companions about "armas." I fancied he was expressing some idle drunken
wonder as to whether I was armed or not, and as he held a hand behind
him as if it might grasp a rock, I kept a weather eye on him as we
approached. Had the weapon I carried in sight been a huge six-shooter,
even without cartridges, it would probably have been more effective than
the toy automatic well loaded. As the group passed, howling drunkenly, a
veritable giant of a fellow suddenly jumped toward me with an oath. I
drew my putative weapon, and at the same moment the hand I had guessed
to be full of rock appeared with an enormous revolver, shining new. With
drunken flourishes the peon invited me to a duel. I kept him
unostentatiously covered but continued serenely on my way. To have
shown fear would have been as dangerous as for a lion-tamer in the cage
with his pets. On the other hand, to have killed or seriously wounded
one of the group would in all likelihood have meant at least a
none-too-well-housed delay of several years in my journey, for the
courts of Mexico seldom admit pleas of provocation from a "gringo." The
group bawled after me and finally, when I was nearly a hundred yards
beyond, the fellow fired four shots in my general direction. But as his
bright new weapon, like so many furnished his class by our enterprising
arms factories, was made to sell rather than to shoot, and his
marksmanship was distinctly tempered with mescal fumes, the four bullets
harmlessly kicked up the dust at some distance on as many sides of me,
with danger chiefly to the several groups of frightened peasants
cowering behind all the rocks and rises of ground in the vicinity.

The dangers of the road in Mexico are chiefly from peons mixed with
fire-water. When he is sober, the native's attitude verges on the
over-cautious. But it is a double danger to the wandering "gringo," for
the reason above mentioned, while the native who kills a foreigner not
infrequently escapes with impunity, and "gun toting" is limited now
among all classes of the men only by the disparity between their wealth
and the price of a weapon.

As I passed on over the rise of ground ahead, huddled groups of men,
women, and children fell in after me as if for protection from their own
people. At dusk I entered Paracho with a good thirty miles behind
me. It was a quaint little town in a lap of valley surrounded by pined
hills and with the overhanging Japanese eaves peculiar to the region.
The inhabitants were entirely peons and Indians, none in "European"
dress. The vision of being carried into the place with a few stray bits
of lead lodged in one's anatomy was not alluring, and the dark dirty
little _cárcel_ on the plaza looked equally uninteresting.

I turned in at the "Mesón de la Providencia." The keeper gave his
attention chiefly to his little liquor and corn shop wide-opening on the
street. There were several large rooms above, however, facing the great
corral where mules and asses were munching and arrieros had spread their
straw and blankets for the night, and in at least one of them was not
merely a wooden-floored cot but two sheets to go with it. I bathed in
the tin washbasin and turned out redressed for a turn through the town.
It swarmed with liquor-shops. Apparently any one with nothing else to do
could set up a little drunkery or street-stand without government
interference. There was no pulque, the maguey being unknown to the
region, but bottled mescal and aguardiente de caña amply made up for
it. It seemed uncanny that one could talk with ease to these unlettered
dwellers in the wilderness in the same tongue learned in a peaceful
class-room of the far North. A towsled woman or child drifted now and
then into the mesón shop to buy a Mexican cent's worth of firewood. The
woman who kept the shanty _fonda_ down the street boasted of having
lived nineteen months in California in her halcyon days, but was obliged
to borrow enough of me in advance to buy the ingredients of the scanty
supper she finally prepared. By eight the corral was snoring with
arrieros and I ascended to my substantial couch.

A wintry cold of the highlands hung over Paracho when dawn crawled in to
find me shivering under a light blanket. As I left the place behind, the
sun began to peer through the crest pines of a curiously formed mountain
to the east, and to rend and tear the heavy fog banks hanging over the
town and valley. Peons tight-wrapped in their blankets from eyes to
knees slipped noiselessly past. There was a penetrating chill in the
air, the fields were covered white with what seemed to be hoar frost,
and the grassy way was wet with dew as after a heavy shower.

Within half an hour the way began to rise and soon entered an immense
pine forest without a sign of habitation. Tramping was delightful
through what seemed a wild, untamed, and unteutonized Harz, with only
the faint road and an occasional stump to show man had passed that way
before. Huge birds circled majestically over the wooded hills and
valleys of which the trail caught frequent brief but wide vistas. The
road would have just suited Hazlitt, for it never left off winding, both
in and out through the whispering forest and in and out of itself by
numberless paths, often spreading over a hundred yards of width, and
rolling and pitching like a ship at sea. As in most of Mexico, wheeled
traffic would here have been impossible.

By eight I could stuff my coat into my knapsack. The day's journey was
short, and twice I lay an hour on a grassy knoll gazing at the birds and
leisurely drifting clouds above and listening to the soft whispering of
the pines. Then an unraveled trail led gradually downward, fell in with
a broad sandy "road" that descended more sharply to a still swifter
cobbled way, and about me grew up a land reminiscent of Ceylon, with
many frail wooden houses on either side among banana groves, fruit for
sale before them, and frequent streams of clear water babbling past.
But it was only half-tropical, and further down the way was lined with
huge trees resembling the elm.

Uruapan was just high enough above the real tropics to be
delightful. The attitude of its people, too, was pleasing. If not
exactly friendly, they lacked that sour incommunicativeness of the
higher plateau. Very few were in modern costume and to judge from the
crowd of boys that gathered round me as I wrote my notes in a plaza
bench, the arrival of a white man in this largely Indian town was an
event not to be slighted. There was a general air of more satisfaction
with life in the languid country place where nature rewards all labor
quickly and well, and where nearly all have gardens and orchards of
their own to make them independent of working for others at a scanty
wage.

Its plaza lies a bit higher than the rest of the town, and from it
straight streets of one-story houses, all of different slope, flow
gently down, to be lost a few blocks away in greenery. The roofs of tile
or a long untapered shingle are not flat, as elsewhere, but with a slope
for the tropical rains. Patio life is well developed. Within the blank
walls of the central portion all the rooms open on sun-flooded, inner
gardens and whole orchards within which pass almost all the family
activities, even to veranda dining-rooms in the edge of the shade. Dense
groves of banana and coffee trees surround most of the uncrowded, adobe
dwellings. In the outskirts the houses are of wood, with sharp-peaked
roofs, and little hovels of mud and rubbish loll in the dense-black cool
shadows of the productive groves and of the immense trees that are a
feature of the place. Flowers bloom everywhere, and all vegetation is
of the deepest green. On every side the town dies away into domesticated
jungle beyond which lie such pine forests, vast corn fields, and
washed-out trails as on the way thither from Zamora.

There is not a "sight" of the slightest importance in Uruapan. But the
place itself is a sight worth long travel, with its soft climate like
the offspring of the wedded North and South, a balmy, gentle existence
where is only occasionally felt the hard reality of life that runs
beneath, when man shows himself less kindly than nature. A man offered
to sell me for a song a tract bordering the river, with a "house" ready
for occupancy, and had the place and all that goes with it been portable
we should quickly have come to terms. For Uruapan is especially a beauty
spot along the little Cupatitzio, where water clearer than that of Lake
Geneva foams down through the dense vegetation and under little bridges
quaint and graceful as those of Japan.

The sanitary arrangements, of course, are Mexican. Women in bands wash
clothes along the shady banks, both sexes bathe their light-chocolate
skins in sunny pools, there were even horses being scrubbed in the
transparent stream, and below all this others dipped their drinking
water. Here and there the water was led off by many little channels and
overhead wooden troughs to irrigate the gardens and to run little mills
and cigarette factories.

In the outskirts I passed the city slaughter-house. A low atone wall
separated from the street a large corral; with a long roof on posts, a
stone floor, and a rivulet of water down through it occupying the center
of the compound. The cattle, healthy, medium-sized steers worth fifteen
dollars a head in this section, were lassoed around the horns and
dragged under the roof, where another dexterously thrown noose bound
their feet together and threw them on the stone floor. They were neither
struck nor stunned in any way. When they were so placed that their
throats hung over the rivulet, a butcher made one single quick thrust
with a long knife near the collarbone and into the heart. Boys caught
the blood in earthen bowls as it gushed forth and handed it to various
women hanging over the enclosing wall. The animal gave a few agonized
bellows, a few kicks, and died. Each was quickly skinned and quartered,
the more unsavory portions at once peddled along the wall, and
bare-headed Indians carried a bleeding quarter on their black thick hair
to the hooks on either side of pack horses which boys drove off to town
as they were loaded. There the population bought strips and chunks of
the still almost palpitating meat, ran a string through an end of each
piece, and carried it home under the glaring sun.

All this is commonplace. But the point of the scene was the quite
evident _pleasure_ all concerned seemed to take in the unpleasant
business. Most of us eat meat, but we do not commonly find our
recreation in slaughter-houses. Here whole crowds of boys, dogs, and
noisy youths ran about the stone floor, fingering the still pulsating
animal, mimicking its dying groans amid peals of laughter, wallowing in
its ebbing blood, while fully as large an assemblage of women, girls,
and small children hung over the wall in a species of ecstatic glee at
the oft-repeated drama. Death, especially a bloody one, appeared to
awaken a keen enjoyment, to quicken the sluggard pulse of even this
rather peaceful Tarascan tribe. One could easily fancy them watching
with the same ebullient joy the dying struggles of helpless human beings
butchered in the same way. The killing of the trussed and fallen animal
over the rivulet recalled the cutting out of the heart of human victims
on the sacrificial stones amid the plaudits of the Aztec multitude and
the division of the still quivering flesh among them, and the vulgar
young fellows running around, knife in hand, eager for an opportunity to
use them, their once white smocks smeared and spattered with blood,
brought back the picture of the savage old priests of the religion of
Montezuma. The scene made more comprehensible the preconquest customs
of the land, as the antithesis of the drunken and excited Indian to the
almost effeminate fear of the same being sober makes more clear that
inexplicable piece of romance, the Conquest of Mexico.

There is less evidence of "religion" in Uruapan than in Zamora. Priests
were rarely seen on the streets and the church bells were scarcely
troublesome. Peons and a few of even higher rank, however, never passed
the door of a church even at a distance without raising their
hats. Twice during the day I passed groups of women of the peon class
carrying in procession several framed chromo representations of Saint
Quién Sabe, bearing in his arms an imaginary Christ child, all of them
wailing and chanting a dismal dirge as they splashed along through the
dust in their bare feet.

A Tragedy: As I returned in the soft air of sunset from the clear little
river boiling over its rocks, I passed in a deep-shaded lane between
towering banana, coffee, and larger trees about three feet of Mexican in
sarape and overgrown hat rooted to a certain spot and shedding copious
tears, while on the ground beside him were the remnants of a glazed pot
and a broad patch of what had once been native firewater mingled with
the thirsty sand. Some distance on I heard a cry as of a hunted human
being and turned to see the pot remnants and the patch in the self-same
spot, but the hat and the three feet of Mexican under it were speeding
away down the lane on wings of terror. But all in vain, for behind
stalked at even greater speed a Mexican mother, gaining on him who fled,
like inexorable fate, not rapidly but all too surely.

The only train out of Uruapan leaves at an unearthly hour. The sun was
just peering over the horizon, as if reconnoitering for a safe entrance,
when I fought my way into a chiefly peon crowd packed like a log-jam
around a tiny window barely waist high, behind which some unseen but
plainly Mexican being sold tickets more slowly than American justice in
pursuit of the wealthy. For a couple of miles the way lay across a flat
rich land of cornfields, pink with cosmos flowers. Then the train began
to creak and grind upward at dog-trot pace, covering four or five times
what would have been the distance in a straight line and uncovering
broad vistas of plump-formed mountains shaggy with trees, and vast,
hollowed-out valleys flooded with corn. Soon there were endless pine
forests on every hand, with a thick, oak-like undergrowth. A labyrinth
of loops one above another brought us to Ajambarán and a bit of level
track, with no mountains in the landscape because we stood on the summit
of them. Little Lake Zirahuén, surrounded on all sides by sloping
hills, half pine, half corn, gleamed with an emerald blue. The train
half circled it, at a considerable distance, giving several broad
vistas, each lower than the preceding, as we climbed to an animated
box-car station higher still. From there we began to descend. Over the
divide was a decided change in the landscape; again that dry, brown,
thinly vegetated country of most of the Mexican highlands. Miles before
we reached the town of the same name, beautiful Lake Pátzcuaro burst on
our sight through a break in the hills to the left, and continued to
gladden the eyes until we drew up at the station.

While the rest of the passengers repaired to the mule-tram, I set off
afoot for the town, a steady climb of two miles by a cobbled road, up
the center of which runs a line of large stones worn flat by generations
of bare feet. The man who baedekerized Mexico says it is a "very
difficult" trip afoot. Perhaps it would be to him. From the central
line of flat stones there ran out, every yard, at right angles, lines of
stones a bit smaller, the space between being filled in with small
cobbles, with grass growing between them. The sun was powerful in this
thin atmosphere of more than seven thousand feet elevation. I was barely
settled in the hotel when the mule-tram arrived.

Patzcuaro is one of the laziest, drowsiest, most delightful pimples on
the earth to be found in a long search. It has little in common with
Uruapan. Here is not a suggestion of the tropics, but just a large
Indian village of mud and adobe houses and neck-breaking, cobbled
streets, a town older than time, sown on and about a hillside backed by
pine-treed peaks, with several expanses of plazas, all grown to grass
above their cobbled floors, shaded by enormous ash-like trees with
neither flowers, shrubs, nor fountains to detract from their atmosphere
of roominess. About them run _portales_, arcades with pillars that
seem at least to antedate Noah, and massive stone benches green with age
and water-logged with constant shade, as are also the ancient stone
sidewalks under the trees and the overhanging roofs of one-story houses
supported by carved beams. Along these wanders a chiefly peon
population, soft-footed and silent, with a mien and manner that seems to
murmur: "If I do not do it to-day there is tomorrow, and next week, and
the week after." The place is charming; not to its inhabitants perhaps,
but to us from a land where everything is distressingly new. To the man
who has anything to do or a desire to do anything, Patzcuaro would be
infernal; for him who has nothing to do but to do nothing, it is
delightful.

Those who wish may visit crooning old churches more aged than the plays
of Shakespeare. Or one may climb to "Calvary." The fanatical
inhabitants, abetted by the wily priests, have named a road, "very rocky
and very hilly," according to the Mexican Baedeker, leading to a knoll
somewhat above the town, the "via dolorosa," and have scattered fourteen
stations of plastered mud niches along the way. From the aged,
half-circular, stone bench on the summit is another of the marvelous
views that abound in Mexico. It was siesta-time, and not a human being
was in sight to break the spell. The knoll fell away in bushy
precipitousness to the plain below. As I reached the top, two trains,
bound back the way I had come, left the station two miles away, one
behind the other, and for a long time both were plainly visible as they
wound in and out away through the foothills, yet noiseless from here as
phantoms, and no blot on the landscape, since all colors, even that of a
railroad cutting, blended into the soft-brown whole.

The scene was wholly different from that about Uruapan, 1700 feet
lower. There was very little green, and nothing at all of jungle; only a
sun-faded brown tapestry backed by a jumble of low mountains covered
with short bristling pines. Here and there a timid, thin-blue peak
peered over a depression in the chain. A panoramic glance, starting from
the west, showed range after range, one behind the other, to the dimmest
blue distance. Swinging round the horizon, skipping the lake, the eye
took in a continuous procession of hills, more properly the upper
portions of mountains, losing their trees toward the east and growing
more and more bare and reddish-brown, until it fell again on the
doddering old town napping in its hollow down the slope. Below the
abrupt face of "Calvario," the plain, with a few patches of still green
corn alternating with reddish plowed fields, but for the most part
humped and bumped, light wooded with scrub pine, was sprinkled with
mouse-sized cattle, distinct even to their spots and markings in this
marvelous, clear air of the highlands, lazily swinging their tails in
summer contentment.

But the center of the picture, the picture, indeed, for which all the
rest served as frame, was Lake Pátzcuaro. It is not beautiful, but
rather inviting, enticing, mysterious for its many sandy promontories,
its tongues of mountains cutting off a farther arm of the lake with the
old Tarascan capital, and above all for its islands. One of these is
flat, running out to sand at either end, and with something of an old
town among the trees that cover its slightly humped middle. Then there
is Xanicho, pitched high in mound-shape, suggestive of Capri, rocky,
bare, reddish-brown, and about its bottom, like a narrow band on a
half-sunken Mexican hat, a long thin town of white walls and tiled roofs
visible in all detail, a church towering above the rest to form the bow
of the ribbon. It is strange how the human plant grows everywhere and
anywhere, even on a patch of rock thrust forth out of the sea. A bit to
the east and farther away lies a much smaller island of similar shape,
apparently uninhabited. Farther still there stands forth from the water
a bare precipitous rock topped by a castle-like building suggesting
Chillon; and beyond and about are other islands of many shapes, but all
flat and gray-green in tint, some so near shore as to blend with the
promontories and seem part of the mainland, thereby losing their
romance.

Over all the scene was a light-blue, transparent sky, flecked only with
a few snow-white whisps of clouds, like bits of the ostrich plume that
hung over Uruapan in the far west, and from which a soft wind tore off
now and then tiny pieces that floated slowly eastward. The same breeze
tempered the sunny stillness of the "Calvario," broken occasionally by
the song of a happy shepherd boy in the shrub-clad hills and the
mellow-voiced, decrepit, old church bells of Pátzcuaro below.

Some miles away from the town, at the far end of Lake Pátzcuaro, behind
the hills, lies the ancient Indian village of Tzintzuntzan, at the time
of the Conquest the residence of the chief of the Tarascans and ruler of
the kingdom of Michoacán, which was not subdued until ten years after
the fall of Mexico. I planned to visit it next day. As I strolled around
the unkempt plaza grande in a darkness only augmented by a few weak
electric bulbs of slight candle-power, with scores of peons, male and
female, wrapped like half-animated mummies in their blankets, even to
their noses, I fell in with a German. He was a garrulous,
self-complacent, ungraceful man of fifty, a druggist and "doctor" in a
small town far down in Oaxaca State until revolutions began, when he had
escaped in the garb of a peon, leaving most of his possessions
behind. Now he wandered from town to town, hanging up his shingle a few
days in each as an oculist. His hotel room was a museum. None can rival
the wandering Teuton in the systematic collecting, at its lowest
possible cost, of everything that could by any stretch of the
imagination ever be of service to a traveler. This one possessed only a
rucksack and a blanket-wrapped bundle, but in them he carried more than
the average American would be caught in possession of in his own
home. There were worn and greasy notebooks full of detailed information
of the road, the cheapest hotels of every known town of Mexico, with the
lowest possible price and the idiosyncrasies of their proprietors that
might be played upon to obtain it, the exact café where the beer glasses
grew tallest, the expenditures that might be avoided by a foresighted
manipulation; there were shoes and slippers, sleeping garments for each
degree of temperature, a cooking outfit, a bicycle-lamp with a chimney
to read by, guns, gun-oil, gun-cleaners, flannel cloth to take the place
of socks for tramping, vaseline to rub on the same--it would be madness
to attempt a complete inventory, but he would be inventive indeed who
could name anything that Teutonic pack did not contain in some
abbreviated form, purchased somewhere second hand at a fourth its
original cost. The German had learned that the parish priest of
Tzintzuntzan wore glasses, and we parted agreed to make the trip
together.

Patzcuaro is summery enough by day, but only the hardy would dress
leisurely at dawn. A fog as thick as cheese, more properly a descended
cloud, enveloped the place, a daily occurrence which the local
authorities would have you think make it unusually healthful. An
ancient cobbled road leads up and over the first rise, then degenerates
to the usual Mexican _camino_, a trail twisting in and out along a
chaos of rocks and broken ground. The fog hung long with us and made
impossible pictures of the procession of Tarascan Indians coming in from
Tzintzuntzan with every species of red pottery, from cups to immense
water-jars, in great nets on the backs of horses, asses, men, and
women. Beyond the railroad the trail picked its way, with several climbs
over rocky spur-ends, along the marshy edge of the lake, which was so
completely surrounded by mud and reeds that I had to leave unfulfilled
my promised swim in it. The trip was made endless by the incessant
chatter of the "doctor," who rattled on in English without a break; and
when I switched him to German his tongue sped still faster, though
fortunately more correctly. No wonder those become fluent linguists who
can outdistance and outendure a man in his own tongue long before they
have begun to learn it.

Along the way we picked up any amount of shining black obsidian, some in
the form of arrow-heads and crude knives that bore out the statement
that the Indians once even shaved with them. It was nearly eleven when
we sighted, down among the trees on the lake shore, the squat church
tower of the once capital of Michoacán. A native we spoke with referred
to it as a "ciudad," but in everything but name it was a dead,
mud-and-straw Indian village, all but its main street a collection of
mud, rags, pigs, and sunshine, and no evidence of what Prescott
describes as splendid ruins. Earthquakes are not unknown, and the bells
of the church, old as the conquest of Michoacán, hang in the trees
before it. Inside, an old woman left her sweeping to pull aside the
curtains of the reputed Titian, a "Descent from the Cross," while I
photographed it from the pulpit, for which privilege the young peon
sexton appeared in time to accept a silver coin.

The German, with whom business always took precedence over pleasure, had
gone to find the house of the priest. When I reached the door of it on
the blank main street, he was sitting on a wooden bench in the hallway
with a dozen old women and peons. We were admitted immediately after,
as befitted our high social standing. A plump little padre nearing
sixty, of the general appearance of a well-stuffed grain sack draped in
black robes, but of rather impressive features--and wearing
glasses--greeted us with formality. The "doctor" drew a black case from
his pocket, went through some hocuspocus with a small mirror, and within
two minutes, though his Spanish was little less excruciating than his
English, had proved to the startled curate that the glasses he was
wearing would have turned him stone-blind within a month but for the
rare fortune of this great Berlin specialist's desire to visit the
famous historical capital of the Tarascans. The priest smoked cigarette
after cigarette while my companion fitted another pair of crystals and
tucked the dangerous ones away in his own case--for the next victim. He
did not even venture to haggle, but paid the two dollars demanded with
the alacrity of a man who recognizes his good fortune, and to whom a
matter of a few pesos more or less is of slight importance. For were
there not a score of Indians waiting outside eager to pay as well for
masses, confessions, and all the rest of his own hocuspocus? There
followed a social chat, well liquefied, after which we took our
ceremonious leave. Once outside, I learned the distressing fact that the
shape of the padre's bows had required crystals costing twelve cents,
instead of the customary nine-cent ones.

The German set off in the blazing noonday at his swiftest pace. He was
obliged to be back at the hotel by three, for the dinner must be paid
for whether eaten or not. I fell behind, glad of the opportunity. Many
groups of peons were returning now, without their loads, but maudlin and
nasty tempered with the mescal for which they had exchanged them. My
automatic was within easy reach. The oculist had criticized it as far
too small for Mexican travel. He carried himself a revolver half the
size of a rifle, and filed the ends of the bullets crosswise that they
might split and spread on entering a body. In the outskirts of Patzcuaro
there came hurrying toward me a flushed and drunken peon youth with an
immense rock in his hand. I reached for my weapon, but he greeted me
with a respectful "Adiós!" and hurried on. Soon he was overtaken by two
more youths and dragged back to where an older peon lay in the middle of
the road, his head mashed with a rock until trickles of brain
protruded. The event seemed to cause little excitement. A few stood at
their doors gazing with a mild sort of interest at the corpse, which
still lay in the road when I turned a corner above.

Mules drag the tram-car of Pátzcuaro laboriously up the three kilometers
from the station to the main plaza, but gravitation serves for the down
journey. When enough passengers had boarded it to set it in motion, we
slid with a falsetto rumble down the cobbled road, a ragged boy leaning
on the brake. Beyond the main railroad track a spur ran out on a
landing-stage patched together out of old boards and rubbish. Peons were
loading into an iron scow bags of cement from an American box-car far
from home. Indians paddled about the lake in canoes of a hollowed log
with a high pointed nose, but chopped sharp off at the poop. Their
paddles were perfectly round pieces of wood, like churn-covers, on the
end of long slim handles.

We were soon off for Morelia, capital of the State, across plains of
cattle, with an occasional cut through the hills and a few brown
ponds. At one station we passed two carloads of soldiers,
westbound. They were nearly all mere boys, as usual, and like the
policemen and rurales of the country struck one as unwisely entrusted
with dangerous weapons. Morelia is seen afar off in the lap of a broad
rolling plain, her beautiful cathedral towers high above all the
rest. It was brilliant noonday when I descended and walked the mile into
town.

The birthplace of José Morelos and of Yturbide, first emperor of Mexico,
sits 6200 feet above the sea and claims 37,000 inhabitants. It is warm
and brown with dust. Architecturally it is Mexican, with flat roofs and
none of the overhanging eaves of Pátzcuaro and Uruapan. From the
"centro"--the nerve-center of the "torpid State," with two well-kept
plazas, the plateresque cathedral of a pinkish stone worn faint and
spotted with time, and the "seat of the powers of the State," all on the
summit of a knoll--the entire town slopes gently down and quickly fades
away into dirty, half-cobbled suburbs, brown and treeless, overrun with
ragged, dust-tinted inhabitants, every street seeming to bring up
against the low surrounding range. Its natural advantages are fully
equal to those of Guadalajara, but here pulque grows and man is more
torpid. All the place has a hopeless, or at least ambitionless, air,
though in this splendid climate poverty has less tinge of misery and the
appearance of a greater contentment with its lot. There is a local
"poet's walk" that is not particularly poetic, a wild park beyond that
is more so, and a great aqueduct over which sprawl enormous masses of
the beautiful purple bourgainvillea. This ancient waterway resembles,
but is far less striking than that of Segovia, for it runs across
comparatively level ground and has only single arches of moderate height
and too polished construction, instead of the massive cyclopean work of
immense blocks of stone without mortar of its Spanish counterpart.
Views and sunsets too often tempt the traveler in Mexico, or I might
mention that from a little way out of town at the top of the road to
Mexico City, where the cathedral towers all but reach the crest of the
backing range, over which hung the ocher and light-pink and
saffron-yellow clouds of the dying day.

The "Hotel Soledad" asserted its selectness by the announcement: "En
este hotel no se admiten compañías de cómicos ni toreros," but the
solitude of its wooden-floored beds at least was distinctly broken and
often. The pompous, squeeze-centavo, old landlady sat incessantly in her
place near the door between dining-room and kitchen, with a leather
handbag from which she doled out, almost with tears, coppers for change
and the keys to the larder, to the cringing servants and conferred long
with them in whispers on how much she dared charge each guest, according
to his appearance. But at least Mexico feeds well the traveler who is
too hungry to be particular. He who will choose his dishes leads a
sorry life, for the hotels are adamant in their fare and restaurants are
almost unknown, except the dozens of little outdoor ones about the
market-places where a white man would attract undue attention--if
nothing less curable--among the "pela'os" that make up 80 per cent. of
the population.

The passengers to Acámbaro included two ladies of the fly-by-night
species, who whiled away a somewhat monotonous journey by discussing the
details of their profession with the admiring train-boy and drumming up
trade in a coquettish pantomime. The junction town was in fiesta, and
the second-class car of the evening train to Celaya was literally
stacked high with peons and their multifarious bundles, and from it
issued a stench like unto that of a congress of polecats. I rode seated
on a brake, showers of cinders and the cold night air swirling about me,
until the festive natives thinned down enough to give me admittance. By
that time we were drawing into Celaya, also in the throes of some
bombastic celebration.

Like many another Mexican city the traveler chances into when the
central plaza is bubbling with night life, light, and music, Celaya
turned out rather a disappointment in the sunny commonplace of day. Its
central square is a little garden, but almost all the rest of the town
is a monotonous waste of square, bare, one-story houses with ugly
plaster facades and no roofs--at least to be seen--each differing a bit
from its neighbor in height, like a badly drawn up company of
soldiers. The blazing sun and thick dust characteristic of all the high
central plateau are here in full force. Like most Spanish
things--conquests, history, buildings--it looked more striking at a
distance than when examined in detail.

Celaya is far-famed for its candy. All over the republic sounds the cry
of "Cajetas de Celaya!" Mexico shows a great liking for sweets; no
block is complete without its little stands or peregrinating hawkers of
all manner of temptations to the sweet-toothed, ranging from squares of
"fudge" in all colors of the rainbow to barber-pole sticks a half-yard
long. The station was surrounded with soap-less old women, boys, and
even men offering for sale all sizes of the little wooden boxes of the
chief local product, in appearance like axle-grease, but delicious far
beyond its looks, and with vendors of everything imaginable, to say
nothing of a ragged, dirty multitude of all ages with no business
there--nor anywhere else.

When I had spread out over two wooden seats of the big, bustling El Paso
Limited I was quickly reminded of the grim, business-bent, American
engineer in gray hair, the unlit half of a cigar clamped tightly between
his teeth, of whom I had caught a half-conscious glance in the cab
window. One could literally _feel_ his firm American hand at the
throttle as the heavy train gathered steady headway and raced away to
the eastward. Across the car sat two handsome, solidly-knit young
bull-fighters, their little rat-tail _coletas_ peering from behind
their square-cut hats. We sped steadily across the sun-flooded, dry,
brown plateau, slightly rolling, its fields alternating between the dead
tint of dry corn and newly plowed patches. Here for the first time were
pulque producing fields of maguey, planted in long, straight,
emerald-green rows.

As Irapuato for its strawberries, and Celaya for its sweets, so
Queretaro is famed for its huge, cheap hats, of a sort of reed, large
enough to serve as umbrellas, and for its opals. From the time he steps
off the train here until he boards it again, the traveler, especially
the "gringo," is incessantly pestered by men and boys offering for sale
these worthless bright pebbles--genuine and otherwise. Here again are
the same endless rows of one-story, stucco houses, intersecting cobbled
and dust-paved streets, running to the four corners of the compass from
a central plaza planted with tall, slim trees, the interwoven branches
of which almost completely shade it. The cathedral houses, among other
disturbing, disgusting, and positively indecent representations of the
Crucifixion and various martyrdoms done in the Aztec style of bloody
realism, a life-size _Cristo_ with masses of long real hair and a
pair of knee-length knit drawers for decency's sake. One might fancy the
place weighed down by a Puritan censorship. The local museum contains
among other rubbish of the past the keyhole through which Josefa
whispered in 1810 the words that started the revolution against Spanish
power! Here, too, is what purports to be an authentic photograph of the
execution of Maximilian, theatrical to a Spanish degree, the three
victims standing in their places, the once "Emperor of the Mexicans"
holding a large crucifix, and several of the boy soldiers who executed
them crowded eagerly into the corners of the picture. More impressive to
the incredulous is the plain, tapering, wooden coffin in which the chief
body was placed, the bottom half covered with faded blood and on one of
the sides the plain, dull-red imprint of a hand, as if the corpse had
made some post-mortem effort to rise from the grave. The portrait of the
transplanted scion of Austria shows a haughty, I-am-of-superior-clay
man, of a distinctly mediocre grade of intellect, with a forest of beard
that strives in vain to conceal an almost complete absence of chin.

History records that the deposed ruler reached by carriage his last
earthly scene in the early morning of June 19, 1867. I arrived as early,
though afoot. It is a twenty-minute walk from the center of town across
the flat, fertile vega, green with gardens, to the Cerro de las
Campanas, a bare, stern, stony hill, somewhat grown with cactus bushes,
maguey, and tough shrubs, rising perhaps seventy feet above the level of
the town. It runs up gently and evenly from the south, but falls away
abruptly in a cragged, rock precipice on the side facing Querétaro,
providing the only place in the vicinity where poorly aimed bullets
cannot whistle away across the plain. Before them, as they faced the
youthful, brown file of soldiers in their many-patched and faded garb,
the three had a comprehensive view of the town, chiefly trees and
churches sufficient to house the entire populace several times
over. Nine immense structures, each with a great dome and a tower or
two--steeples are unknown in Mexico--stand out against the bare, brown,
flat-topped range beyond that barely rises above the highest tower. The
last scene he looked on must have struck the refuted emperor as typical
of a country he was sorry then ever to have seen, in spite of his regal
control of facial expression,--a hard, stony plateau, the fertility and
riches of which succumb chiefly to an all-devouring priesthood. Cold
lead plays too large a part in the history of Mexico, but certainly its
most unjust verdict was not the extinction of the "divine right" in the
person of this self-styled descendant of the Cæsars at the hands of an
Indian of Oaxaca. To-day a brown stone chapel, erected by Austria,
stands where Maximilian fell, but the spot remains otherwise unchanged,
and no doubt the fathers of these same peons who toiled now in the
gardens of the vega under the morning sun lined the way through which
the carriage bore to its American extinction a system foreign to the
Western Hemisphere.



CHAPTER VI

TENOCHTITLAN OF TO-DAY

The El Paso Limited picked me up again twenty-four hours later. Beyond
Querétaro's ungainly aqueduct spread fields of tobacco, blooming with a
flower not unlike the lily; then vast, almost endless stretches of dead,
dry corn up low heights on either hand, and occasional fields of maguey
in soldierly files. At San Juan del Rio, famous for its lariats, a dozen
men and a woman stood in a row, some forty feet from the train, holding
coils of woven-leather ropes of all sizes, but in glum and hopeless
silence, while a policeman paced back and forth to prevent them from
either canvassing the train-windows or crying their wares. Evidently
some antinuisance crusade had invaded San Juan.

Mexico is a country of such vast vistas that a man might easily be taken
and executed by bandits within plain sight of his friends without their
being able to lend him assistance. Nowhere can one look farther and see
nothing. Yet entire companies of marauders might lie in wait in the many
wild rocky barrancos of this apparently level brown plain. Up and up we
climbed through a bare, stone-strewn land, touched here and there with
the green of cactus, sometimes with long vistas of maize, which here
hung dead in its half-grown youth because of the failure of the summer
rains. Fields of maguey continued. The air grew perceptibly cooler as we
wound back and forth, always at good speed behind the American engineer,
mounting to the upper plateau surrounding the capital, not through
mountains but by a vast, steadily rising world. Sometimes long,
unmortared stone fences divided the landscape, more often mile after
unobstructed mile of slightly undulating brown plain, tinted here and
there by maguey, rolled by us into the north.

A special train of soldiers, with a carload of arms and munitions,
passed on the way to head off the latest revolted "general." The
newspapers of the capital appeared, some rabidly "anti-American,"
stopping at nothing to stir up the excitable native against alleged
subtle plans of the nation to the north to rob them of their territory
and national existence, the more reputable ones with sane editorials
imploring all Mexicans not to make intervention "in the name of humanity
and civilization" necessary. The former sold far more readily. The train
wound hither and yon, as if looking for an entrance to the valley of
Mexico. Unfortunately no train on either line reaches ancient Anahuac by
daylight, and my plan to enter it afoot, perhaps by the same route as
Cortez, had been frustrated. A red sun was just sinking behind haggard
peaks when we reached the highest point of the line--8237 feet above the
sea--with clumps and small forests of stocky oaks and half Mexico
stretching out behind us, rolling brown to distant bare ranges backed by
others growing blue and purple to farthest distance. The scene had a
late October aspect, and a chilling, ozone-rich wind blew. By dusk the
coat I had all but thrown away in the sweltering North was more than
needed. We paused at San Antonio, a jumble of human kennels thrown
together of old cans, scraps of lumber, mud, stones, and cactus leaves,
with huge stacks of the charcoal with the soot of which all the
inhabitants were covered, even to the postmaster who came in person for
the mail sack. That week's issue of a frivolous sheet of the capital
depicted an antonino charcoal-burner standing before his no less
unwashed wife, holding a new-born babe and crying in the slovenly
dialect of the "pela'o": "Why, it is white! Woman, thou hast deceived
me!"

At dark came Tula, ancient capital of the Toltecs, after which night hid
all the scene there might have been, but for glimpses by the light of
the train of the great _tajo_ cut through the hills to drain the
ancient valley of Anáhuac. On we sped through the night, which if
anything became a trifle warmer. Gradually the car crowded to what
would have been suffocation had we not soon pulled in at Buena Vista
station, to fight our way through a howling pandemonium of touts, many
shouting English, among whom were the first Negroes I had seen in
Mexico.

Mexico City was a great disappointment. The hotel only a block from the
cathedral and the site of the great _teocalli_ of the Aztecs, to
which the German in Pátzcuaro had directed me, differed not even in its
smells from a Clark-street lodging-house in Chicago. The entire city
with its cheap restaurants and sour smelling pulquerias uncountable,
looked and sounded like a lower eastside New York turned Spanish in
tongue. Even morning light discovered nothing like the charm of the rest
of Mexico, and though I took up new lodgings en famille in aristocratic
Chapultepec Avenue, with a panorama of snow-topped Popocatepetl and
Ixtaccihuatl, her sleeping sister, and all the range seeming a bare
gunshot away, the imagination was more inclined to hark back to the
Bowery than to the great Tenochtitlan of the days of Cortez.

In a word, the capital is much like many another modern city, somewhat
bleak, cosmopolitan of population, with strong national lines of
demarkation, and a caste system almost as fixed as that of India, but
with none of the romance the reader of Prescott, Mme. Calderón, and the
rest expects. Since anarchy fell upon the land, even the Sunday
procession of carriages of beauty in silks and jewels, and of rancheros
prancing by in thousand-dollar hats, on silver-mounted and bejeweled
saddles, has disappeared from the life of the capital. To-day the
Mexican is not anxious to parade his wealth, nor even to venture it in
business. He is much more minded to bury it in the earth, to hide it in
his socks, to lay it up in the great republic to the north, where
neither presidents corrupt nor Zapatistas break in and steal.

By day moderate clothing was comfortable, but the night air is sharp and
penetrating, and he who is not dressed for winter will be inclined to
keep moving. Policemen and street-car employees tie a cloth across
their mouths from sunset until the morning warms. Ragged peons swarm,
feeding, when at all, chiefly from ambulating kitchens of as tattered
hawkers. The well-to-do Mexican, the "upper class," in general is a
more churlish, impolite, irresponsible, completely inefficient fellow
than even the countryman and the peon, in whom, if anywhere within its
borders, lies the future hope of Mexico. To him outward appearance is
everything, and the capital is especially overrun with the resultant
hollow baubles of humanity.

There are a few short excursions of interest about the capital. Bandits
have made several of them, such as the ascent of Popocatepetl,
unpopular, but a few were still within the bounds of moderate safety.
Three miles away by highway or street-car looms up the church of
Guadalupe, the sacred city of Mexico. It is a pleasing little town,
recalling Puree of the Juggernaut-car by its scores of little stands for
the feeding of pilgrims--at pilgrimage prices. Here are evidences of an
idolatry equal to that of the Hindu. Peons knelt on the floor of the
church, teaching their babies to cross themselves in the long intricate
manner customary in Mexico. A side room was crowded with cheap cardboard
paintings of devotees in the act of being "saved" by the Virgin of
Guadalupe--here a man lying on his back in front of a train which the
Virgin in the sky above has just brought to a standstill; there a child
being spared by her lifting the wheel of a heavy truck about to crush
it. It would be hard to imagine anything more crude either in conception
or execution than these signs of gratitude. To judge by them the Virgin
would make a dramatist of the first rank; there was not a picture in
which the miraculous assistance came a moment too soon, never & hero of
our ancient, pre-Edison melodramas appeared more exactly "in the nick of
time." The famous portrait of the miraculous being herself, over the
high altar, is dimly seen through thick glass. Inside the chapel under
the blue and white dome pilgrims were dipping up the "blessed" water
from the bubbling well and filling bottles of all possible shapes, not a
few of which had originally held American and Scotch whisky, that are
sold in dozens of little stands outside the temple.

These they carry home, often hundreds of miles, to "cure" the ailments
of themselves or families, or to sell to others at monopoly prices.

Good electric cars speed across amazingly fertile bottom lands
crisscrossed by macadam highways to Xochimilco. Nearing it, the rugged
foothills of the great mountain wall shutting in the valley begin to
rise. We skirted Pedregal, a wilderness of lava hills serving as quarry,
and drew up in the old Indian town, of a charm all its own, with its
hoar and rugged old church and its houses built of upright cornstalks or
reeds, with roofs of grass from the lake. Indians paddled about in
clumsy, leaky boats through the canals among rich, flower-burdened
islands, once floating.

Another car runs out to Popotla along the old Aztec causeway by which
the Spaniards retreated on that dismal night of July 2, 1520. Now the
water is gone and only a broad macadamed street remains. The spot where
Alvarado made his famous pole-vault is near the Buena Vista station, but
no jumping is longer necessary--except perhaps to dodge a passing
trolley. Instead of the lake of Tenochtitlan days there is the flattest
of rich valleys beyond. The "Tree of the Dismal Night," a huge cypress
under which Cortez is said to have wept as he watched the broken
remnants of his army file past, is now hardly more than an enormous,
hollow, burned-out stump, with a few huge branches that make it look at
a distance like a flourishing tree still in the green prime of life. The
day was rainy and a cold, raw wind blew. The better-clad classes were in
overcoats, and the peons in their cotton rags wound themselves in
blankets, old carpets, newspapers, anything whatever, huddling in
doorways or any suggestion of shelter. Cold brings far more suffering in
warm countries than in these of real winters.

The comandante of notorious old Belén prison in the capital spoke
English fluently, but he did not show pleasure at my visit. An
under-official led me to the flat roof, with a bird's-eye view of the
miserable, rambling, old stone building. Its large patios were literally
packed with peon prisoners. The life within was an almost exact replica
of that on the streets of the capital, even to hawkers of sweets,
fruit-vendors, and the rest, while up from them rose a decaying stench
as from the steerage quarters of old transatlantic liners. Those who
choose, work at their trade within as outside. By night the prisoners
are herded together in hundreds from six to six in the wretched old
dungeon-like rooms. Nothing apparently is prohibited, and prisoners may
indulge with impunity in anything from cigarettes to adultery, for which
they can get the raw materials.

The excursion out to the Ajusco range, south of the city, was on the
verge of danger. Zapata hung about Cuernavaca and marauders frequently
approached the very outskirts of the capital. Under our knapsacks we
struck upward through the stony village where the train had set us down,
and along a narrow road that soon buried itself in pine forests. A
bright clear stream came tumbling sharply down, and along this we
climbed. A mile or more but we picked up at a thatched hut an Indian boy
of ten as burden-bearer and guide, though we continued to carry most of
our own stuff and to trust largely to our own sense of direction. Above
came a three-hour climb through pine-forested mountains, such as the
Harz might be without the misfortune of German spick and spanness. He
who starts at an elevation of 7500 feet and climbs 4000 upward in a
brief space of time, with a burden on his back, knows he is mounting.
Occasionally a dull-gray glimpse of the hazy valley of Mexico broke
through the trees; about us was an out-of-the-way stillness, tempered
only by the sound of birds. About noon the thick forest of great pine
trees ceased as suddenly as if nature had drawn a dead-line about the
brow of the mountain. A foot above it was nothing but stunted oak
growths and tufts of bunch-grass large as the top of a palm-tree. On
the flat summit, with hints through the tree-tops below of the great
vale of Anáhuac, we halted to share the bulk of our burdens with the
Indian boy, who had not brought his "itacate." The air was most
exhilarating and clear as glass, though there was not enough of it to
keep us from panting madly at each exertion. In the shade it was cold
even in heavy coats; but merely to step out into the sunshine was to
bask like lizards.

Our "guide" lost no time in losing us, and we started at random down the
sharp face of the mountain to the valley 4000 feet almost directly below
us. Suddenly a break in the trees opened out a most marvelous view of
the entire valley of Mexico. Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl stood out as
clearly under their brilliant white mantles of new-fallen snow as if
they were not sixty but one mile away, every crack and seam fully
visible, and the fancied likeness of the second to a sleeping woman was
from this point striking. The contrast was great between the dense green
of the pine forests and the velvety, brown plain with its full, shallow
lakes unplumbed fathoms below. Farther down we came out on the very
break-neck brink of a vast amphitheater of hills, with "las ventanas,"
huge, sheer, rock cliffs shaped like great cathedral windows, an easy
stone-throw away but entirely inaccessible to any but an aviator, for an
unconscionable gorge carpeted with bright green tree-tops lay between. I
proposed descending the face of the cliff below us, and led the way down
a thousand feet or more, only to come to the absolutely sheer rock end
of things where it would have taken half the afternoon to drop to the
carpet of forest below.

There was nothing to do but to climb out again and skirt the brink of
the canyon. In the rare air we were certain a score of times of being
about to drop dead from exhaustion, yet a two-minute rest always brought
full recovery. Then came a wild scramble of an hour along sheer rocks
thick-draped with moss that pealed off in square yards almost as often
as we stepped on it, and threatened to drop us more than a half-mile to
the tree-tops below. Climbing, clinging, and circling through a
wilderness of undergrowth amid the vast forest of still, dense-green
pines, but with such views of the valley of Mexico and the great
snow-clads as to reward any possible exertion, we flanked at last the
entire canyon. In the forest itself every inch of ground was carpeted
with thick moss, more splendid than the weavings of any loom of man,
into which the feet sank noiselessly. Everywhere the peaceful stillness
was tempered only by a slight humming of the trees, and the songs of
myriad birds, not a human being within screaming distance, unless some
gang of bandits stalked us in the depth of the forest. More likely they
were by now sodden with the aftermath of Sunday festivities, and anyway
we were armed "hasta los dientes."

At length, as the day was nearing its close, we fell into what had once
been a trail. It was moss-grown and wound erratically in and out among
the trees, but went steadily down, very level compared to the work of
the preceding hours, yet so steep we several times spread out at full
length to slide a rod or more. The sun was setting when we came to the
bottom of "las ventanas" only a couple thousand feet from where we had
first caught sight of them hours before. Thereafter the trail moderated
its pace and led us to the most beautiful thing of the day, a clear
ice-cold stream at the bottom of the cliffs. We all but drank it
dry. Then on out of the canyon and across a vast field of rye, back of
which the great gorge stood like some immense stadium, with stalwart
athletic pines filling all the seats. This is the spot where Wallace's
"Fair God" burst forth upon the valley. We descended between immense
walls of pines, half unseen in the dusk and framing a V-shaped bit of
the vale of Anahuac, a perfect crimson fading to rose color, culminating
in the pink-tinted snow-clads above.

At dark we left the boy at his hut, on the walls of which his father had
just hung the two deer of that day's hunt. There was no hope of catching
the afternoon train from Cuernavaca, and we laid plans to tramp on
across the valley floor to Tizapan. But Mexican procrastination
sometimes has its virtues, and we were delighted to find the station
crowded with those waiting for the delayed convoy that ten minutes later
was bearing us cityward through the cool highland night.

I had hoped to walk from Mexico City to the capital of Honduras. That
portion of the route from former Tenochtitlan to Oaxaca and the Isthmus
of Tehuantepec, however, was not then a promising field for tramping by
any one with any particular interest in arriving. I concluded to flank
it by train. It was a chilly gray day when the little narrow-gage train
bore us close by the miraculous temple of Guadalupe, with its hilltop
cemetery and stone sails, and into the vast fields of maguey
beyond. Peons and donkeys without number, the former close wrapped in
their colored blankets, the latter looking as if they would like to be,
enlivened the roads and trails. We skirted the shore of dull Lake
Texcoco, once so much larger and even now only a few inches below the
level of the flat plain, recalling that the Tenochtitlan of the Conquest
was an island reached only by causeways. At San Juan Teotihuacan, the
famous pyramids lost in the nebulous haze of pre-Toltec history bulked
forth from the plain and for many miles beyond. The smaller, called that
of the Moon, was a mere squat mound of earth. But the larger had lately
been cleared off, and was now of a light cement color, rising in four
terraces with a low monument or building on the summit. It contains
about the same material as the pyramid of Cheops, but is larger at the
base and by no means so high, thereby losing something of the majesty of
its Egyptian counterpart.

A cheery sun appeared, but the air remained cool. Fields of maguey in
mathematically straight lines stretched up and away out of sight over
broad rolling ridges. I had put off the experience of tasting the
product until I should reach Apam, the center of the pulque industry. At
that station an old woman sold me a sort of flower-pot full of the stuff
at two cents. I expected to taste and throw it away. Instead there came
a regret that I had not taken to it long before. It was of the
consistency and color of milk, with a suggestion of buttermilk in its
taste and fully as palatable as the latter, with no noticeable evidence
of intoxicating properties. No doubt this would come with age, as well
as the sour stink peculiar to the pulquerías of the cities.

The train made a mighty sweep to the northward to escape from the
central valley, bringing a much closer and better view of the two
snow-clads, first on one, then on the farther side. By choice I should
have climbed up over the "saddle" between them, as Cortez first entered
the realms of Montezuma. A dingy branch line bore us off across broken
country with much corn toward Puebla. On the left was a view of
Malinche, famous in the story of the Conquest, its summit hidden in
clouds. I was now in the Rhode Island of Mexico, the tiny State of
Tlaxcala, the "Land of Corn," to the assistance from which Cortez owes
his fame. The ancient state capital of the same name has been slighted
by the railway and only a few decrepit mule-cars connect it with the
outer world. I slighted these, and leaving my possessions in the station
of Santa Ana, set off through a rolling and broken, dry and dusty, yet
fertile country, with the wind rustling weirdly through the dead brown
fields of corn. The inhabitants of the backward little capital were even
more than usually indifferent to "gringoes," seldom giving me more than
a glance unless I asked a question, and even leaving me to scribble my
notes in peace in a shaded plaza bench.

There is nothing but its historical memories of special interest in
Tlaxcala. It is a town of some 3000 inhabitants, a few hundred feet
higher than Mexico City, with many ancient buildings, mostly of stone,
often mere ruins, from the seams of surely half of which sprout grass
and flowers, as they do between the cobbles of its streets and its large
rambling plaza. I visited the old church on the site of which
Christianity--of the Spanish brand--was first preached on the American
continent. Here was the same Indian realism as elsewhere in the
republic. One Cristo had "blood" pouring in a veritable river from his
side, his face was completely smeared with it, his knees and shins were
skinned and barked and covered with blood, which had even dripped on his
toes; the elbows and other salient points were in worse condition than
those of a wrestler after a championship bout, and the body was tattooed
with many strange arabesques. There were other figures in almost as
distressing a state. A god only ordinarily maltreated could not excite
the pity or interest of the Mexican Indian, whose every-day life has its
own share of barked shins and painful adversities. It was amusing to
find this village, hardly larger than many a one about the home of
Mexican hacendados, the capital of a State. But the squads of rurales
and uniformed police and the civil employees of Government were very
solemn with their responsibilities. I had seen it all in an hour or two
and drifted back along the five lazy miles to Santa Ana. Tlaxcala lies
between two gaunt broken ridges, with rugged chains all about it, yet
the little State is by no means so completely _fenced in_ by nature
as the imagination that has fed on Prescott pictures.

Puebla, third city of Mexico, is even colder than the capital. The
snow-clads of the latter look down upon it from the west, and far away
to the east stands Orizaba, highest peak of Mexico. In the haze of
sunset its great mantle of new-fallen snow stood out sharply, darker
streaks that ran down through the lower reaches of snow dying out in
nothingness, as the mountain did itself, for as a matter of fact the
latter was not visible at all, but only the snow that covered its upper
heights, surrounded above, below, and on all sides by the thin gray sky
of evening. By night there was music in the plaza. But how can there be
life and laughter where a half-dozen blankets are incapable of keeping
the promenaders comfortable? In all the frigid town there was not a
single fire, except in the little bricked holes full of charcoal over
which the place does its cooking. Close to my hotel was the "Casa
Serdan," its windows all broken and its stucco front riddled with bullet
holes, for it was here that two brothers, barricading themselves against
the government of Porfirio Diaz, spilled the first blood of the long
series of revolutions and worse that has followed. Already the name of
the street had been changed to "Calle de los Mártires de Noviembre,
1910."

It is nearly three hours' walk from the plaza of Puebla to that of
Cholula, the Benares of the Aztecs, and for him who rises early it is a
cold one. What little romance remains would have fled had I made the
trip by mule-car. As it was, I could easily drop back mentally into the
days of the Conquest, for under the brilliant cloudless sky as I
surmounted a bit of height there lay all the historic scene before
me--the vast dipping plain with the ancient pyramid of Cholula, topped
now by a white church with towers and dome, standing boldly forth across
it, and beyond, yet seeming so close one half expected an avalanche of
their snows to come down upon the town, towering Popocatepetl and her
sister, every little vale and hollow of the "saddle" between clear as at
a yard distance. Then to the left, Malinche and the rolling stony hills
of Tlaxcala, along which the Spaniards advanced, with the beautiful cone
of Orizaba rising brilliant and clear nearly a hundred miles away. The
great rampart separating them from the cherished valley must have
brought bated breath even to the hardy soldiers of Cortez.

This unsurpassed view accompanied all the rest of the peaceful morning
walk. By nine I was climbing the great pyramid from the top of which the
intrepid Spaniard tumbled down the ancient gods, and about which
occurred the first of the many wholesale massacres of Indians on the
American continent. To-day it is merely a large hill, overgrown on all
sides with grass, trees, and flowers, and with almost nothing to bear
out the tradition that it was man-built. From the top spreads a scene
rarely surpassed. Besides the four mountains, the ancient and modern
town of Cholula lies close below, with many another village, especially
their bulking churches, standing forth on all sides about the rich
valley, cut up into squares and rectangles of rich-brown corn
alternating with bright green, a gaunt, low, wall-like range cutting off
the entire circle of the horizon. The faint music of church bells from
many a town miles away rode by on a wind with the nip of the mountain
snows in it. But Prescott has already described the scene with a
fidelity that seems uncanny from one who never beheld it except in his
mind's eye.

To-day the pyramid is sacred to the "Virgin of the Remedies." Gullible
pilgrims come from many leagues around to be cured of their ills, and
have left behind hundreds of doll-like figures of themselves or the
ailing limb or member made of candle wax that breaks to bits between the
fingers. Then there are huge candles without number, martyrs and
crucifixions, with all the disgusting and bloody features of elsewhere;
every kind and degree and shape and size of fetish. Cholula needs badly
another Cortez to tumble her gods down to the plain below and drive out
the hordes of priests that sacrifice their flocks none the less surely,
if less bloodily, than their Aztec predecessors.

A bright red sun came up as the train swung round to the eastward,
hugging the flanks of Malinche, and rumbled away across a sandy, very
dry, but fertile country, broken by huge barrancas or washouts, and
often with maguey hedges. Most of my day was given up to Mr. ---- come to
think of it, I did not even get his name. He drifted into the train at
the junction and introduced himself by remarking that it was not bad
weather thereabouts. He was a tall, spare man of fifty, in a black suit
rather disarranged and a black felt hat somewhat the worse for wear. He
carried a huge pressed-cardboard "telescope" and wore a cane, though it
hardly seemed cold enough for one. His language was that of a
half-schooled man, with the paucity of vocabulary and the grammar of a
ship's captain who had left school early but had since read much and
lived more. Whenever a noun failed him, which was often, he filled in
the blank with the word "proposition." Like myself, he traveled
second-class because there was no fourth.

It may be that the biography which pieced itself unconsciously together
as he talked needs a sprinkle of salt here and there, but it all had the
earmarks of veracity. He was a Briton, once a surgeon in the British
army, with the rank of captain, saw service with Roberts in Egypt, and
was with Kitchener at the relief of Khartum. Later he served in India
with the Scotch Grays. He looked the part, and had, moreover, the accent
and scars to go with it. Glimpses through his conversation into the
background beyond suggested he had since been in most parts of the
world. He liked Argentina best and the United States least, as a place
of residence. Practising as a physician and oculist, he had amassed a
moderate fortune, all of which he had lost, together with his wife and
child, and possibly a bit of his own wits, in the flood of Monterey.
Since that catastrophe he had had no other ambition than to earn enough
to drift on through life. With neither money nor instruments left, he
took to teaching English to the wealthier class of Mexicans in various
parts of the country, now in mission schools, now as private tutor. A
Methodist institution in Querétaro had dispensed with his services
because he protested against an order to make life unpleasant to those
boys who did not respond with their spending money to a daily call for
alms at the morning assembly. Six months ago he had drifted into a
little town near San Marcos, wearing the title of "professor," and got
together a class of private pupils, chief among them three daughters of
a wealthy hacendado. Rebels came one day and in the exuberance that
follows a full meal long delayed, with pulque embroidery, one of them
fired two shots through the window not far from his venerable British
head. The "professor" picked up a two-foot mahogany ruler, marched out
into the plaza and, rapping the startled rebel over the skull, took his
rifle away from him and turned it over to the delighted jefe
político. From then on his future seemed assured, for if the rest of the
town was poor, the hacendado's wealth was only rivaled by his daughters'
longing for English.

But life is a sad proposition at best. On the Monday preceding our
meeting the "professor" sat with his pupils in the shade of the broad
hacienda veranda when he saw two priests wandering toward the house
"like Jews with a pack of clothing to sell." "It's all up with the
Swede," he told himself according to his own testimony. The prophecy
proved only too true. The padres had come to order that the three
daughters be god-mothers to the "Cristo" (in the form of a gaudy doll)
that was to be "born" in the town on Christmas eve and paraded to the
cathedral of Puebla. As their ticket to heaven depended upon obedience,
none of the faithful señoritas dreamed of declining the honor, even
though it involved the expenditure of considerable of papá's good money
and required them to spend most of the time until Christmas rehearsing
for the ceremony and "praising the glory of God" with the priests in a
room of the church, locked against worldly intruders. Naturally this
left them no time for English. His mainstay gone, the "professor" threw
up the sponge and struck out for pastures new, carrying his trunk-like
"telescope" two hot and sandy leagues to catch this morning train.

At Esperanza the Briton went me one better on my own custom of "living
on the country." To the _enchiladas_, large tortillas red with
pepper-sauce and generously filled with onions, and the smaller
tortillas covered with scraps of meat and boiled egg which we bought of
the old women and boys that flocked about the train, he added a liter of
pulque. Not far beyond, we reached Boca del Monte, the edge of the
great plateau of Mexico. A wealth of scenery opened out. From the window
was a truly bird's-eye view of the scattered town of Maltrata, more than
two thousand feet almost directly below in the center of a rich green
valley, about the edge of which, often on the very brink of the
thick-clothed precipice, the train wound round and round behind the
double-headed engine, traveling to every point of the compass in its
descent. The town rose up to us at last and for the first time since
mounting to San Luís Potosí two months before, I found myself less than
a mile above sea-level. Instead of the often bare, wind-swept plateau,
immense weeds of the banana family grew up about us, and a beautiful
winding vale reeking with damp vegetation stretched before and behind us
as we slid onward. High above all else and much farther away than it
seemed, stood the majestic, snow-white peak of Orizaba. In mid-afternoon
we descended at the city of that name.

It was large, but really a village in every feature of life. Here again
were the broad eaves of one-story, tile-roofed houses, stretching well
out over the badly cobbled streets, down the center of which ran open
sewers. The place was unkempt and unclean, with many evidences of
poverty, and the air so heavy and humid that vegetation grew even on the
roofs. I wandered about town with the "professor" while he "sized it up"
as a possible scene of his future labors, but he did not find it
promising. By night Orizaba was still well above the tropics and the
single blanket on the hotel cot proved far from sufficient even with its
brilliant red hue.



CHAPTER VII

TROPICAL MEXICO

It is merely a long jump with a drop of two thousand feet from Orizaba
to Córdoba. But the train takes eighteen miles of winding, squirming,
and tunneling to get there. On the way is some of the finest scenery in
Mexico. The route circles for miles the yawning edge of a valley dense
with vegetation, banana and orange trees without number, with huts of
leaves and stalks tucked away among them, myriads of flowers of every
shade and color, and here and there coffee bushes festooned with their
red berries. The dew falls so heavily in this region that the rank
growth was visibly dripping with it.

At somnolent Córdoba I left the line to Vera Cruz for that to the
southward. The car was packed with the dirty, foul-tongued wives and the
children and bundles of a company of soldiers recently sent against the
rebels of Juchitan. Ever since leaving Boca del Monte the day before I
had been coming precipitously down out of Mexico. But there were still
descents to be found, and the train raced swiftly without effort in and
out through ever denser jungle, magnificent in colors, alive with birds,
a land in each square yard of which the traveler felt a longing to pause
and dwell for a while, to swing languidly under the trees, gazing at the
snow peak of Orizaba now growing farther and farther away.

Our conveyance was a species of way-freight, which whiled away most of
the day at a speed fittingly respectful to the scenery about us. With
every station the population grew perceptibly more lazy. The alert,
eager attitude of the plateau gave place to a languorous lethargy
evident in both faces and movements. People seemed less sulky than those
higher up, more communicative and approachable, but also, strangely
enough, less courteous, apparently from laziness, a lack of the energy
necessary for living up to the rules of that Mexican virtue. They
answered readily enough, but abruptly and indifferently, and fell
quickly into their customary somnolence. For a time we skirted the Río
Blanco, boiling away toward the sea. Oranges were so plentiful they hung
rotting on the trees. The jungle was dense, though by no means so much
so as those of the Far East. On either hand were hundreds of native
shacks,--mongrel little huts of earth floors, transparent walls of a
sort of corn-stalk, and a thick, top-heavy roof of jungle grass or
banana leaves, set carelessly in bits of space chopped out of the
rampant jungle. Now and then we passed gangs of men fighting back the
vegetation that threatened to swallow up the track completely.

Beautiful palm-trees began to abound, perfectly round, slender stems
supporting hundreds of immense leaves hanging edgewise in perfect arch
shape, perhaps the most symmetrical of all nature's works. What is
there about the palm-tree so romantic and pleasing to the spirits? Its
whisper of perpetual summer, of perennial life, perhaps. Great luscious
pineapples sold through the windows at two or three cents each. The
peons of this region carried a machete in a leather scabbard, but still
wore a folded blanket over one shoulder, suggesting chilly nights. The
general apathy of the population began to manifest itself now in the
paucity of hawkers at the stations. On the plateau the train seldom
halted without being surrounded by a jostling crowd, fighting to sell
their meager wares; here they either lolled in the shade of their banana
groves, waiting for purchasers to come and inspect their displays of
fruit, or they did not even trouble to offer anything for sale. Why
should man work when his food drops year by year into his lap without
even replanting? Moreover, flat noses and kinky hair were growing more
and more in evidence.

Not all was jungle. As the mountains died down and faded away in the
west there opened out many broad meadows in which were countless sleek
cattle tended by somnolent herdsmen on horseback. Much sugar-cane grew,
lengths of which were sold to the brawling soldiers' wives and the
carload in general, which was soon reeking with the juice and chewed
pulp. By afternoon jungle was a rarity and most of the country was a
rich sort of prairie with cattle without number, and here and there an
immense tree to break the monotony. These rich bottomlands that seemed
capable of producing anything in unlimited quantities were almost
entirely uncultivated. At several stations there bulked above the
throng white men in appearance like a cross between farmers and
missionaries, the older ones heavily bearded. For a time I could not
catalogue them. Then, as we pulled out of one town, two of what but for
their color and size I should have taken for peons raced for the last
car-step, one shouting to the other in the strongest of Hoosier accents:

"Come on, Bud, let's jemp 'er!"

Which both did, riding some sixty feet, and dropped off like men who had
at last had their one daily excitement. Inquiry proved that they
belonged to a colony of Mormons that has settled in several groups in
this region, where nature sets their creed a prolific example.

Unbroken prairies, in their tropical form, now stretched as far as the
eye could reach, with just the shade of a shadowy range in the far
west. The heat had not once grown oppressive during the day.

With dusk it turned almost cold. We wound slowly on into the damp, heavy
night, a faint full moon struggling to tear itself a peep-hole through
the clouds, and finally at ten, seat-sore with fifteen hours of
slat-bench riding, pulled up at Santa Lucrecia.

It was just such a town as dozens of others we had passed that day; a
plain station building surrounded unevenly by a score or so of
banana-grove huts. Here ends the railroad southward, joining that
across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. From the track of the latter a wooden
sidewalk that rang drum-hollow under my heels led across a gully of
unknown depth in the black night to the Hotel "El Sol Mejicano,"
standing-room for which had been gashed out of the jungle. It was a
wooden and sheet-iron building on stilts, swarming even at night with
dirty children, pigs, chickens, and yellow dogs, and presided over by a
glassy-eyed, slatternly woman of French antecedents, the general shape
of a wine-skin three-fourths full, and of a ghoulish instinct toward the
purses of travelers. In one end were a dozen "rooms," separated by
partitions reaching half way to the sheet-iron roof, and in the other a
single combination of grocery and general store, saloon and pool-table,
assorted filth and the other attributes of outposts of civilization. The
chambers were not for rent, but only the privilege of occupying one of
the several beds in each. These fortunately were fairly clean, with good
springs and mosquito canopies, but with only a quilt for
mattress--unless it was meant for cover--a single sheet, and the usual
two little, round, hard mountainous pillows. Otherwise the cabins were
wholly unfurnished, even to windows. The train that had brought us in
spent the night bucking and jolting back and forth near by; even a
barefoot servant walking anywhere in the building or on the veranda set
the edifice rocking as in an earthquake; two Mexicans occupying the
"room" next to my own--more properly, the one I helped occupy--bawled
anecdotes and worse at the top of their voices most of the night; guests
were hawking and spitting and coughing incessantly in various parts of
the house; at three a servant began beating on the door with something
in the nature of a sledge-hammer to know if I wished to take the train
Atlantic-bound, and refused to accept a negative answer; my room-mate
held the world's record for snoring; at the first suggestion of dawn
every child, chicken, and assorted animal in the building and vicinity
set up its greatest possible uproar; and I was half-frozen all night,
even under all the clothing I possessed. Except for these few
annoyances, I slept splendidly. There was at least the satisfaction of
knowing that a traveling millionaire obliged to pass a night in Santa
Lucrecia would spend it no better.

Everything was dripping wet when I fled back across the aërial sidewalk
to the station. It was not hot, but there was a dense, heavy atmosphere
in which one felt he could be as lively and industrious as elsewhere,
yet found himself dragging listlessly around as the
never-do-anything-you-don't-have-to inhabitants. Even the boyish train
auditor had an irresponsible lackadaisical manner, and permitted all
sorts of petty railway misdemeanors. The childishness of tropical
peoples was evident on every hand. There was no second-class car on
this line, but one third, all but empty when we started, evidently not
because most bought first-class tickets but because the auditor was of
the tropics. Endless jungle covered all the visible world, with only the
line of rails crowding through it. The cocoanut palms and those
top-heavy with what looked like enormous bunches of dates soon died out
as we left the vicinity of the coast. At Rincon Antonio the car filled
up, and among the new-comers were many of the far-famed women of
Tehuantepec. Some were of striking beauty, almost all were splendid
physical specimens and all had a charming and alluring smile. They
dressed very briefly--a gay square of cloth about their limbs,
carelessly tucked in at the waist, and a sleeveless upper garment that
failed to make connections with the lower, recalling the women of
Ceylon. The absence of any other garments was all too evident. Almost
all wore in their jet-black hair a few red flowers, all displayed six
inches or more of silky brown skin at the waist, and the majority wore
necklaces of gold coins, generally American five and ten dollar gold
pieces. To see one of them stretched out at full length on a seat,
smoking a cigarette and in animated conversation with a man that five
minutes before had been a total stranger, might have suggested a certain
looseness of character. But this was denied by their facial expression,
which bore out the claim of a chance acquaintance long resident among
them that they are very frank, "simple," and friendly, but far more apt
to keep within a well-defined limit than the average of tropical women.
Tehuantepec, indeed, is the land of "woman's rights." The men having
been largely killed off during the days of Diaz, the feminine stock is
to-day the sturdier, more intelligent, and industrious, and arrogates to
itself a far greater freedom than the average Mexican woman. Many of
those in the car spoke the local Indian dialect, Zapoteca, but all
seemed possessed of fluent Spanish.

Yet how different was all the carload from what we have come to consider
"civilized" people. If the aim of humanity is to be happy in the
present, then these languid, brown races are on the right track. If
that aim is to advance, develop, and accomplish, they must be classed
with the lower animals.

For a half hour before reaching Rincon Antonio, we had been winding with
a little brawling river through a hilly gorge dense-grown with
vegetation. The town was in the lull between two revolts. A bare four
days before, a former chief and his followers had been taken by the
populace and shot behind the water-tank beside where we paused at the
station. A week later new riots were to break out. But today the place
was sunk in its customary languor, and only a few bullet-ridden walls
and charred ruins hinted its recent history.

I had pictured the Isthmus of Tehuantepec a flat neck of land from ocean
to ocean. But the imagination is a deceitful guide. Beyond the town of
the water-tank we wormed for miles through mountains higher than the
Berkshires, resembling them indeed in form and wealth of vegetation,
though with a tropical tinge. The jungle, however, died out, and the
train crawled at a snail's pace, often looping back upon itself, through
landscapes in which the organ-cactus was most conspicuous. Even here the
great chain known as the Rockies and the Andes, that stretches from
Alaska to Patagonia, imposes a considerable barrier between the two
seas. There was a cosmopolitan tinge to this region, and the
_boinas_ of Basques mingled with the cast-iron faces of Americans
and sturdy self-possessed Negroes under broad "Texas" hats. An hour
beyond the hills, in a thick-wooded land, I dropped off at the town of
Tehuantepec, an intangible place that I had some difficulty in
definitely locating in the thickening darkness.

Here was a new kind of Mexico. In many things, besides the naked, brown
waists of the women, it carried the mind back to Ceylon. There were the
same reed and thatched huts, almost all surrounded by spacious yards
fenced by corn-stalk walls through which the inmates could see easily
but be seen with difficulty. Here, too, boys went naked until the
approach of puberty; the cocoanut palms, the dense banana groves, even
the huge earthen water-jars before the houses recalled the charming isle
of the Singhalese, and if the people were less kindly to the stranger
they were much more joyful and full of laughter than the Mexican of the
plateau. In this perhaps they had more in common with the Burmese. The
men, often almost white in color, wore few large hats, never one
approaching those of the highlands. The hotter the sun, the smaller the
hat, seems to be the rule in Mexico. Here it was hot, indeed; a dense,
thick, tangible heat, that if it did not sap the strength suggested the
husbanding of it.

A fiesta raged on the night of my arrival. The not too musical blare of
a band drew me to a wide, inclined street paved in sand, at the blind
end of which were seated five rows of women in as many gradations, and
everywhere shuttled men and boys, almost all in white trousers, with a
shirt of the same color, Chinese-fashion, outside it, commonly barefoot
with or without sandals. A few even wore shoes. I hesitated to join the
throng. The subconscious expectation of getting a knife or a bullet in
the back grows second nature in Mexico. Few foreigners but have
contracted the habit of stepping aside to let pass a man who hangs long
at their heels. The approach of a staggering, talkative peon was always
an occasion for alertness, and one that came holding a hand behind him
was an object of undivided curiosity until the concealed member
appeared, clutching perhaps nothing more interesting than a cigar or a
banana. Mexicans in crowds, mixed with liquor and "religion," were
always worth attention; and here was just such a mixture, for the fiesta
was in honor of the Virgin, and the libations that had been poured out
in her honor were generous. But the drink of Tehuantepec, whatever it
might be--for pulque is unknown in the tropics--appeared to make its
devotees merely gay and boisterous. The adults were friendly, even to an
American, and the children shouted greetings to me as "Señor Gringo,"
which here is merely a term of nationality and no such opprobrious title
as it has grown to be on the plateau.

A few rockets had suggested an incipient revolution while I was at
supper. Now the scene of the festivities was enlivened by four huge
set-pieces of fireworks, each with a bell-shaped base in which a man
could ensconce himself to the waist. One in the form of a duck first
took to human legs and capered about the square while its network of
rockets, pin-wheels, sizzlers, twisters, cannon-like explosions, and
jets of colored fire kept the multitude surging back and forth some
twenty minutes, to the accompaniment of maudlin laughter and the dancing
and screaming of children, while the band, frankly giving up its vain
attempts to produce music, gazed with all eyes and blew an unattentive,
never-ending rag-time of some two strains. A monster turkey took up the
celebration where the charred and disheveled duck left off, capering
itself into blazing and uproarious oblivion. The finale consisted of two
gigantic figures of a man and a woman, with a marvelous array of all
possible lights and noises that lasted a full half-hour, while the two
barefoot wearers danced back and forth bowing and careering to each
other. The aftermath ran far into the night, and brought to naught my
plans to make up for the sleepless night before.

Though most of the inhabitants of Tehuantepec live on earth floors in
reed and grass houses, there is scarcely a sign of suffering
poverty. Little Spanish is heard among them, although even the children
seem quite able to speak it. Their native Indian tongue differs from the
Castilian even in cadence, so that it was easy to tell which idiom was
being spoken even before the words were heard. It is the chief medium of
the swarming market in and about the black shadows of a roof on
legs. Here the frank and self-possessed women, in their brief and simple
dress, were legion. Footwear is unknown to them, and the loose,
two-piece, disconnected dress was augmented, if at all, with a black
lace shawl thrown over the shoulders in the, to them, chilly
mornings. But the most remarkable part of the costume, of decorative
properties only, is the head-dress common to a large per cent, of the
women in town. From the back of the otherwise bare head hangs to the
waist an intricate contrivance of lace and ruffles, snow-white and
starched stiff, the awful complications of which no mere male would be
able to describe beyond the comprehensive statement that the ensemble
much resembles a Comanche chief in full war regalia. Above this they
carry their loads on their heads in a sort of gourd bowl decorated with
flowers, and walk with a sturdy self-sufficiency that makes a veranda or
bridge quake under their brown-footed tread. They are lovers of color,
especially here where the Pacific breezes turn the jungle to the
eastward into a gaunt, sandy, brown landscape, and such combinations as
soft-red skirts and sea-blue waists, or the reverse, mingle with black
shot through with long perpendicular yellow stripes. The striking
beauties of many a traveler's hectic imagination were not in evidence.
But then, it is nowhere customary to find a town's best selling sapotes
and fish in the market-place, and at least the attractiveness ranked
high compared with a similar scene in any part of the world, while
cleanliness was far more popular than in the highlands to the north.

The foreigner in Mexico is often surprised at the almost impossibility
of getting the entree into its family life. American residents of high
position are often intimate friends for years of Mexican men in their
cafés and male gatherings, without ever stepping across their
thresholds. Much of the seclusion of the Moor still holds, even half a
world distant from the land of its origin. Yet his racial
pseudo-courtesy leads the Mexican frequently to extend an invitation
which only long experience teaches the stranger is a mere meaningless
formality. On the train from Córdoba I spent considerable time in
conversation with a well-to-do youth of Tehuantepec, during which I was
formally invited at least a dozen times to visit him at his home. He
failed to meet me at the rendezvous set, but was effusive when I ran
across him in the evening round of the plaza:

"Ah, amigo mío. Muy buenas noches. Como 'stá uste-e-é? So delighted! I
was grieved beyond measure to miss you. I live in the Calle Reforma,
number 83. There you have your own house. I am going there now. Do you
not wish to accompany me? I have...."

"Yes, I should like to look in on you for a few moments."

"Ah, I was so sorry to miss you," he went on, standing stock still. "I
must give you my address and you must write me, and I you."

There followed an exchange of cards with great formality and many
protestations of eternal friendship; then an effusive hand-shake and:

"Mil gracias, señor. May you have a most pleasant voyage. Thanks
again. So pleased to have met you. Adiós. May you travel well. Hasta
luego. Adiós. Que le vaya bien," and with a flip of the hand and a
wriggling of the fingers he was gone.

That evening I returned early to the "Hotel La Perla." Its entire force
was waiting for me. This consisted of Juan, a cheery, slight fellow in a
blue undershirt and speckled cotton trousers of uncertain age, who was
waiter, chambermaid, porter, bath-boy, sweeper, general swipe, possibly
cook, and in all but name proprietor; the nominal one being a spherical
native on the down-grade of life who never moved twice in the same day
if it could be avoided, leaving the establishment to run itself, and
accepting phlegmatically what money it pleased Providence to send
him. The force was delighted at the pleasure of having a guest to wait
upon, and stood opposite me all through the meal, offering gems of
assorted wisdom intermingled with wide-ranging questions. I called for
an extra blanket and turned in soon after dark. There reigned a
delicious stillness that promised ample reparation for the two nights
past. Barely had I drowsed off, however, when there intruded the
chattering of several men in the alleyway and yard directly outside my
window. "They'll soon be gone," I told myself, turning over. But I was
over-optimistic. The voices increased, those of women chiming
in. Louder and louder grew the uproar. Then a banjo-like instrument
struck up, accompanying the most dismally mournful male voice
conceivable, wailing a monotonous refrain of two short lines. This
increased in volume until it might be heard a mile away. Male and female
choruses joined in now and then. In the snatches between, the monotonous
voice wailed on, mingled with laughter and frequent disputes. I rose at
last to peer out the window. In the yard were perhaps a half-hundred
natives, all seated on the ground, some with their backs against the
very wall of my room, nearly all smoking, and with many pots of liquor
passing from hand to hand. Midnight struck, then one, then two; and
with every hour the riot increased. Once or twice I drifted into a short
troubled dream, to be aroused with a start by a new burst of
pandemonium. Then gradually the sounds subsided almost entirely. My
watch showed three o'clock. I turned over again, grateful for the few
hours left ... and in that instant, without a breath of warning, there
burst out the supreme cataclysm of a band of some twenty hoarse and
battered pieces in an endless, unfathomable noise that never once paused
for breath until daylight stole in at the window.

At "breakfast" I took Juan to task.

"Ah, señor," he smiled, "it is too bad. But yesterday a man died in the
house next door, and his friends have come to celebrate."

"And keep the whole town awake all night?"

"Ay, senor, it is unfortunate indeed. But what would you? People will
die, you know."

Sleep is plainly not indigenous to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

From the neighboring town of Gamboa there runs southward a railway known
as the "Pan-American." Its fares are high and a freight-train behind an
ancient, top-heavy engine drags a single passenger-car divided into two
classes with it on its daily journey. The ticket-agent had no change,
and did not know whether the end of the line was anywhere near
Guatemala, though he was full of stories of the dangers to travelers in
that country. A languid, good-natured crowd filled the car. We are so
accustomed to think of lack of clothing as an attribute of savages that
it was little short of startling to see a young lady opposite, naked to
the waist but for a scanty and transparent suggestion of upper garment,
read the morning newspaper and write a note with the savoir-faire of a
Parisienne in her boudoir. She wore a necklace of American five-dollar
gold pieces, with a pendant of twenties, the Goddess of Liberty and the
date, 1898, on the visible side, and as earrings two older coins of
$2.50. Nearly every woman in the car was thus decorated to some extent,
always with the medallion side most in evidence, and one could see at a
glance exactly how much each was worth.

In a long day's travel we covered 112 miles. At Juchitán the passengers
thinned. Much of this town had recently been destroyed in the
revolution, and close to the track stood a crowded cemetery with
hundreds of gorged and somnolent _zopilotes_, the carrion-crow of
Mexico, about it. The country was a blazing dry stretch of mesquite and
rare patches of forest in a sandy soil, with huts so few that the train
halted at each of them, as if to catch its breath and wipe the sweat out
of its eyes. Once, toward noon, we caught a glimpse of the Pacific. But
all the day there spread on either hand an arid region with bare rocky
hills, a fine sand that drifted in the air, and little vegetation except
the thorny mesquite. A few herds of cattle were seen, but they were as
rare as the small towns of stone huts and frontiers-man aspect. The
train passed the afternoon like a walker who knows he can easily reach
his night's destination, and strolled leisurely into Tonolá before
sunset.

Beyond the wild-west hotel lay a sweltering sand town of a few streets
atrociously cobbled. We had reached the land of hammocks. Not a hut did
I peep into that did not have three or four swinging lazily above the
uneven earth floor. In the center of the broad, unkempt expanse that
served as plaza stood an enormous _pochote_, a species of
cottonwood tree, and about it drowsed a Sunday evening gathering half
seen in the dim light of lanterns on the stands of hawkers. On a dark
corner three men and a boy were playing a _marimba_, a frame with
dried bars of wood as keys which, beaten with small wooden mallets, gave
off a weird, half-mournful music that floated slowly away into the heavy
hot night. The women seemed physically the equal of those of
Tehuantepec, but their dress was quite different, a single loose white
gown cut very low at the neck and almost without sleeves. One with a
white towel on her head and hanging loosely about her shoulders looked
startlingly like an Egyptian female figure that had stepped forth from
the monuments of the Nile. Their brown skins were lustrous as silk,
every line of their lithe bodies of a Venus-like development and they
stood erect as palm-trees, or slipped by in the sand-paved night under
their four-gallon' American oilcans of water with a silent, sylph-like
tread.

The train, like an experienced tropical traveler, started at the first
peep of dawn. Tonolá marked the beginning of a new style of landscape,
heralding the woodlands of Guatemala. All was now dense and richly
green, not exactly jungle, but with forests of huge trees, draped with
climbing vines, interlarded with vistas of fat cattle by the hundreds up
to their bellies in heavy green grass, herds of which now and then
brought us almost to a standstill by stampeding across the track. In
contrast to the day before there were many villages, a kind of cross
between the jungle towns of Siam and the sandy hamlets of our "Wild
West." A number had sawmills for the mahogany said to abound in the
region. Now and then a pretty lake alive with wild fowl appeared in a
frame of green. There were many Negroes, and not a few Americans among
the ranchers, sawmill hands and railway employees, while John Chinaman,
forbidden entrance to the country to the south, as to that north of the
Rio Grande, put in a frequent appearance, as in all Mexico. It was a
languorous, easy-going land, where day-before-yesterday's paper was
news. The sulky stare of the Mexican plateau had completely
disappeared, and in its place was much laughter and an unobtrusive
friendliness, and a complete lack of obsequiousness even on the part of
the peons, who elbowed their way in and out among all classes as if
there were no question as to the equality of all mankind. The daily
arrival of the train seemed to be the chief recreation of the populace,
so that there were signs of protest if it made only a brief stop. But
there was seldom cause for this complaint, for the swollen-headed old
engine was still capable of so much more than the schedule required that
it was forced to make a prolonged stay at almost every station to let
Father Time catch up with us.

The rumor ran that those who would enter Guatemala must get permission
of its consul in Tapachula. But our own representative at that town
chanced to board the train at a wayside hamlet and found the papers I
carried sufficient. Two fellow countrymen raced away into the place as
the train drew in, and returned drenched with sweat in time to continue
with our leisurely convoy. Dakin was a boyish man from the Northern
States, and Ems a swarthy "Texican" to whom Spanish was more native than
English, both wandering southward in quest of jobs, as stationary and
locomotive engineers respectively. They rode first-class, though this
did not imply wealth, but merely that Pat Cassidy was conductor. He was
a burly, whole-hearted American, supporting an enormous, flaring
mustache and, by his own admission, all the "busted" white men traveling
between Mexico and Guatemala. While I kept the seat to which my ticket
entitled me, he passed me with a look of curiosity not unmixed with a
hint of scorn. When I stepped into the upholstered class to ask him a
question he bellowed, "Si' down!" The inquiry answered, I rose to leave,
only to be brought down again with a shout of, "Keep yer seat!" It is no
fault of Cassidy's if a "gringo" covers the Pan-American on foot or
seated with peons, or goes hungry and thirsty or tobaccoless on the
journey; and penniless strangers are not conspicuous by their absence
along this route. As a Virginia Negro at one of the stations put it
succinctly, "If dey ain't black, dey'se white."

A jungle bewilderment of vegetation grew up about us, with rich
clearings for little clusters of palm-leaf huts, jungles so dense the
eye could not penetrate them. Laughing women, often of strikingly
attractive features, peopled every station, perfect in form as a Greek
statue, and with complexions of burnished bronze. Everywhere was
evidence of a constant joy in life and of a placid conviction that
Providence or some other philanthropist who had always taken care of them
always would. Teeth were not so universally splendid as on the plateau,
but the luminous, snapping black eyes more than made up for this less
perfect feature.

Nightfall found us still rumbling lazily on and it was nearly an hour
later that we reached Mariscal at the end of the line, four or five
scattered buildings of which two disguised themselves under the name of
hotels. Ems and I slept--or more exactly passed the night--on cots in
one of the rooms of transparent partitions, while Dakin, who refused to
accept alms for anything so useless, spread a grass mat among the dozen
native women stretched out along the veranda.



CHAPTER VIII

HURRYING THROUGH GUATEMALA

The three of us were off by the time the day had definitely dawned. Ems
carried a heavy suitcase, and Dakin an awkward bundle. My own modest
belongings rode more easily in a rucksack. A mile walk along an unused
railroad, calf-high in jungle grass, brought us to a wooden bridge
across the wide but shallow Suchiate, bounding Mexico on the
south. Across its plank floor and beyond ran the rails of the
"Pan-American," but the trains halt at Mariscal because Guatemala, or
more exactly Estrada Cabrera, does not permit them to enter his great
and sovereign republic. Our own passage looked easy, but that was
because of our inexperience of Central American ways. Scarcely had we
set foot on the bridge when there came racing out of a palm-leaf hut on
the opposite shore three male ragamuffins in bare feet, shouting as they
ran. One carried an antedeluvian, muzzle-loading musket, another an
ancient bayonet red with rust, and the third swung threateningly what I
took to be a stiff piece of telegraph wire.

"No se pasa!" screamed the three in chorus, spreading out in skirmish
line like an army ready to oppose to the death the invasion of a hostile
force. "No one can pass the bridge!"

"But why not?" I asked.

"Because Guatemala does not allow it."

"Do you mean to say three caballeros with money and passports--and shoes
are denied admittance to the great and famous Republic of Guatemala?"

"Not at all, senor, but you must come by boat. The Pope himself cannot
cross this bridge."

It would have been unkind to throw them into the river, so we returned
to a cluster of huts on the Mexican bank. Before it drowsed a half-dozen
ancient and leaky boats. But here again were grave international
formalities to be arranged. A Mexican official led us into one of the
huts and set down laboriously in a ledger our names, professions,
bachelordoms, and a mass of even more personal information.

"You are Catholic, señor," he queried with poised pen, eying me
suspiciously.

"No, señor."

"Ah, Protestant," he observed, starting to set down that conclusion.

"Tampoco."

There came a hitch in proceedings. Plainly there was no precedent to
follow in considering the application of so non-existent a being for
permission to leave Mexico. The official smoked a cigarette pensively
and idly turned over the leaves of the ledger.

"Será ateo," said a man behind him, swelling his chest with pride at his
extraordinary intelligence.

"That doesn't fill the bill either," I replied, "nor any other single
word I can think of."

But the space for this particular item of information was cramped. We
finally compromised on "Sin religión," and I was allowed to leave the
country. A boatman tugged and poled some twenty minutes before we could
scramble up the steep, jungle-grown bank beyond. At the top of it were
scattered a dozen childish looking soldiers in the most unkempt and
disheveled array of rags and lack thereof a cartoonist could
picture. They formed in a hollow square about us and steered us toward
the "comandancia," a few yards beyond. This was a thatched mud hut with
a lame bench and a row of aged muskets in the shade along its
wall. Another bundle of rags emerged in his most pompous, authoritative
demeanor, and ordered us to open our baggage. Merely by accident I
turned my rucksack face down on the bench, so there is no means of
knowing whether the kodak and weapon in the front pockets of it would
have been confiscated or held for ransom, had they been seen. I should
be inclined to answer in the affirmative. In the hut our passports were
carefully if unintelligently examined, and we were again fully
catalogued. Estrada Cabrera follows with great precision the movements
of foreigners within his boundaries.

In the sandy jungle town of Ayutla just beyond, two of us multiplied our
wealth many times over without the least exertion. That Dakin did not
also was only due to the unavoidable fact that he had no multiplicand to
set over the multiplier. I threw down Mexican money to the value of
$8.30 and had thrust upon me a massive roll of $150. The only drawback
was that the bills had led so long and maltreated a life that their face
value had to be accepted chiefly on faith, for a ten differed from a one
only as one Guatemalan soldier differs from his fellows, in that each
was much more tattered and torn than the other. After all there is a
delicate courtesy in a government's supplying an illiterate population
with illegible money; no doubt experience knows other distinguishing
marks, such as the particular breeds of microbes that is accustomed to
inhabit each denomination; for even inexperience could easily recognize
that each was so infested. I mistake in saying this was the only
drawback. There was another. The wanderer who drops into a hut for a
banana and a bone-dry biscuit, washed down with a small bottle of
luke-warm fizzling water, hears with a pang akin to heart-failure a
languid murmur of "Four dollars, señor," in answer to his request for
the bill. It is not easy to get accustomed to hearing such sums
mentioned in so casual a manner.

A little narrow-gage "railway" crawls off through the jungle beyond
Ayutla, but the train ran on it yesterday and to-morrow. To-day there
was nothing to do but swing on our loads and strike off southward. The
morning air was fresh and the eastern jungle wall threw heavy shade for
a time. But that time soon came to an end and I plodded on under a sun
that multiplied the load on my back by at least the monetary multiple of
Guatemala. Ems and Dakin quickly demonstrated a deep dislike to tropical
tramping, though both laid claim to the degree of T. T. T. conferred on
"gringo" rovers in Central America. I waited for them several times in
vain and finally pushed on to the sweltering, heat-pulsating town of
Pahapeeta, where every hut sold bottled firewater and a diminutive box
of matches cost a dollar. Grass huts tucked away in dense groves along
the route were inhabited by all but naked brown people, kindly disposed,
so it required no exertion, toward a passing stranger. Before noon the
jungle opened out upon an ankle-deep sea of sand, across which I plowed
under a blazing sun that set even the bundle on my back dripping with
sweat.

But at least there was a broad river on the farther side of it that
looked inviting enough to reward a whole day of tramping. The place was
called Vado Ancho--the "Wide Wade"; though that was no longer necessary,
for the toy railroad that operated to-morrow and yesterday had brought a
bridge with it. I scrambled my way along the dense-grown farther bank,
and found a place to descend to a big shady rock just fitted for a
siesta after a swim. Barely had I begun to undress, however, when three
brown and barefoot grown-up male children, partly concealed in
astounding collections of rags, two with ancient muskets and the third
with a stiff piece of wire, tore through the bushes and surrounded me
with menacing attitudes.

"What are you doing here?" cried the least naked.

"Why the idle curiosity?"

"You are ordered to come to the comandancia."

I scrambled back up the bank and plodded across another sand patch
toward a small collection of jungle huts, the three "soldiers" crowding
close about me and wearing the air of brave heroes who had saved their
country from a great conspiracy. Lazy natives lay grinning in the shade
as I passed. One of the lop-shouldered, thatched huts stood on a hillock
above the rest. When we had sweated up to this, a military order rang
out in a cracked treble and some twenty brown scarecrows lined up in the
shade of the eaves in a Guatemalan idea of order. About half of them
held what had once been muskets; the others were armed with what I had
hitherto taken for lengths of pilfered telegraph wire, but which now on
closer inspection proved to be ramrods. Thus each arm made only two
armed men, whereas a bit of ingenuity might have made each serve three
or four; by dividing the stocks and barrels, for instance. The
tatterdemalion of the treble fiercely demanded my passport, while the
"army" quickly degenerated into a ragged rabble loafing in the shade.

I started to lay my rucksack on the bench along the wall, but one of the
fellows sprang up with a snarl and flourished his ramrod
threateningly. It was evidently a _lèse militarismus_ worthy of
capital punishment for a civilian to pass between a pole supporting the
eaves and the mud wall of the building. I was forced to stand in the
blazing sunshine and claw out my papers. They were in English, but the
caricature of an officer concealed his ignorance before his fellows by
pretending to read them and at length gave me a surly permission to
withdraw. No wonder Central America is a favorite _locale_ for
comic opera librettos.

I descended again to the river for a swim, but had not yet stretched out
for a siesta when there came pushing through the undergrowth three more
"soldiers," this time all armed with muskets.

"What's up now?"

"The colonel wants to see you in the comandancia."

"But I just saw your famous colonel."

"No, that was only the teniente."

When I reached the hilltop again, dripping with the heat of noonday, I
was permitted to sit on an adobe brick in the sacred shade. The colonel
was sleeping. He recovered from that tropical ailment in time, and a
rumor came floating out that he was soon to honor us with his
distinguished presence. The soldiers made frantic signs to me to rise
to my feet. Like Kingslake before the Turkish pasha, I felt that the
honor of my race and my own haughty dignity were better served by
insisting on social equality even to a colonel, and stuck doggedly to
the adobe brick. The rumor proved a false alarm anyway. No doubt the
great man had turned over in his sleep.

By and by the lieutenant came to say the commander was in his office,
and led the way there. At the second door of the mud-and-straw building
he paused to add in an awe-struck whisper:

"Take off your hat and wait until he calls you in."

Instead I stepped toward the entrance, but the teniente snatched at the
slack of my shirt with a gasp of terror:

"Por Diós! Take off your revolver! If the colonel sees it...."

I shook him off and, marching in with martial stride and a haughty
carelessness of attitude, sat down in the only chair in the room except
that occupied by the commander, with a hearty:

"Buenas tardes, colonel."

He was a typical guatemalteco in whole trousers and an open shirt, but
of some education, for he was writing with moderate rapidity at his
homemade desk. He also wore shoes. His manner was far more reasonable
than that of his illiterate underlings, and we were soon conversing
rationally. He appeared to know enough English to get the gist of my
passport, but handed it back with the information that I should have
official Guatemalan permission to exist within the confines of his
eighteen-for-a-dollar country.

"You carry an apparatus for the making of photographs," he went
on. "Suppose you had taken a picture of our fortress and garrison here?"

"Gar--How's that, señor?"

"It is the law of all countries, as you know, not to allow the
photographing of places of military importance. Even the English would
arrest you if you took a picture of Gibraltar."

It was careless of me not to have noted the striking similarity of this
stronghold to that at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Both stand on
hills.

"And where do I get this official permission?"

"Impossible."

"Yet necessary?"

But I still carried Mexican cigarettes, a luxury in Guatemala, so we
parted friends, with the manners of a special envoy taking leave of a
prime minister. The only requirement was that I should not open my
kodak within sight of this hotbed of military importance. I all but
made the fatal error of passing between the sacred eave-post and the
wall upon my exit, but sidestepped in time to escape unscathed, and left
the great fortress behind and above me.

After all I had been far more fortunate than a fellow countryman I met
later, who had had a $200 camera smashed by this same ragged "garrison."

Siesta time was past and I struck on out of town. In the last hut an
old woman called out to know why I had gone down to the river, and
showed some suspicion at my answer.

"There are so many countries trying to get our war plans," she
explained.

A trail wide enough for single-wheeled vehicles crowded its way between
jungle walls. In the breathless, blazing sunshine the sweat passed
through my rucksack and into my formal city garments beyond, carrying
the color of the sack with it. For some time no one was abroad except a
dripping "gringo" and a rare cargador in barely the rags necessary to
escape complete nakedness, who greeted me subserviently and gave me most
of the road. The Indians of the region were inferior in physique to
those of the Mexican plateau, ragged beyond words, and far from handsome
in appearance. Their little thatched huts swarmed, however, and almost
all displayed something to sell, chiefly strong native liquor in bottles
that had seen long and varied service. There was nothing to eat but
oranges green in color. The way was often strewn with hundreds of huge
orange-colored ones, but they were more sour than lemons and often
bitter. A tropical downpour drove me once into the not too effective
shelter of the jungle, and with sunset a drizzle set in with a promise
of increase. A woodchopper had told me I could not reach my proposed
destination that night, but I pressed forward at my best pace up hill
and down through an all but continuous vegetation and surprised myself
by stumbling soon after dark upon electric-lighted Coatepeque, the first
real town of Guatemala, and not a very real one at that.

However, a burly American ran a hotel where the bill for supper and
lodging was only $15, and if the partitions of my room were bare they
were of mahogany, as were also the springs of the bed. The pilfering of
an extra mattress softened this misfortune somewhat, and toward morning
it grew cool enough to stop sweating. When I descended in the morning,
Ems and Dakin were sitting over their coffee and eggs. They had paid $5
each to ride in a covered bullock cart from Vado Ancho--and be churned
to a pulp.

Reunited, we pushed on in the morning shadows. Ems and Dakin divided
the weight of the former's suitcase; but even after the "Texican" had
thrown away two heavy books on locomotive driving, both groaned under
their loads. The sun of Guatemala does not lighten the burdens of the
trail. Ems had boarded the bullock cart the proud possessor of a bar of
soap, but this morning he found it a powder and sprinkled it along the
way. Soap is out of keeping with Guatemalan local color anyway. Dense
forests continued, but here almost all had an undergrowth of coffee
bushes. Some of the largest coffee _fincas_ of Guatemala lie along
this road, producing annually to hundreds of thousands in gold. Such
prosperity was not reflected in the population and toilers. The natives
were ragged, but friendly, every man carrying a machete, generally in a
leather scabbard, and the women almost without exception enormous loads
of fruit. They were weak, unintelligent, pimple-faced mortals, speaking
an Indian dialect and using Spanish only with difficulty. Ragged Indian
girls were picking coffee here and there, even more tattered carriers
lugged it in sacks and baskets to large, cement-floored spaces near the
estate houses, where men shoveled the red berries over and over in the
sun and old women hulled them in the shade of their huts.

Jungle trees, often immense and polished smooth as if they had been
flayed of their bark, gave us dense cool shade, scented by countless
wild flowers. But en cambio the soft dirt road climbed and wound and
descended all but incessantly, gradually working its way higher, until
we could look out now and then over hundreds of square miles of hot
country with barely a break in all its expanse of dense, steaming
vegetation. Coffee continued, but alternated now with the slender trees
of rubber plantations, with their long smooth leaves, and already
scarred like young warriors long inured to battle. The road was really
only an enlarged trail, not laid out, but following the route of the
first Indian who picked his way over these jungled hills. Huts were
seldom lacking; poor, ragged, cheerful Indians never. In the afternoon
the trail pitched headlong down and around through a rock-spilled
barranco with two sheer walls of the densest jungle and forest shutting
it in. Where it crossed a stream, Dakin and I found a shaded, sandy
hollow scooped out behind a broad flat rock in the form of a huge
bathtub of water, clearer than any adjective will describe. Ems, whose
swarthy tint and strong features suggested the opposite, was the least
able to endure the hardships of the road, and lay lifeless in the shade
at every opportunity.

The road panted by a rocky zigzag up out of the ravine again and on over
rough and hilly going. Here I fell into conversation with an Indian
finca laborer, a slow, patient, ox-like fellow, to whom it had plainly
never occurred to ask himself why he should live in misery and his
employers in luxury. He spoke a slow and labored, yet considerable,
Spanish, of which he was unable to pronounce the f or v; saying "pinca"
for finca and "pale" for vale. Those of his class worked from five to
five shoveling coffee or carrying it, with two hours off for breakfast
and _almuerzo_, were paid one Guatemalan dollar a day, that is, a
fraction over five cents in our money, and furnished two arrobas (fifty
pounds) of corn and frijoles and a half-pound of salt a month. Yet there
are no more trustworthy employees than these underpaid fellows. As
pay-day approaches, one of these same ragged Indians is given a grain
sack and a check for several thousand dollars gold and sent to the town
where the finca owner does his banking, often several days' distant. The
sack half filled with the ragged bills of the Republic and their
customary microbes, the Indian shoulders it and tramps back across the
country to the estate, stopping at night in some wayside hut and tossing
the sack into a corner, perhaps to leave it for hours while he visits
his friends in the vicinity. Yet though both the messenger and his hosts
know the contents of his bundle, it is very rare that a single illegible
_billete_ disappears en route.

We plodded on into the night, but Ems could only drag at a turtle-pace,
and it became evident we could not make Retalhuleu without giving him
time to recuperate. The first large hut in the scattered village of
Acintral gave us hospitality. It was earth-floored, with a few homemade
chairs, and a bed with board floor. Though barely four feet wide, this
was suggested as the resting-place of all three of us after a supper of
jet-black coffee, native bread, and cheese. Dakin and I found it more
than crowded, even after Ems had spread a _petate_, or grass-mat,
on the ground. The room had no door, and women and girls wandered
indifferently in and out of it as we undressed, one mite of barely six
smoking a huge black cigar in the most business-like manner. The place
was a species of saloon, like almost every hut along the road, and the
shouting of the family and their thirsty townsmen seldom ceased even
momentarily until after midnight.

Having occasion to be in Guatemala City that day, I rose at two and,
swallowing a cup of black coffee and two raw eggs and paying a bill of
$12, struck out to cover the two long leagues left to Retalhuleu in time
to catch the six-o'clock train. The moon on its waning quarter had just
risen, but gave little assistance during an extremely difficult
tramp. All was blackest darkness except where it cast a few silvery
streaks through the trees, the road a mere wild trail left by the rainy
season far rougher than any plowed field, where it would have been only
too easy to break a leg or sprain an ankle. Bands of dogs, barking
savagely, dashed out upon me from almost every hut. Besides four small
rivers with little roofed bridges, there were many narrower streams or
mud-holes to wade, and between them the way twisted and stumbled up and
down over innumerable hills that seemed mountains in the unfathomable
darkness. When I had slipped and sprawled some two hours, a pair of
Indians, the first to be found abroad, gave the distance as "dos
leguas," in other words, the same as when I had started. I redoubled my
speed, pausing only once to call for water where a light flickered in a
hut, and seemed to have won the race when at the edge of the town I came
to a river that required me to strip to the waist. As I sprinted up the
hill beyond, the sound of a departing train drifted out of the darkness
ahead and an Indian informed me that it had been scheduled to leave at
five. Fortunately I continued, for it turned out to be a freight, and
the daily passenger left at six, so that just as the east began to turn
gray I was off on the long ride to the capital.

The train takes twelve hours to make this run of 129 miles by a
three-foot-gage railroad, stopping at every cluster of huts along the
way. The third-class coach was little more than a box-car with two rough
benches along its sides. The passengers were unprepossessing; most of
them ragged, all of them unclean, generally with extremely bad teeth,
much-pimpled faces, emaciated, and of undeveloped physique, their eyes
still possessing some of the brightness but lacking the snap and glisten
of those of Tehuantepec and the plateau. Many were chrome-yellow with
fever. Ragged officers of law and disorder were numerous, often in bare
feet, the same listless inefficiency showing in their weak,
unproductive, unshaven features. The car grew so crowded I went to sit
on the platform rail, as had a half-dozen already, though large signs on
the door forbade it.

It was after noon when we reached the first important town,
Esquintla. Here the tropics ended and the train began to climb, so
slowly we could have stepped off anywhere, the vegetation visibly
changing in character with every mile. On the now crowded platform two
natives alternately ordered American beer of the train-boy, at $5 a
bottle! At Palin we were assailed by tattered vendors of all manner of
fruit, enormous pineapples selling for sixty guatemalteco
cents. Amatitlan also swarmed with hawkers, but this time of candy in
the form of animals of every known and imaginable species. Thereafter we
wound round beautiful Lake Amatitlan, a dark, smooth stretch of water,
swarming with fish and bottomless, according to my fellow platformers,
flanked by sloping, green, shrub-clad banks that reflected themselves in
it. The train crossed the middle of the lake by a stone dyke and climbed
higher and ever higher, with splendid views of the perfect cone-shaped
volcanoes Agua and Panteleón that have gradually thrown themselves up to
be the highest in Guatemala and visible from almost every part of the
republic. It was growing dark when the first houses of Guatemala City
appeared among the trees, and gradually and slowly we dragged into the
station. A bare-footed policeman on the train took the names and
biographies of all on board, as another had already done at Esquintla,
and we were free to crowd out into the ragged, one-story city with its
languid mule-cars.

In the "Hotel Colon" opposite Guatemala's chief theater and shouldering
the president's house, which is tailor-shop and saloon below, the daily
rate was $12. The food was more than plentiful, but would have been an
insult to the stomach of a harvest-hand, the windowless room was musty
and dirty, the walls splashed, spotted, and torn, and the bed was by far
the worst I had occupied south of the Rio Grande, having not only a
board floor but a mattress that seemed to be stuffed with broken and
jagged rocks. Notwithstanding all which I slept the clock round.

If there is any "sight" in Guatemala City besides its slashing sunlight
and its surrounding volcanoes, and perhaps its swarms of Indians
trotting to and from the market on Sundays, it is the relief map of the
entire Republic inside the race-course. This is of cement, with real
water to represent the lakes and oceans and (when it is turned on) the
rivers. Every town, railway, and trail of any importance is marked, an
aid to the vagabond that should be required by law of every country. On
it I picked out easily the route of my further travels. The map covers a
space as large as a moderate-sized house and is seen in all its details
from the two platforms above it. Its only apparent fault is that the
mountains and volcanoes are out of all proportion in height. But
exaggeration is a common Central-American failing.

The city is populous, chiefly with shoeless inhabitants, monotonously
flat, few buildings for dread of earthquake being over one story, even
the national palace and cathedral sitting low and squat. An elevation of
five thousand feet gives it a pleasant June weather, but life moves with
a drowsy, self-contented air. Its people are far more obliging than the
average of Mexico and have little or none of the latter's sulkiness or
half-insolence. Here reigns supreme Estrada Cabrera; exactly where very
few know, for so great is his dislike to assassination that he jumps
about incessantly from one of his one-story residences to another,
perhaps, as his people assert, by underground passages, for he is seldom
indeed seen in the flesh by his fond subjects. In less material
manifestations he is omnipresent and few are the men who have long
outlived his serious displeasure. A man of modest ability but of
extremely suspicious temperament, he keeps the reins of government
almost entirely in his own hands, running the country as if it were his
private estate, which for some years past it virtually has been. It is a
form of government not entirely unfitted to a people in the bulk utterly
indifferent as to who or what rules them so they are left to loaf in
their hammocks in peace, and no more capable of ruling themselves than
of lifting themselves by their non-existent boot-straps. Outwardly life
seems to run as smoothly as elsewhere, and the casual passer-by does not
to his knowledge make the acquaintance of those reputed bands of
adventurers from many climes said to carry out swiftly and efficiently
every whispered command of Guatemala's invisible ruler.

On Sunday a bull-fight was perpetrated in the _plaza de toros_
facing the station. It was a dreary caricature of the royal sport of
Spain. The plaza was little more than a rounded barnyard, the four gaunt
and cowardly animals with blunted horns virtually lifeless, picadors and
horses were conspicuous by their absence, and the two matadors were not
even skilful butchers. A _cuadrilla_ of women did the "Suerte de
Tancredo" on one another's backs--as any one else could have on his head
or in a rocking-chair--and the only breath of excitement was when one
of the feminine _toreras_ got walked on by a fear-quaking animal
vainly seeking an exit. All in all it was an extremely poor newsboys'
entertainment, a means of collecting admissions for the privilege of
seeing to-morrow's meat prepared, the butchers skinning and quartering
the animals within the enclosure in full sight of the disheveled
audience.

The train mounted out of the capital with much winding, as many as three
sections of track one above another at times, and, once over the range,
fell in with a river on its way to the Atlantic. The country grew dry
and Mexican, covered with fine white dust and grown with cactus. At
Zacapa, largest town of the line, Dakin was already at work in a
machine-shop on wheels in the railroad yards, and Ems was preparing to
take charge of one of the locomotives. Descending with the swift
stream, we soon plunged into thickening jungle, growing even more dense
than that of Tehuantepec, with trees, plants, and all the stationary
forms of nature struggling like an immense multitude fighting for life,
the smaller and more agile climbing the sturdier, the weak and
unassertive trampled to death underfoot on the dank, sunless ground. We
crossed the now considerable river by a three-span bridge, and entered
the banana country. English-speaking Negroes became numerous, and when
we pulled in at the station of Quiraguá, the collection of bamboo
shanties I had expected was displaced by several new and modern
bungalows on the brow of a knoll overlooking the railroad. Here was one
of the great plantations of the United Fruit Company. From the veranda
of the office building broad miles of banana plants stretched away to
the southern mountains. Jamaican Negroes were chiefly engaged in the
banana culture, and those from our Southern States did the heavier and
rougher work. Their wages ran as high as a dollar gold a day, as against
a Guatemalan peso for the native peons of the coffee estates in other
sections. Much of the work was let out on contract. There were a
number of white American employees, college-trained in some cases, and
almost all extremely youthful. The heat here was tropical and heavy, the
place being a bare three hundred feet above sea-level where even
clothing quickly molds and rots. My fellow countrymen had found the most
dangerous pastimes in this climate to be drinking liquor and eating
bananas, while the mass of employees more often came to grief in the
feuds between the various breeds of Negroes and with the natives.

In the morning a handcar provided with a seat and manned by two muscular
Carib Negroes carried me away through the banana jungle by a private
railroad. The atmosphere was thick and heavy as soured milk. A
half-hour between endless walls of banana plants brought me to a
palm-leaf hut, from which I splashed away on foot through a riot of wet
jungle to the famous ruins of Quiraguá. Archeologists had cleared a
considerable square in the wilderness, still within the holdings of the
fruit company, felling many enormous trees; but the place was already
half choked again with compact undergrowth. There were three immense
stone pillars in a row, then two others leaning at precarious angles,
while in and out through the adjacent jungle were scattered carved
stones in the forms of frogs and other animals, clumsily depicted, a
small calendar stone, and an immense carved rock reputed to have been a
place of sacrifice. Several artificial mounds were now mere stone hills
overgrown with militant vegetation, as were remnants of old stone
roadways. Every stone was covered with distinct but crudely carved
figures, the most prominent being that of a king with a large Roman nose
but very little chin, wearing an intricate crown surmounted by a
death's-head, holding a scepter in one hand and in the other what
appeared to be a child spitted on a toasting fork. All was of a species
of sandstone that has withstood the elements moderately well, especially
if, as archeologists assert, the ruins represent a city founded some
three thousand years ago. Some of the faces, however, particularly those
toward the east and south from which come most of the storms, were worn
almost smooth and were covered with moss and throttling
vegetation. Through it all a mist that was virtually a rain fell
incessantly, and ground and jungle reeked with a clinging mud and
dripping water that soaked through shoes and garments.



CHAPTER IX

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF HONDURAS

The train carried me back up the river to Zacapa, desert dry and
stingingly hot with noonday. Report had it that there was a good road
to Jocotán by way of Chiquimula, but the difference between a "buen
camino" and a mere "road" is so slight in Central America that I
concluded to follow the more direct trail. The next essential was to
change my wealth into Honduranean silver, chiefly in coins of one
_real_, corresponding in value to an American nickel; for financial
transactions were apt to be petty in the region ahead of me. In the
collection I gathered among the merchants of Zacapa were silver dollars
of Mexico, Salvador, Chile, and Peru, all of which stand on terms of
perfect equality with the peso of Honduras, worth some forty cents. My
load was heavier, as befitted an exit from even quasi-civilization. The
rucksack was packed with more than fourteen pounds, not counting kodak
and weapon, and for the equivalent of some thirty cents in real money I
had acquired in the market of Guatemala City a hammock, more exactly a
sleeping-net, made of a species of grass by the Indians of Cobán.

Under all this I was soon panting up through the once cobbled village of
Zacapa and across a rising sand-patch beyond, cheered on by the parting
information that the last traveler to set out on this route had been
killed a few miles from town for the $2 or so he carried. Mine would not
have been any particular burden in a level or temperate country, but
this was neither. The sun hung so close it felt like some immense
red-hot ingot swinging overhead in a foundry. The road--and in Central
America that word seldom represents anything better than a rocky,
winding trail with rarely a level yard--sweated up and down sharp
mountain faces, picking its way as best it could over a continual
succession of steep lofty ridges. Even before I lost the railway to view
I was dripping wet from cap to shoes, drops fell constantly from the end
of my nose, and my eyes stung with salt even though I plunged my face
into every stream. My American shoes had succumbed on the tramp to
Retalhuleu and the best I had been able to do in Guatemala City was to
squander $45 for a pair of native make and chop them down into
Oxfords. These, soaked in the jungle of Quiraguá, now dried iron-stiff
in the sun and barked my feet in various places.

I had crossed four ranges and was winding along a narrow, dense-grown
valley when night began to fall. The rumors of foul play led me to keep
a hand hanging loose near my weapon, though the few natives I met seemed
friendly enough. Darkness thickened and I was planning to swing my
hammock among the trees when I fell upon the hut of Coronado Cordón. It
was a sieve-like structure of bamboo, topped by a thick palm-leaf roof,
with an outdoor mud fireplace, and crowded with dogs, pigs, and roosted
fowls. Coronado himself, attired in the remnants of a pair of cotton
trousers, greeted me from his hammock.

"May I pass the night with you?"

"To be sure, señor. You may sleep on this bench under the roof."

But I produced my hammock and he swung it for me from two bamboo rafters
of the low projecting eaves, beside his own and that of a horseman who
had also sought hospitality, where a steady breeze swept through. His
wife squatted for an hour or more over the fireplace, and at length I
sat down--on the ground--to black coffee, frijoles, tortillas, and a
kind of Dutch cheese.

Long before morning I was too cold, even under most of the contents of
my pack, to sleep soundly. It was December and the days were short for
tramping. This one did not begin to break until six and I had been
awake and ready since three. Coronado slept on, but his señora arose
and, covering her breasts with a small apron, took to grinding corn for
tortillas. These with coffee and two eggs dropped for a moment in hot
water, after a pin-hole had been broken in each, made up my breakfast,
and brought my bill up to nearly eleven cents.

I was off in the damp dawn. Any enumeration of the rocky, slippery,
twisting trails by which I panted up and over perpendicular mountain
ridges under a burning sun without the shadow of a cloud, would be
wearisome. Sweat threatened to ruin even the clothing in my bundle, it
soaked even belt and holster, rusting the weapon within it, and leaving
a visible trail behind me. Once, at the careless nod of an Indian, I
strained up an all but perpendicular slope, only to have the trail end
hundreds of feet above the river in a fading cow-path and leave me to
climb down again. Farther on it dodged from under my feet once more and,
missing a reputed bridge, forced me to ford a chest-deep river which all
but swept me away, possessions and all, at the first attempt.

Jocotán, on the farther bank, was a lazy, sunbaked village the chief
industry of which seemed to be swinging in hammocks, though I did manage
to run to earth the luxury of a dish of tough meat. Comotán was close
beyond, then came two hours straight up to a region of pine-trees with
vistas of never-ending mountains everywhere dense-forested, the few
adobe or bamboo huts tucked in among them being as identically alike as
the inhabitants. These were almost obsequious peons, wearing a sort of
white pajamas and moderate-sized straw hats, all strangely clean. Each
carried a machete, generally with a curved point, and not a few had
guns. Toward evening I struck a bit of level going amid dense vegetation
without a breath of air along the bank of a river that must be forded
lower down, which fact I took advantage of to perpetrate a general
laundering. This proved unwise, for the sun went down before the
garments had dried and left me to lug on along the stream those the
unexacting customs of the country did not require me to put on
wet. Every hundred yards the trail went swiftly down into the stony bed
of a tributary, with or without water, and clambered breathlessly out
again. A barked heel had festered and made every other step painful.

It was more than an hour after dark that I sweated into the _aldea_
of Chupá, so scattered that as each hut refused me lodging I had to
hobble on a considerable distance to the next. The fourth or fifth
refusal I declined to accept and swung my hammock under the eaves. A
woman was cooking on the earth floor for several peon travelers, but
treated me only with a stony silence. One of the Indians, however, who
had been a soldier and was more friendly or less suspicious of
"gringoes," divided with me his single tortilla and bowl of
frijoles. The family slept on dried cowskins spread on the bare earth.

Food was not to be had when I folded my hammock and pushed on at
daylight. One of a cluster of huts farther up was given over to a squad
of "soldiers," garrisoning the frontier, and an officer who would have
ranked as a vagabond in another country sold me three tortillas and a
shellful of coffee saved from his rations. Another cluster of huts
marked the beginning of a stiff rocky climb, beyond which I passed
somewhere in a swampy stretch of uninhabited ground the invisible
boundary and entered Honduras, the Land of Great Depths.

It was indeed. Soon a vast mountain covered with pine forest rose into
the sky ahead and two hours of unbroken climbing brought me only to the
rim of another great wooded valley scolloped out of the earth and down
into which I went all but headfirst into the town of Copán. Here, as I
sat in a fairly easy chair in the shaded corner of a barnyard among
pigs, chickens, and turkeys while my tortillas were preparing, I got the
first definite information as to the tramp before me. Tegucigalpa, the
capital, was said to be fifteen days distant by mule. On foot it might
prove a trifle less. But if transportation in the flesh was laborious
and slow, the ease of verbal communication partly made up for it. A
telegram to the capital cost me the sum total of one real. It should
have been a real and a quarter, but the telegraph operator had no
change!

Beyond the town I found with some difficulty the gate through which one
must pass to visit the ancient ruins of Copán. Once inside it, a path
led through jungle and tobacco fields and came at length to a great
artificial mound, originally built of cut-stone, but now covered with
deep grass and a splendid grove of immense trees, until in appearance
only a natural hill remained. About the foot of this, throttled by
vegetation, lay scattered a score or more of carved stones, only one or
two of which were particularly striking. Summer solitude hovered over
all the scene.

Back again on the "camino real" I found the going for once ideal. The
way lay almost level along a fairly wide strip of lush-green grass with
only a soft-footed, eight-inch path marking the route, and heavy jungle
giving unbroken shade. Then came a hard climb, just when I had begun to
hear the river and was laying plans for a drink and a swim, and the
trail led me far up on the grassy brow of a mountain, from which spread
a vast panorama of pine-clad world. But the trails of Honduras are like
spendthrift adventurers, struggling with might and main to gain an
advantage, only wantonly to throw it away again a moment later. This one
pitched headlong down again, then climbed, then descended over and
again, as if setting itself some useless task for the mere pleasure of
showing its powers of endurance. It subsided at last in the town of
Santa Rita, the comandante of which, otherwise a pleasant enough fellow,
took me for a German. It served me right for not having taken the time
to shave my upper lip. He had me write my name on a slip of paper and
bade me adiós with the information that if "my legs were well oiled" I
could make the hacienda Jarral by nightfall.

I set a good pace along the flat, shaded, grassy lane beside the river,
promising myself a swim upon sighting my destination. But the tricky
trail suddenly and unexpectedly led me far up on a mountain flank and
down into Jarral without again catching sight or sound of the
stream. There were three or four palm-leaf huts and a large, long
hacienda building, unspeakably dirty and dilapidated. The estate
produced coffee, heaps of which in berry and kernel stood here and there
in the dusk. The owner lived elsewhere; for which no one could blame
him. I marched out along the great tile-floored veranda to mention to
the stupid _mayordomo_ the relationship of money and food. He
referred me to a filth-encrusted woman in the cavern-like kitchen, where
three soiled and bedraggled babies slept on a dirtier reed mat on the
filthy earth floor, another in a hammock made of a grain sack and two
pieces of rope, amid dogs, pigs, and chickens, not to mention other
unpleasantnesses, including a damp dungeon atmosphere that ought early
to have proved fatal to the infants. When she had sulkily agreed to
prepare me tortillas, I returned to ask the way to the river. The
mayordomo cried out in horror at the notion of bathing at night,
pointing out that there was not even a moon, and prophesying a fatal
outcome of such foolhardiness and gringo eccentricity. His appearance
suggested that he had also some strong superstition against bathing by
day.

I stumbled nearly a mile along to-morrow's road, stepping now and then
into ankle-deep mud puddles, before reaching the stream, but a plunge
into a stored-up pool of it was more than ample reward. "Supper" was
ready upon my return, and by asking the price of it at once and catching
the woman by surprise I was charged only a legitimate amount. When I
inquired where I might swing my hammock, the enemy of bathing pointed
silently upward at the rafters of the veranda. These were at least ten
feet above the tiled floor and I made several ineffectual efforts before
I could reach them at all, and then only succeeded in hanging my
sleeping-net so that it doubled me up like a jack-knife. Rearranging it
near the corner of the veranda, I managed with great effort to climb
into it, but to have fallen out would have been to drop either some
eight feet to the stone-flagged door or twenty into the cobbled and
filthy barnyard below. The chances of this outcome were much increased
by the necessity of using a piece of old rope belonging to the hacienda,
and a broken arm or leg would have been pleasant indeed here in the
squalid wilderness with at least a hundred miles of mule-trail to the
nearest doctor.

Luckily I only fell asleep. Several men and dirtier boys, all in what
had once been white garments, had curled up on bundles of dirty mats and
heaps of bags all over the place, and the night was a pandemonium of
their coughing, snoring, and night-maring, mingled with the hubbub of
dogs, roosters, turkeys, cattle, and a porcine multitude that snuggled
in among the human sleepers. The place was surrounded by wet, pine-clad
mountains, and the damp night air drifting in upon me soon grew cold and
penetrating.

Having had time to collect her wits, the female of the dungeon charged
me a quadrupled price for a late breakfast of black coffee and pin-holed
eggs, and I set off on what turned out to be a not entirely pleasant
day's tramp. To begin with I had caught cold in a barked heel, causing
the cords of the leg to swell and stiffen. Next I found that the
rucksack had worn through where it came in contact with my back; third,
the knees of the breeches I wore succumbed to the combination of sweat
and the tearing of jungle grasses; fourth, the garments I carried
against the day I should again enter civilization were already rumpled
and stained almost beyond repair; and, fifth, but by no means last, the
few American bills I carried in a secret pocket had been almost effaced
by humidity and friction. Furthermore, the "road" completely surpassed
all human powers of description. When it was not splitting into a
half-dozen faint paths, any one of which was sure to fade from existence
as soon as it had succeeded in leading me astray in a panting chase up
some perpendicular slope, it was splashing through mud-holes or small
rivers. At the first stream I squandered a half-hour disrobing and
dressing again, only to find that some two hundred yards farther on it
swung around once more across the trail. Twice it repeated that stale
practical joke. At the fourth crossing I forestalled it by marching on,
carrying all but shirt and hat,--and got only sunburn and stone-bruises
for my foresight, for the thing disappeared entirely. Still farther on I
attempted to save time by crossing another small river by a series of
stepping-stones, reached the middle of it dry-shod, looked about for the
next step, and then carefully lay down at full length, baggage and all,
in the stream as the stone turned over under my feet. But by that time I
needed another bath.

An old woman of La Libertad, a collection of mud huts wedged into a
little plain between jungled mountain-sides, answered my hungry query
with a cheery "Cómo no!" and in due time set before me black beans and
blacker coffee and a Honduranean tortilla, which are several times
thicker and heavier than those of Mexico and taste not unlike a plank of
dough.

Though often good-hearted enough, these children of the wilderness have
no more inkling of any line between dirt and cleanliness, nor any more
desire to improve their conditions, themselves, or their surroundings,
which we of civilized lands think of as humanity's privilege and
requirement, than the mangy yellow curs that slink in and out between
their legs and among their cooking pots. I had yet to see in Honduras a
house, a garment, a single possession, or person that was anything short
of filthy.

As I ate, a gaunt and yellow youth arrived with a rag tied about his
brow, complaining that a fever had overtaken him on a steep mountain
trail and left him helpless for hours. I made use for the first time of
the small medicine case I carried. Then the old woman broke in to
announce that her daughter also had fever. I found a child of ten
tossing on a miserable canvas cot in the mud hut before which I sat, her
pulse close to the hundred mark. When I had treated her to the best of
my ability, the mother stated that a friend in a neighboring hut had
been suffering for more than a week with chills and fever, but that she
was "embarrassed" and must not take anything that might bring that
condition prematurely to a head. I prescribed not without some layman
misgiving. Great astonishment spread throughout the hamlet when I
refused payment for my services, and the old woman not only vociferously
declined the coin I proffered for the food, but bade me farewell with a
vehement "Diós se lo pagará"--whether in Honduranean change or not she
did not specify. The majority of the inhabitants of the wilds of
Honduras live and die without any other medical attention than those of
a rare wandering charlatan or pill-peddler.

Beyond was a rising path through dense steaming jungle, soon crossed by
the ubiquitous river. Across it, near a pretty waterfall, the trail
climbed up and ever up through jungle and forest, often deep in mud and
in places so steep I had to mount on all fours, slipping back at each
step like the proverbial frog in the well. A splendid virgin forest
surrounded me, thick with undergrowth, the immense trees whispering
together far above. A half-hour up, the trail, all but effaced, was cut
off by a newly constructed rail fence tied together with vines run
through holes that had been pierced in the buttresses of giants of the
forest. There was no other route in sight, however, and I climbed the
obstruction and sweated another half-hour upward. A vista of at least
eight heavily wooded ranges opened out behind me, not an inch of which
was not covered with dense-green treetops. Far up near the gates of
heaven I came upon a sun-flooded sloping clearing planted with tobacco,
and found a startled peon in the shade of a make-shift leaf hut. Instead
of climbing the hill by this private trail, I should immediately have
crossed the river again more than an hour below and continued on along
it!

When he had recovered from the fright caused by so unexpected an
apparition, the Indian yielded up his double-bodied gourd and made no
protest when I gurgled down about half the water he had carried up the
mountain for his day's thirst. That at least was some reward for the
useless climb, for there is no greater physical pleasure than drinking
one's fill of clear cold water after a toilsome tropical tramp. I
crashed and slid down to the river again and picked up once more the
muddy path along it between dense walls of damp jungle. It grew worse
and worse, falling in with a smaller stream and leaping back and forth
across it every few yards, sometimes permitting me to dodge across like
a tight-rope walker on wet mossy stones, more often delaying me to
remove shoes and leggings. An hour of this and the scene changed. A vast
mountain wall rose before me, and a sharp rocky trail at times like
steps cut by nature in the rock face led up and up and still forever
upward. A score of times I seemed to have reached the summit, only to
find that the trail took a new turn and, gathering up its skirts,
climbed away again until all hope of its ever ceasing its sweating
ascent faded away. After all it was perhaps well that only a small
portion of the climb was seen at a time; like life itself, the appalling
sight of all the difficulties ahead at once might discourage the climber
from ever undertaking the task.

It was near evening when I came out in a slight clearing on what was at
last really the summit. Vast forests of whispering pine-trees surrounded
me, and before and behind lay an almost endless vista of heavily wooded,
tumbled mountains, on a low one of which, near at hand but far below,
could be seen the scattered village of San Augustín. There was still a
long hour down the opposite face of the mountain, with thinner pine
forests and the red soil showing through here and there; not all down
either, for the trail had the confirmed habit of falling into bottomless
sharp gullies every few yards and struggling out again up the steepest
of banks, though the privilege of thrusting my face into the clear
mountain stream at the bottom of each made me pardon these monotonous
vagaries. After surmounting six or eight such mountain ranges in a day,
under a sun like ours of August quadrupled and some twenty pounds of
awkward baggage, without what could reasonably be called food, to say
nothing of festered heels and similar petty ailments, the traveler comes
gradually by nightfall to develop a desire to spend ten minutes under
the electric fans of a "Baltimore Lunch."

Yet with all its difficulties the day had been more than enjoyable,
wandering through endless virgin forests swarming with strange and
beautiful forms of plant and bird life, with rarely a habitation or a
fellow-man to break the spell of pure, unadulterated nature. For break
it these did. As the first hut of San Augustín intruded itself in the
growing dusk there ran unbidden through my head an ancient refrain:

"Plus je vois l'homme, plus j'aîme mon chien."

Nearer the center of the collection I paused to ask a man leaning
against his mud doorway whether he knew any one who would give me
posada. The eagerness with which he offered to do so himself gave me
visions of an exorbitant bill in the morning, but it turned out that he
was merely anxious for the "honor" of lodging a stranger. This time I
slept indoors. My host himself swung my hammock from two of the beams in
his large, single-room house made of slats filled in with mud. Though a
man of some education, subscriber to a newspaper of Salvador and an
American periodical in Spanish, and surrounded by pine forests, it
seemed never to have occurred to him to try to better his lot even to
the extent of putting in a board floor. His mixture of knowledge and
ignorance was curious. He knew most of the biography of Edison by heart,
but thought Paris the capital of the United States and the population of
that country 700,000.

In the house the only food was tortillas, but across the "street" meat
was for sale. It proved to be tough strips a half-inch square of
sun-dried beef hanging from the rafters. I made another suggestion, but
the woman replied with a smile half of amusement half of sorrow that all
the chickens had died. A few beans were found, and, as I ate, several
men drifted into the hut and gradually and diffidently fell to asking
strange and childish questions. It is hard for those of us trained to
democracy and accustomed to intercourse only with "civilized" people to
realize that a bearded man of forty, with tall and muscular frame, may
have only an infantile grade of intelligence, following the conversation
while it is kept on the plane of an eight-year-old intellect, but
incapable of grasping any real thought, and staring with the
open-mouthed naïveté of a child.

Tobacco is grown about San Augustín, and every woman of the place rolls
clumsy cigars and cigarettes as incessantly as those of other parts knit
or sew. The wife and daughter of my host were so engaged when I
returned, toiling leisurely by the light of pine splinters; for rural
Honduras has not yet reached the candle stage of progress. For a
half-real I bought thirty cigarettes of the size of a lead-pencil, made
of the coarse leaves more fitted to cigars. The man and wife, and the
child that had been stark naked ever since my arrival, at length rolled
up together on a bundle of rags on the dank earth floor, the daughter of
eighteen climbed a knotched stick into a cubbyhole under the roof, and
when the pine splinter flickered out I was able for the first night in
Honduras to get out of my knee-cramping breeches and into more
comfortable sleeping garments. The festered heel gave me considerable
annoyance. A bread and milk poultice would no doubt have drawn the fever
out of it, but even had any such luxury been obtainable I should have
applied it internally. During the night I awoke times without number.
Countless curs, that were to real dogs what these people are to
civilized races, howled the night hideous, as if warning the village
periodically of some imaginary danger, suggested perhaps by the scent of
a stranger in their midst. Sometime in the small hours two youths,
either drunk or enamored of the bedraggled senorita in the cubbyhole
above, struck up a mournful, endless ballad of two unvarying lines, the
one barely heard, the other screeching the eternal refrain until the
night shuddered with it. All the clothing I possessed was not enough to
keep me warm both above and below.

One of the chief difficulties of the road in Honduras is the
impossibility of arousing the lazy inhabitants in time to prepare some
suggestion of breakfast at a reasonably early hour. For to set off
without eating may be to fast all the hot and laborious day. The sun was
already warm when I took up the task of picking my way from among the
many narrow, red, labyrinthian paths that scattered over the hill on
which San Augustín reposes and radiated into the rocky, pine-forested,
tumbled mountain world surrounding it. Some one had said the trail to
Santa Rosa was easy and comparatively level. But such words have strange
meanings in Honduras. Not once during the day did there appear a level
space ten yards in length. Hour after hour a narrow path, one of a score
in which to go astray, worn in the whitish rock of a tumbled and
irregular series of soft sandstone ridges with thin forests of pine or
fir, clambered and sweated up and down incessantly by slopes steeper
than any stairway, until I felt like the overworked chambermaid of a
tall but elevator-less hotel. My foot was much swollen, and to make
things worse the region was arid and waterless. Once I came upon a
straggling mud village, but though it was half-hidden by banana and
orange groves, not even fruit could be bought. Yet a day or two before
some scoundrel had passed this way eating oranges constantly and
strewing the trail with the tantalizing peelings; a methodical, selfish,
bourgeois fellow, who had not had the humane carelessness to drop a
single fruit on all his gluttonous journey.

When I came at last, at the bottom of a thigh-straining descent, upon
the first stream of the day, it made up for the aridity behind, for the
path had eluded me and left me to tear through the jungle and wade a
quarter mile before I picked up the trail again. Refreshed, I began a
task before which I might have turned back had I seen it all at once.
Four mortal waterless hours I toiled steeply upward, more than twenty
times sure I had reached the summit, only to see the trail, like some
will-o'-the-wisp, draw on ahead unattainably in a new direction. I had
certainly ascended four thousand feet when I threw myself down at last
among the pines of the wind-swept summit. A draught from the gourd of a
passing peon gave me new life for the corresponding descent. Several of
these fellow-roadsters now appeared, courteous fellows, often with black
mustaches and imperial à la Napoleon III, who raised their hats and
greeted me with a sing-song "Qué se vaya bien," yet seemed remarkably
stupid and perhaps a trifle treacherous. At length, well on in the
afternoon, the road broke through a cutting and disclosed the welcome
sight of the town of Santa Rosa, its white church bulking above all else
built by man; the first suggestion of civilization I had seen in
Honduras.

The suggestion withered upon closer examination. The place did not know
the meaning of the word hotel, there was neither restaurant, electric
light, wheeled vehicles, nor any of the hundred and one things common to
civilized towns of like size. After long inquiry for lodging, I was
directed to a pharmacy. The connection was not apparent until I found
that an American doctor occupied there a tiny room made by partitioning
off with a strip of canvas stretched on a frame a part of the public
hallway to the patio. He was absent on his rounds; which was fortunate,
for his Cuban interpreter not merely gave me possession of the "room"
and cot, but delivered to me the doctor's supper of potatoes, rice, an
imitation of bread, and even a piece of meat, when it arrived from a
market-place kitchen. Here I spent Sunday, with the extreme lassitude
following an extended tramp in the hungry wilderness. The doctor turned
up in the afternoon, an imposing monument of a man from Texas with a
wild tangle of dark-brown beard, and the soft eyes and gentle manners of
a girl. He had spent some months in the region, more to the advantage of
the inhabitants than his own, for disease was far more wide spread than
wealth, and the latter was extremely elusive even where it
existed. Hookworm was the second most common ailment, with cancer and
miscarriages frequent. The entire region he had found virtually given
over to free love. The grasping priests made it all but impossible for
the poorer classes to marry, and the custom had rather died out even
among the well-to-do. All but two families of the town acknowledged
illegitimate children, there was not a priest nor a youth of eighteen
who had not several, and more than one widow of Honduranean wealth and
position whose husband had long since died continued to add yearly to
the population. The padre of San Pedro, from whose house he had just
come, boasted of being the father of eighty children. All these things
were common knowledge, with almost no attempt at concealment, and indeed
little notion that there might be anything reprehensible in such
customs. Every one did it, why shouldn't any one? Later experience
proved these conditions, as well as nearly 90 per cent. of complete
illiteracy, common to all Honduras.

The only other industry of Santa Rosa is the raising of tobacco and the
making of a tolerably good cigar, famed throughout Honduras and selling
here twenty for a real. Every hut and almost every shop is a cigar
factory. The town is four thousand feet above sea-level, giving it a
delightful, lazy, satisfied-with-life-just-as-it-is air that partly
makes up for its ignorance, disease, and unmorality. The population is
largely Indian, unwashed since birth, and with huge hoof-like bare feet
devoid of sensation. There is also considerable Spanish blood, generally
adulterated, its possessors sometimes shod and wearing nearly white
cotton suits and square white straw hats. In intelligence the entire
place resembles children without a child's power of imitation. Except
for the snow-white church, the town is entirely one-story, with tile
roofs, a ragged flowery plaza, and straight streets, sometimes cobbled,
that run off down hill, for the place is built on a meadowy knoll with a
fine vista of hills and surrounded by an immensely rich land that would
grow almost anything in abundance with a minimum of cultivation.

The one way of getting an early start in Honduras is to make your
purchases the night before and eat them raw in the morning. Christmas
day had barely dawned, therefore, when I began losing my way among the
undulating white rock paths beyond Santa Rosa. Such a country brings
home to man his helplessness and unimportance before untamed nature. I
wished to be in Tegucigalpa, two hundred miles away, within five days;
yet all the wealth of Croesus could not have brought me there in that
time. As it was, I had broken the mule-back record, and many is the
animal that succumbs to the up and down trails of Honduras. This one
might, were such triteness permissible, have been most succinctly
characterized by a well-known description of war. It was rougher than
any stone-quarry pitched at impossible angles, and the attraction of
gravity for my burden passed belief. To this I had been forced to add
not merely a roll of silver reales but my Christmas dinner, built up
about the nucleus of a can of what announced itself outwardly as pork
and beans. Talgua, at eleven, did not seem the fitting scene for so
solemn a ceremony, and I hobbled on, first over a tumble-down stone
bridge, then by a hammock-bridge to which one climbed high above the
river by a notched stick and of which two thirds of the cross-slats were
missing, while the rest cracked or broke under the 185 pounds to which I
subjected them.

I promised myself to pitch camp at the very next clear stream. But the
hammock-bridge once passed there began a heart-breaking climb into
bone-dry hills, rolling with broken stones, and palpitating with the
heat of an unshaded tropical sun. Several times I had perished of thirst
before I came to a small sluggish stream, only to find its water deep
blue with some pollution. In the end I was forced to overlook this
drawback and, finding a sort of natural bathtub among the blazing rocks,
fell upon what after all proved to be a porkless feast. The doctor's
treatment had reduced the swelling in foot and ankle, but the wound
itself was more painful than ever and called for frequent soaking. In
midafternoon I passed a second village, as somnolent as the belly-gorged
zopilotes that half-jumped, half-flew sluggishly out of the way as I
advanced. Here was a bit of fairly flat and shaded going, with another
precarious hammock-bridge, then an endless woods with occasional sharp
stony descents to some brawling but most welcome stream, with
stepping-stones or without. Thus far I had seen barely a human being all
the day, but as the shades of evening grew I passed several groups of
arrieros who blasted my hopes of reaching Gracias that night, but who
informed me that just beyond the "rio grande" was a _casita_ where
I might spend the night.

It was sunset when I came to the "great river," a broad and noisy though
only waist-deep stream with two sheer, yet pine-clad rock cliffs more
striking than the Palisades of the Hudson. A crescent moon was peering
over them when I passed the swinging bridge swaying giddily to and fro
high above the stream, but on the steep farther bank it lighted up only
a cruel disappointment. For the "casita" was nothing but a roof on
wabbly legs, a public rest-house where I might swing my hammock but go
famished to bed. I pushed on in quest of a more human habitation. The
"road" consisted of a dozen paths shining white in the moonlight and
weaving in and out among each other. No sign of man appeared, and my
foot protested vehemently. I concluded to be satisfied with water to
drink and let hunger feed upon itself. But now it was needed, not a
trickle appeared. Once I fancied I heard a stream babbling below and
tore my way through the jungle down a sharp slope, but I had only caught
the echo of the distant river. It was well on into the night when the
welcome sound again struck my ear. This time it was real, and I fought
my way down through clutching undergrowth and stone heaps to a stream,
sluggish and blue in color, but welcome for all that, to swing my
hammock among stone heaps from two elastic saplings, for it was just my
luck to have found the one spot in Honduras where there were no trees
large enough to furnish shelter. Luckily nothing worse than a heavy dew
fell. Now and then noisy boisterous bands of natives passed along the
trail from their Christmas festivities in the town ahead. But whereas a
Mexican highway at this hour would have been overrun with drunken peons
more or less dangerous to "gringoes," drink seemed to have made these
chiefly amorous. Still I took good care to arrange myself for the night
quietly, if only to be able to sleep undisturbed. Once, somewhere in the
darkest hours, a drove of cattle stampeded down the slope near me, but
even as I reached for my weapon I found it was not the band of peons
from a dream of which I had awakened. The spot was some 1500 feet lower
than Santa Rosa, but still so sharp and penetrating is the chill of
night in this region in contrast to the blazing, sweating days that I
did not sleep a moment soundly after the first hour of evening.

An hour's walk next morning brought me to Gracias, a slovenly,
nothing-to-do-but-stare hamlet of a few hundred inhabitants. After I had
eaten all the chief hut could supply, I set about looking for the
shoemaker my already aged Guatemalan Oxfords needed so badly. I found
the huts where several of them lived, but not where any of them
worked. The first replied from his hammock that he was sick, the second
had gone to Tegucigalpa, the third was "somewhere about town if you have
the patience to wait." Which I did for an hour or more, and was rewarded
with his turning up to inform me that he was not planning to begin his
labors again so soon, for only yesterday had been Christmas.

Over the first hill and river beyond, I fell in with a woman who carried
on an unbroken conversation as well as a load on her head, from the time
she accepted the first cigar until we had waded the thigh-deep "rio
grande" and climbed the rocky bank to her hut and garden. At first she
had baldly refused to allow her picture to be taken. But so weak-willed
are these people of Honduras that a white man of patience can in time
force them to do his bidding by sheer force of will, by merely looking
long and fixedly at them. Many the "gringo" who has misused this power
in Central America. Before we reached her home she had not only posed
but insisted on my stopping to photograph her with her children "dressed
up" as befitted so extraordinary an occasion. Her garden was unusually
well supplied with fruit and vegetables, and the rice boiled in milk she
served was the most savory dish I had tasted in Honduras. She refused
payment, but insisted on my waiting until the muleteers she had charged
for their less sumptuous dinner were gone, so they should not discover
her unpatriotic favoritism.

During the afternoon there was for a time almost level going, grassy and
soft, across gently dipping meadows on which I left both mule-trains and
pedestrians behind. Houses were rare, and the fall of night threatened
to leave me alone among vast whining pine forests where the air was
already chill. In the dusk, however, I came upon the hut of Pablo
Morales and bespoke posada. He growled a surly permission and addressed
hardly a word to me for hours thereafter. The place was the most filthy,
quarrelsome, pig and chicken overrun stop on the trip, and when at last
I prepared to swing my hammock inside the hut the sulky host informed me
that he only permitted travelers the _corredor_. Two other
guests--ragged, soil-encrusted arrieros--were already housed within, but
there were at least some advantages in swinging my own net outside from
the rafters of the eaves. Pigs jolted against me now and then and before
I had entirely fallen asleep I was disturbed by a procession of dirty
urchins, each carrying a blazing pine stick, who came one by one to look
me over. I was just settling down again when Pablo himself appeared, an
uncanny figure in the dancing light of his flaming torch. He had heard
that I could "put people on paper," and would I put his wife on paper in
return for his kindness in giving me posada? Yes, in the morning. Why
couldn't I do it now? He seemed strangely eager, for a man accustomed to
set mañana as his own time of action. His surly indifference had
changed to an annoying solicitude, and he forced upon me first a
steaming tortilla, then a native beverage, and finally came with a large
cloth hammock in which I passed the night more comfortably than in my
own open-work net.

In the morning heavy mountain clouds and a swirling mist made
photography impossible, but my host was not of the grade of intelligence
that made this simple explanation possible. He led the way into the
windowless hut, in a corner of which lay a woman of perhaps thirty in a
dog-litter of a bed enclosed by curtains hung from the rafters. The
walls were black with coagulated smoke. The woman, yellow and emaciated
with months of fever, groaned distressingly as the curtains were drawn
aside, but her solicitous husband insisted on propping her up in bed and
holding her with an arm about the shoulders while I "put them both on
paper." His purpose, it turned out, was to send the picture to the
shrine of "la Virgen de los Remedios" that she might cure the groaning
wife of her ailment, and he insisted that it must show "bed and all and
the color of her face" that the Virgin might know what was required of
her. I went through the motions of taking a photograph and explained as
well as was possible why it could not be delivered at once, with the
added information to soften his coming disappointment that the machine
sometimes failed. The fellow merely gathered the notion that I was but a
sorry magician at best, who had my diabolical hocuspocus only
imperfectly under control, and he did not entirely succeed in keeping
his sneers invisible. I offered quinine and such other medicines as were
to be found in my traveling case, but he had no faith in worldly
remedies.

By nine the day was brilliant. There was an unusual amount of level
grassy trail, though steep slopes were not lacking. During the morning I
passed several bands of ragged soldiers meandering northward in rout
order and some distance behind them their bedraggled women and children,
all afoot and carrying their entire possessions on their heads and
backs. Frequently a little wooden cross or a heap of stones showed where
some traveler had fallen by the wayside, perhaps at the hands of his
fellow-man; for the murder rate, thanks largely to drink and vendettas,
is high in Honduras. It might be less if assassins faced the death
penalty, instead of being merely shut within prisons from which an
active man could soon dig his way to freedom with a pocket-knife, if he
did not have the patience to wait a few months until a new revolution
brought him release or pardon.

The futility of Honduranean life was illustrated here and there. On some
vast hillside capable of producing food for a multitude the eye made out
a single _milpa_, or tiny corn-field, fenced off with huge slabs of
mahogany worth easily ten times all the corn the patch could produce in
a lifetime--or rather, worth nothing whatever, for a thing is valuable
only where it is in demand. At ten I lost the way, found it again, and
began an endless, rock-strewn climb upward through pines, tacking more
times than I could count, each leg of the ascent a toilsome journey in
itself. Not the least painful of road experiences in Honduras is to
reach the summit of such a range after hours of heavy labor, to take
perhaps a dozen steps along the top of the ridge, and then find the
trail pitching headlong down again into a bottomless gorge, from which
comes up the joyous sound of a mountain stream that draws the thirsty
traveler on at double speed, only to bring him at last to a rude bridge
over a precipitous, rock-sided river impossible to reach before
attacking the next slope staring him in the face.

Luckily I foraged an imitation dinner in San Juan, a scattering of mud
huts on a broad upland plain, most of the adult inhabitants of which
were away at some work or play in the surrounding hills. Cattle without
number dotted the patches of unlevel meadows, but not a drop of milk was
to be had. Roosters would have made the night a torture, yet three eggs
rewarded the canvassing of the entire hamlet. These it is always the
Honduranean custom to puncture with a small hole before dropping into
hot water, no doubt because there was no other way of getting the
universal uncleanliness into them. Nor did I ever succeed in getting
them more than half cooked. Once I offered an old woman an extra real if
she would boil them a full three minutes without puncturing them. She
asserted that without a hole in the end "the water could not get in to
cook them," but at length solemnly promised to follow my orders
implicitly. When the eggs reappeared they were as raw as ever, though
somewhat warm, and each had its little punctured hole. I took the cook
to task and she assured me vociferously that "they broke themselves."
Apparently there was some superstition connected with the matter which
none dared violate. At any rate I never succeeded in being served
un-holed eggs in all rural Honduras.

Not only have these people of the wilderness next to nothing to eat, but
they are too indolent to learn to cook what they have. The thick, doughy
tortillas and half-boiled black beans, accompanied by black, unstrained
coffee with dirty crude sugar and without milk, were not merely
monotonous, but would have been fatal to civilized man of sedentary
habits. Only the constant toil and sweat, and the clear water of
mountain stream offset somewhat the evil effects under which even a
horseman would probably have succumbed. The inhabitants of the
Honduranean wilds are distinctly less human in their habits than the
wild men of the Malay Peninsula. For the latter at least build floors
of split bamboo above the ground. Without exaggeration the people of
this region were more uncleanly than their gaunt and yellow curs, for
the latter carefully picked a spot to lie in while the human beings
threw themselves down anywhere and nonchalantly motioned to a guest to
sit down or drop his bundle among fresh offal. They literally never
washed, except by accident, and handled food and filth alternately with
a child-like blandness.

I was just preparing to leave San Juan when a woman came from a
neighboring hut to request my assistance at a child-birth! In this
region all "gringoes" have the reputation of being physicians, and the
inhabitants will not be undeceived. I forcibly tore myself away and
struck for the surrounding wilderness.

From soon after noon until sunset I climbed incessantly among tumbled
rocks without seeing a human being. A cold wind howled through a vast
pine forest of the highest altitude of my Honduranean journey--more than
six thousand feet above sea-level. Night fell in wild solitude, but I
could only plod on, for to sleep out at this height would have been
dangerous. Luckily a corner of moon lighted up weirdly a moderately wide
trail. I had tramped an hour or more into the night when a flickering
light ahead among the trees showed what might have been a camp of
bandits, but which proved to be only that of a group of muleteers, who
had stacked their bales of merchandise around three sides under an
ancient roof on poles and rolled up in their blankets close to the
blazing wood fire they had built to the leeward of it.

They gave no sign of offering me place and I marched on into the howling
night. Perhaps four miles beyond I made out a cluster of habitations
pitched on the summit and slope of a hill leaning toward the trail with
nothing above it on any side to break the raging wind. An uproar of
barking dogs greeted my arrival, and it was some time before an inmate
of one of the dark and silent huts summoned up courage to peer out upon
me. He emerged armed with a huge stick and led the way to a miserable
hovel on the hilltop, where he beat on the door and called out that an
"hombrecito" sought posada. This opened at last and I entered a mud
room in one end of which a fire of sticks blazed fitfully. A woman of
perhaps forty, though appearing much older, as is the case with most
women of Honduras, lay on a wooden bed and a girl of ten huddled among
rags near the fire. I asked for food and the woman ordered the girl to
heat me black coffee and tortillas. The child was naked to the waist,
though the bitter cold wind howled with force through the hut, the walls
and especially the gables and roof of which were far from whole. The
woman complained of great pain in her right leg, and knowing she would
otherwise groan and howl the night through in the hope of attracting the
Virgin's attention, I induced her to swallow two sedative pills. The
smoke made me weep as I swung my hammock from two soot-blackened
rafters, but the fire soon went out and I awoke from the first doze
shivering until the hut shook. The temperature was not low compared with
our northern winters, but the wind carried a penetrating chill that
reached the marrow of the bones. I rose and tried unsuccessfully to
relight the fire. The half-naked girl proved more skilful and I sat
huddled on a stool over the fire, alternately weeping with the smoke and
all but falling into the blaze as I dozed. The pills had little effect
on my hostess. I gave her three more, but her Honduranean stomach was
evidently zinc-lined and she groaned and moaned incessantly. I returned
to my hammock and spent several dream-months at the North Pole before I
was awakened at first cockcrow by the old woman kneeling on the earth
floor before a lithograph of the Virgin surrounded by withered pine
branches, wailing a singsong prayer. She left off at length with the
information that her only hope of relief was to make a pilgrimage to the
"Virgen de los Remedios," and ordered the girl to prepare coffee. I paid
my bill of two reales and gave the girl one for herself, evidently the
largest sum she had ever possessed, if indeed she remained long in
possession of it after I took my hobbling and shivering departure.

A cold and wind-swept hour, all stiffly up or down, brought me to
Esperanza, near which I saw the first wheeled vehicle of Honduras, a
contraption of solid wooden wheels behind gaunt little oxen identical
with those of northwest Spain even to the excruciating scream of its
greaseless axle. In the outskirts two ragged, hoof-footed soldiers
sprang up from behind the bushes of a hillside and came down upon me,
waving their muskets and screaming:

"A'onde va? D'onde viene? Have you a pass to go through our department?"

"Yes, from your consul in Guatemala."

They did not ask to read it, perhaps for a reason, but permitted me to
pass; to my relief, for the old woman had announced that smallpox was
raging in her town of Yamaranguila and its people were not allowed to
enter Esperanza. This proved to be a place of considerable size, of
large huts scattered over a broad grassy plain in a sheltered valley,
with perhaps five thousand inhabitants but not a touch of
civilization. Crowds of boys and dirty ragged soldiers followed me,
grinning and throwing salacious comments as I wandered from house to
house trying to buy food. At a corner of the plaza the comandante called
to me from his hut. I treated him with the haughty air of a superior,
with frequent reference to my "orders from the government," and he
quickly subsided from patronizing insolence to humility and sent a
soldier to lead me to "where food is prepared for strangers." Two
ancient crones, pottering about a mud stove in an open-work reed kitchen
through which the mountain wind swept chillingly, half-cooked an
enormous slab of veal, boiled a pot of the ubiquitous black coffee, and
scraped together a bit of stale bread, or more exactly cake, for _pan
dulce_ was the only species that the town afforded. A dish of
tomatoes of the size of small cherries proved far more appetizing, after
they had been well washed, but the astonishment with which the aged pair
watched me eat them suggested that the tradition that held this fruit
poison still reigns in Esperanza.

Back once more in the comandancia I resolved to repay the soldiers
scattered about town for their insolence in the one way painful to the
Honduranean--by making them exert themselves. Displaying again my
"government order," I demanded a photograph of the garrison of Esperanza
with the comandante, its generals, colonels, lieutenants, and all the
lesser fry at the head; and an imperative command soon brought the
entire force of fifty or more hurrying barefoot and startled, their
ancient muskets under their arms, from the four somnolent corners of the
city. I kept them maneuvering a half-hour or so, ostensibly for
photographic reasons, while all the populace looked on, and the
_reos_, or department prisoners in their chains, formed a languid
group leaning on their shovels at the edge of the plaza waiting until
their guards should be returned to them.

At ten I reshouldered my stuff and marched out in a still cold, cloudy,
upland day, the wondering inhabitants of Esperanza staring awe-stricken
after me until I disappeared from view. A few miles out I met two pure
Indians, carrying oranges in nets on their backs, the supporting strap
across their foreheads. To my question they admitted the fruit was for
sale, though it is by no means uncommon in Central America for
countrymen to refuse to sell on the road produce they are carrying to
town for that purpose. I asked for a real's worth. Luckily they
misunderstood, for the price was "two hands for a medio," and as it was
I had to leave lying on the grass several of the ten fine large oranges
one of the aborigines had counted on his fingers and accepted a
two-and-a-half cent piece for with a "Muchas gracias, amigo." Farther on
I met scores of these short, thick-set Indians, of both sexes and all
ages, straining along over mountain trails for forty or fifty miles from
their colonies to town each with at most a hundred and fifty oranges
they would there scarcely sell for so high a price.

Beyond a fordable, ice-cold stream a fairly good road changed to an
atrocious mountain trail in a labyrinth of tumbled pine-clad ridges and
gullies, on which I soon lost my way in a drizzling rain. The single
telegraph wire came to my rescue, jumping lightly from moss-grown stick
to tall slender tree-trunk across vast chasms down into and out of which
I had to slip and slide and stumble pantingly upward in pursuit. Before
dark I was delighted to fall upon a trail again, though not with its
condition, for it was generally perpendicular and always thick with
loose stones. A band of arrieros cooking their scanty supper under a
shelter tent asserted there were houses some two leagues on, but for
hours I hobbled over mountains of pure stone, my maltreated feet wincing
at every step, without verifying the assertion. Often the descents were
so steep I had to pick each footstep carefully in the darkness, and more
than one climb required the assistance of my hands. A swift stream all
but swept me off my feet, and in the stony climb beyond I lost both
trail and telegraph wire and, after floundering about for some time in a
swamp, was forced to halt and swing my hammock between two saplings
under enormous sheer cliffs that looked like great medieval castles in
the night, their white faces spotted by the trees that found foothold on
them. Happily I had dropped well down out of the clouds that hover about
Esperanza and the cold mountain wind was now much tempered. The white
mountain wall rising sheer from my very hips was also somewhat
sheltering, though it was easy to dream of rocks being dropped from
aloft upon me.

I had clambered a steep and rocky three hours next morning before I came
upon the first evidences of humanity, a hut on a little tableland, with
all the customary appurtenances and uncleanliness. Black unstrained
coffee and tortillas of yellow hue gradually put strength enough in my
legs to enable them to push me on through bottomless rocky barrancas,
and at length, beyond the hamlet of Santa María, up one of the highest
climbs of the trip to the long crest of a ridge thick with whispering
pines and with splendid views of the "Great Depths," dense in woodland,
on either side as far as the eye could reach. Muleteers passed
frequently, often carrying on their own backs a bundle of the Santa Rosa
cigars with which their animals were laden. Except for her soldiers,
accustomed to "show off" before their fellows, every person I had met in
Honduras had been kindly and courteous--if dirty--and never with a hint
of coveting my meager hoard. Beggars seemed as unknown as
robbers--perhaps from lack of initiative and energy. From Esperanza on,
the Indian boys I met driving mules or carrying nets of oranges all
folded their hands before them like a Buddhist at prayer when they
approached me, but instead of mumbling some request for alms, as I
expected, they greeted me with an almost obsequious "Adiós" and a faint
smile. How the "little red schoolhouse" is lacking in this wooded
mountainland! Not merely was the immense majority entirely illiterate,
but very few of them had even reached the stage of desiring to learn. A
paucity of intelligence and initiative made all intercourse monotonously
the same. The greeting was never a hearty, individual phrase of the
speaker's own choosing, but always the invariable "Adiós, Buenos días,
tardes or noche," even though I had already addressed some inquiry to
them. Replies to questions of distance were as stereotyped, with the
diminutive _ito_ beloved of the Central Americans tacked on
wherever possible:

"Larguita 'stá! A la vueltita no más! Está cerquita! De día no llega! A
la tardecita llega. Ay no masito! A la oracióncita llega--"

Nothing could bring them down from these glittering generalities to a
definite statement of distance, in leagues or hours, and to reach a
place reported "Just around the little corner" was as apt to mean a half
day's tramp as that it was over the next knoll.

In the _aldea_ of Tutule I fell in with Alberto Suaza, a pleasant
appearing, all but white Honduranean, who had once been in the army and
was now returning on horseback from some government errand. The hamlet
slumbered on a slope of a little leaning valley backed by a wooded
mountain ridge, all but a few of the inhabitants being engaged in coffee
culture in the communal tract up over the hill when we arrived. Suaza
picketed his diminutive animal before the hut of a friend, in which we
shared two eggs and coffee and turned in together. Unfortunately I let
my companion persuade me against my better judgment to lay aside my
hammock and sleep on his "bed," a sun-dried ox-hide thrown on the earth
floor, on my side of which, "because he was more used to hard beds than
those señores gringoes," he spread most of the _colchón_
(mattress)--which consisted of two empty grainsacks. Either these or the
painfully thin blanket over us housed a nimble breed I had miraculously
escaped thus far on the journey, robbing me of the much-needed sleep the
incessant barking of a myriad of dogs, the itching of mosquito bites,
the rhinoceros-like throat-noises of the family, and the rock hardness
of the floor would probably otherwise have pilfered. The man of the
house had stripped stark naked and, wrapping a red blanket about him,
lay down on a bare wooden bed to pass the night apparently in perfect
comfort. Soft mortals indeed are we of civilized and upholstered lands.

Suaza made no protest when I paid the bill for both, and by seven we
were off, he riding his tiny horse until we were out of sight of the
town, then dismounting to lead it the rest of the day. He had announced
himself the possessor of an immensely rich aunt on whose hacienda we
should stop for "breakfast," and promised we should spend the night
either in the gold mine of which she was a chief stockholder or at her
home in La Paz, which I gathered to be a great mansion filled with all
the gleanings of that lady's many trips to Europe and the States. I had
long since learned the Latin American's love of personal
exaggeration. But Suaza was above the Honduranean average; he not only
read with comparative ease but cleaned his finger nails, and I looked
forward with some eagerness to a coming oasis of civilization in the
hitherto unsoftened wilderness.

It was an ideal day for tramping, cloudy yet bright, with a strong fresh
wind almost too cold for sitting still and across a country green and
fragrant with endless forest, and after the climb back of Tutule little
more than rolling. It was noon before we came upon the new mud-and-tiled
house of the cattle-tender of "dear aunty's" hacienda, and though the
meal we enjoyed there was savory by Honduranean standards, it was not so
completely Parisian as I had permitted myself to anticipate. That I was
allowed to pay for it proved nothing, for the employees of the wealthy
frequently show no aversion to accepting personal favors.

Not far beyond we came out on the edge of a tableland with a splendid
view of the valley of Comayagua, far below, almost dead level, some ten
miles wide and thirty long, deep green everywhere, with cloud shadows
giving beautiful color effects across it in the jumble of green
mountains with the purple tinge of distance beyond which lay
Tegucigalpa. At the same time there began the most laborious descent of
the journey, an utterly dry mountain face pitched at an acute angle and
made up completely of loose rock, down which we must pick every step and
often use our hands to keep from landing with broken bones at the
bottom. The new buildings of the mine were in plain sight almost
directly below us from the beginning, yet we were a full two hours in
zigzagging by short legs straight down the loose-stone slope to
them. The American manager was absent, but in the general store of the
company I had not only the pleasure of spending an hour in the first
thoroughly clean building I had seen in Honduras, but of speaking
English, for the two Negro youths in charge of the place were natives of
Belize, or British Honduras, and were equally fluent in my own tongue or
Spanish, while their superiority in personal condition over the natives
was a sad commentary on the boasted advantage of the republican form of
government.

The thirsty, rock-sown descent continued, bringing us at last with
aching thighs to the level of the vast valley, more than four thousand
feet below the lodging-places of the few days past. Suaza mounted his
horse and prepared to enter his native La Paz in style. So often had
kingly quarters promised me by the self-styled sons of wealth in Latin
America gradually degenerated to the monotonous tortilla level of
general conditions that I had not been able entirely to disabuse myself
of an expectation of disappointment. Sure enough, where the trail broke
up into a score of paths among mud huts and pig wallows, my companion
paused in the dark to say:

"Perhaps after all it will be better to take you right to my house for
to-night. One always feels freer in one's father's house. My aunt might
be holding some social affair, or be sick or--But we will surely call at
her mansion to-morrow, and--"

"Como usted quiera?" I answered, swallowing my disappointment. At least
his father's house should be something above the ordinary.

But to my astonishment we stopped a bit farther on in the suburbs before
one of the most miserable mud hovels it had been my misfortune to run
across in Honduras, swarming with pigs, yellow curs, and all the
multitudinous filth and disarray indigenous to the country. The coldest
of welcomes greeted us, the frowsy, white-bearded father in the noisome
doorway replying to the son's query of why there was no light with a
crabbed:

"If you want light why don't you come in the daytime?"

My companion told a boy of the family to go buy a candle, and his
scrawny, unkempt mother bounded out of the hut with the snarl of a
miser:

"What do you want a candle for?"

The boy refused to go and Suaza tied his horse to a bush and went in
quest of one himself. I mentioned supper, hinting at my willingness to
pay for anything that could be furnished, but to each article I
suggested came the monotonous, indifferent Honduranean answer, "No hay."
After much growling and an extended quarrel with her son, the woman set
on a corner of a wabbly-legged table, littered with all manner of
unsavory junk, two raw eggs, punctured and warmed, a bowl of hot water
and a stale slab of _pan dulce_, a cross between poor bread and
worse cake. I wandered on into the town in the hope of finding some
imitation of a hotel. But though the place had a population of several
thousand, it was made up exclusively of mud huts only two or three of
which were faintly lighted by pine-splinters. The central plaza was a
barren, unlighted pasture, a hut on the corner of which was reputed to
be a shop, but when I had beaten my way into it I found nothing for sale
except bottles of an imitation wine at monopoly prices. In my disgust I
pounded my way into every hovel that was said to be a tienda. Not an
edible thing was to be found. One woman claimed to have fruit for sale,
and after collecting a high price for them she went out into the patio
and picked a half-dozen perfectly green oranges.

"But what do people eat and drink in La Paz? Grass and water?" I
demanded.

But the bedraggled population was not even amenable to crude sarcasm,
and the only reply I got was a lazy, child-like:

"Oh, each one keeps what he needs to eat in his own house."

Here was a town of a size to have been a place of importance in other
lands, yet even the mayor lived with his pigs on an earth
floor. Statistics of population have little meaning in Honduras. The
place recalled a cynical "gringo's" description of a similar town, "It
has a hundred men, two hundred women, and 100,000 chuchos "--the generic
term in Central America for yellow curs of all colors. Why every family
houses such a swarm of these miserable beasts is hard to guess. Mere
apathy, no doubt, for they are never fed; nor, indeed, are the pigs that
also overrun every household and live, like the dogs, on the offal of
the patio or backyard that serves as place of convenience. They have at
least the doubtful virtue of partly solving the sewer problem, which is
not a problem to Honduraneans. A tortilla or other food held carelessly
is sure to be snatched by some cat, pig, or dog; a bundle left unwatched
for a moment is certain to be rooted about the floor or deposited with
filth. These people utterly lack any notion of improvement. A child or
an animal, for instance, climbs upon the table or into a dish of food.
When the point is reached at which it is unavoidable, the person nearest
shouts, throws whatever is handy, or kicks at the offender; but though
the same identical performance is repeated a score of times during a
single meal, there is never any attempt to correct the culprit, to drive
it completely off, or remove the threatened dish from the danger zone. A
people inhabiting a land that might be a garden spot of the earth drift
through their miserable lives in identically the same fashion as their
gaunt and mangy curs.

There was a great gathering of the neighboring clans in the Suaza hut
next morning, while my companion of the day before enlarged upon what he
fancied he knew about his distinguished guest. Among those who crowded
the place were several men of education, in the Honduranean
sense,--about equal to that of a poorly trained American child in the
fourth grade. But there was not one of them that did not show a monkey
curiosity and irresponsibility in handling every article in my pack; my
sweater--"Ay qué lindo!" my papers--"How beautiful!" an extremely
ordinary shirt--"How soft and fine! How costly!" and "How much did this
cost?--and that?" Suaza displayed my medicine-case to the open-mouthed
throng--and would I give mother some pills for her colic, and would I
please photograph each one of the family--and so on to the end of
patience. There was no mention made of the wealthy aunt and her mansion
after the day dawned. The invitation to spend a few days, "as many as
you like," amid the luxuries of Paris and the Seven Seas had tapered
down to the warmed eggs and black coffee, the only real food I ate being
that I had bought in a house-to-house canvass in the morning. I had
distributed pills to most of the family and several neighbors and
photographed them, at the request of the man of many promises, had paid
his bills on the road since our meeting; while I prepared my pack, he
requested me to send him six prints each of the pictures, some postals
of New York, a pair of pajamas such as I carried, "and any other little
things I might think he would like," including long weekly letters, and
as I rose to take my leave and asked what I owed him, he replied with a
bland and magnanimous smile:

"You owe me nothing whatever, señor,--only to mamá," and dear mamá
collected about what a first-class hotel would have for the same length
of time.



CHAPTER X

THE CITY OF THE SILVER HILLS

A monotonous wide path full of loose stones led through dry, breathless
jungle across the valley floor to Comayagua. The former capital of the
republic had long held a place in my imagination, and the distant view
of it the day before from the lofty rim of the valley backed by long
blue ranges of mountains had enhanced my desire to visit the place, even
though it lay somewhat off the direct route. But romance did not long
survive my entrance. For the most part it was merely a larger
collection of huts along badly cobbled or grass-grown streets common to
all "cities" of Honduras. A stub-towered, white-washed cathedral, built
by the Spaniards and still the main religious edifice of Honduras, faced
the drowsy plaza; near it were a few "houses of commerce," one-story
plaster buildings before which hung a sign with the owner's name and
possibly some hint of his business, generally that of hawking a few
bolts of cloth, straw hats, or ancient and fly-specked cheap products
from foreign parts. The town boasted a place that openly receives
travelers, but its two canvas cots and its rafters were already occupied
by several snobbish and gawkily dressed young natives bound from the
north coast to the capital.

The chief of telegraphs finally led me to the new billiard-hall, where a
lawyer in a frock coat and the manners of a prime minister admitted he
had an empty shop in which I could swing my hammock. When he had
finished his game, he got a massive key and a candle and led the way in
person to a small hut in a side street, the rafters uncomfortably high
above the tile floor, on which I was fortunate to have a newspaper to
spread before depositing my bundle. The lawyer took leave of me with
the customary "At your orders; here you are in your own house," and
marched ministerially away with the several pompous friends who had
accompanied him. But a few moments later, having shaken them off, he
returned to collect ten cents--one real for rent and another for the
candle. It was the first lodging I had paid since leaving Guatemala
City. As I doubled up in my ill-hung hammock, the dull thump of a
distant guitar and the explosion of a rare firecracker broke the
stillness of New Year's eve, while now and then there drifted to my ears
the sound of a band in the main plaza that tortured the night at
intervals into the small hours.

Comayagua by day was a lazy, silent place, chiefly barefoot, the few
possessors of shoes being gaudily dressed young men whose homes were
earth-floored huts. The place had the familiar Central American air of
trying to live with the least possible exertion; its people were a
mongrel breed running all the gamut from black to near-white. There were
none of the fine physical specimens common to the highlands of Mexico,
and the teeth were notably bad. A few of the soldiers, in blue-jean
uniforms with what had once been white stripes, faded straw hats, and
bare feet, were mountain Indians with well-developed chests; for
military service--of the catch-them-with-a-rope variety--is compulsory
in Honduras. But the population in general was anemic and stunted. Two
prisoners were at work in the streets; more properly they sat smoking
cigarettes and putting a finger cautiously to their lips when I passed
in silent request not to wake up their guard, who was sound asleep on
his back in the shade, his musket lying across his chest. The town had
one policeman, a kinky-haired youth in a white cap and a pale light gray
cotton uniform, who carried a black club and wore shoes! The
_cartero_, or mailman, was a barefoot boy in faded khaki and an
ancient straw hat, who wandered lazily and apparently aimlessly about
town with the week's correspondence in hand, reading the postals and
feeling the contents of each letter with a proprietary air. The sun was
brilliant and hot here in the valley, and there was an aridity that had
not been suggested in the view of it from the heights above.

It was no place to spend New Year's, however, stiff and sore though I
was from the hardships of the road, and toward lazy, silent noonday I
wandered on along the trail to the modern capital, hoping that it, at
least, might have real beds and a hotel, and perhaps even white
inhabitants. The battered old church bells were thumping as I topped the
slight rise that hid the town from view, and it was four hours later
that I saw or heard the next human being, or any other evidence of his
existence except a stretch of barb-wire and one lone telegraph wire
sagging from one crooked stick to another. The four stony dry but flat
leagues along the valley floor had brought me to San Antonio, all the
population of which was loafing and mildly celebrating New Year's, as
they would celebrate any other possible excuse not to work. Here I
obtained water, and new directions that led me off more toward the east
and the heaped-up mountains that lay between me and Tegucigalpa. On all
sides spread a dry, bushy land, aching for cultivation. I had the good
fortune to fall in with a river so large I was able to swim three
strokes in one of its pools, and strolled with dusk into the town of
Flores on the edge of the first foothills of the ranges still to be
surmounted.

Though still a lazy naked village, this one showed some hint of the
far-off approach of civilization. Animals were forbidden the house in
which I passed the night, and its tile-floor was almost clean. This
latter virtue was doubly pleasing, for the rafters above were so high
that even when I had tied my hammock by the very ends of the ropes I
could only climb in by mounting a chair and swinging myself up as into a
trapeze; and if I must break a leg it would be some slight compensation
to do so on a clean floor. How much uncleanliness this simple little
30-cent net had kept me up out of since the day I bought it in Guatemala
City!

Like many of the tasks of life, this one grew easier toward its
termination. A moderate day's walk, not without rocky climbs and
_bajadas_, but with considerable stretches of almost level going
across solitary wind-cooled plains, brought me to Támara. A passing
company of soldiers had all but gutted the village larder, but at dusk
in the last hut I got not only food but meat, and permission to swing my
hammock from the blackened rafters of the reed kitchen, over the open
pots and pans. Incidentally, for the first time in Honduras prices were
quadrupled in honor of my being a foreigner. Civilization indeed was
approaching.

Half way up the wooded ridge beyond I met the sun mounting from the
other side, fell in soon after with a real highway, and at eleven caught
the first sight of Tegucigalpa, the "City of the Silver Hills," capital
of the Sovereign and Independent Republic of Honduras. It was no very
astounding sight; merely what in other lands would have been considered
a large village, a chiefly one-story place with a whitewashed church,
filling only a small proportion of a somewhat barren valley surrounded
by high rocky and partly wooded hills. I marched down through
Comayagüela in all the disreputableness of fifteen days on the trail,
across the little bridge of a few arches over a shallow river which to
Honduraneans far and wide is one of the greatest works of man, and into
the park-like little central plaza, with its huge arbor of purple
bourgainvillea.

The "Hotel Jockey Club" was not all that the imagination might have
pictured, but at least there Was the satisfaction of knowing that any
stranger in town, be he "gringo" or president-elect, famous or infamous,
rich or honest, could stop nowhere else. Among its luxuries was a
"bath," which turned out to be a massive stone vessel in the basement
with a drizzle of cold water from a faucet above that was sure to run
dry about the time the victim was well soaped; its frontiersman rooms
were furnished with little more than weak-kneed canvas cots, and the
barefoot service of the dining-room was assisted by all the dogs, fowls,
and flies of the region. But there lay two hungry weeks of Central
American trail behind me and for days to come I ate unquestioningly
anything that came within reach of my fingers, of whatever race, color,
or previous condition of servitude.

Just around the corner--as everything is in this miniature capital--the
American Legation delivered the accumulated mail of a month, and the
pair of real shoes I had had the happy thought of sending to myself here
months before. This bit of foresight saved me from hobbling on to the
coast barefoot. I had arrived just in time to attend one of
Tegucigalpa's gala events, the inspection of her newly reformed police
force. "It is set for three," said the legation secretary, "so come
around about three-thirty." Just around another corner we entered
toward four the large dusty patio of a one-story building of mud blocks,
against the adobe wall of which were lined up something over a hundred
half-frightened, half-proud Honduranean Indians in brand new, dark-blue
uniforms and caps, made in Germany, and armed with black night-sticks
and large revolvers half-hidden in immense holsters. We took the places
of honor reserved for us at a bench and table under the patio veranda
beside the chief of police, an American soldier of fortune named Lee
Christmas. He was a man nearing fifty, totally devoid of all the
embroidery of life, golden toothed and graying at the temples, but still
hardy and of youthful vigor, of the dress and manner of a well-paid
American mechanic, who sat chewing his black cigar as complacently as if
he were still at his throttle on the railroad of Guatemala. Following
the latest revolution he had reorganized what, to use his own words, had
been "a bunch of barefooted apes in faded-blue cotton rags" into the
solemn military company that was now to suffer its first formal
inspection. The native secretary, standing a bit tremulously in the edge
of the shade, called from the list in his hand first the name of
Christmas himself, then that of the first assistant, and his own, he
himself answering "present" for each of these. Next were the
commanders, clerks, under-secretaries, and the like in civilian garb,
each, as his name was pronounced, marching past us hat in hand and
bowing profoundly. Last came the policemen in uniform. As the secretary
read his title and first name, each self-conscious Indian stepped
stiffly forth from the ranks, throwing a foot, heavy with the
unaccustomed shoe, high in the air and pounding the earth in the new
military style taught him by a willowy young native in civilian dress
who leaned haughtily on his cane watching every movement, made a
sharp-cornered journey about the sun-flooded yard and bringing up more
or less in front of his dreaded chief, gave a half turn, raised the
right leg to the horizontal with the grace of an aged ballet dancer long
since the victim of rheumatism, brought it down against the left like
the closing of a heavy trapdoor, saluted with his night-stick and
huskily called out his own last name, which Christmas checked off on the
list before him without breaking the thread of the particular anecdote
with which he chanced at that moment to be entertaining us.

"I tried to get 'em to cut out this ---- ---- German monkey business of
throwing their feet around," confided the chief sadly, "but it's no use,
for it's in the ---- ---- military manual."

Judged by Central American standards the force was well trained. But the
poor Indians and half-breeds that made up its bulk were so overwhelmed
with the solemnity of the extraordinary occasion that they were even
more ox-like in their clumsiness and nearer frightened apes in demeanor
than in their native jungles. The quaking fear of making a mis-step
caused them to keep their eyes riveted on the lips of our compatriot,
from which, instead of the words of wrath they no doubt often imagined,
issued some such remark as:

"Why ---- ---- it, W----, one of the bums I picked up along the line one
day in Guatemala told me the best ---- ---- yarn that--"

Nor could they guess that the final verdict on the great ceremony that
rang forth on the awe-struck silence as the chief rose to his feet was:

"Well, drop around to my room in the hotel when you want to hear the
rest of it. But if you see the sign on my door,' Ladies Only To-day,'
don't knock. The chambermaid may not have finished her official visit."

The climate of Tegucigalpa leaves little to be desired. Otherwise it is
merely a large Central American village of a few thousand inhabitants,
with much of the indifference, uncleanliness, and ignorance of the rest
of the republic. Priests are numerous, wandering about smoking their
cigarettes and protected from the not particularly hot sun by broad hats
and umbrellas. One lonely little native sheet masquerades as a
newspaper, the languid little shops, often owned by foreigners, offer a
meager and ancient stock chiefly imported and all high in price; for it
takes great inducement to make the natives produce anything beyond the
corn and beans for their own requirements. The "national palace" is a
green, clap-boarded building, housing not only the president and his
little reception-room solemn with a dozen chairs in cotton shrouds, but
congress, the ministry, and the "West Point of Honduras," the
superintendent of which was a native youth who had spent a year or two
at Chapultepec. Against it lean barefooted, anemic "soldiers" in misfit
overalls, armed with musket and bayonet that overtop them in height. The
main post-office of the republic is an ancient adobe hovel, in the
cobwebbed recesses of which squat a few stupid fellows waiting for the
mule-back mail-train to arrive that they may lock up in preparation for
beginning to look over the correspondence mañana. It is not the custom
to make appointments in Tegucigalpa. If one resident desires the
presence of another at dinner, or some less excusable function, he
wanders out just before the hour set until he picks up his guest
somewhere. By night the town is doubly dead. The shops put up their
wooden shutters at dusk, the more energetic inhabitants wander a while
about the cobbled streets, dim-lighted here and there by arc-lights, the
cathedral bells jangle at intervals like suspended pieces of scrap-iron,
arousing a chorus of barking dogs, and a night in which two blankets are
comfortable settles down over all the mountainous, moon-flooded region.
There is not even the imitation of a theater, the plaza concert on
Sunday evenings, in which the two sexes wander past each other in
opposite directions for an hour or two, being the only fixed
recreation. A man of infinite patience, or who had grown old and weary
of doing, might find Tegucigalpa agreeable; but it would soon pall on
the man still imbued with living desires.

The fitting shield of Honduras would be one bearing as motto that
monotonous phrase which greets the traveler most frequently along her
trails, "No hay." The country is noted chiefly for what "there is not."
Everywhere one has the impression of watching peculiarly stupid children
playing at being a republic. The nation is a large farm in size and a
poorly run one in condition. The wave of "liberty" that swept over a
large part of the world after the French Revolution left these wayward
and not over-bright inhabitants of what might be a rich and fertile land
to play at governing themselves, to ape the forms of real republics, and
mix them with such childish clauses as come into their infantile
minds. The chief newspaper of the republic resembles a high-school
periodical, concocted by particularly thick-headed students without
faculty assistance or editing. A history of their childish governmental
activities would fill volumes. In 1910 all the copper one-centavo coins
were called in and crudely changed to two-centavo pieces by surcharging
the figure 2 and adding an s, a much smaller one-centavo coin being
issued. The "government" may have made as much as $50 by the
transaction. Not long before my arrival, the current postage-stamps,
large quantities of which had been bought by foreign firms within the
country, were suddenly declared worthless, and the entire accumulated
correspondence for the next steamer returned to the senders, instead of
at least being forwarded to destination under excess charges.
Foreigners established the first factory Tegucigalpa had ever known,
which was already employing a half-hundred of the pauperous inhabitants
in the making of candles, when the "government" suddenly not only put a
heavy duty on stearine but required the payment of back duty on all that
had already been imported. An Englishman came down from the mines of San
Juancito embued with the desire to start a manual-training school in the
capital. He called on the mulatto president and offered his services
free for a year, if the government would invest $5000 in equipment. The
president told him to come back mañana. On that elusive day he was
informed that the government had no such sum at its disposal,

"I have saved up $2500 myself," replied the Englishman, "which I will
lend the government for the purpose, if it will add a like amount."

But when mañana came again, the president expressed his regrets that the
national treasury could not endure such a strain.

The best view of Tegucigalpa is had from Picacho, a long ridge from back
in the mountains, ending in a blunt nose almost sheer above the
city. Whoever climbs it recognises the reason for the native saying, "He
who holds Picacho sleeps in the palace." Its town-side face is almost
precipitous, and on every hand spread rolling, half-bare upland
mountains. All but sheer below, in the lowest depression of the visible
world, sits the little capital, rather compact in the center, then
scattered along the little river and in the suburb of Comayaguela
beyond it. The dull-red tile roofs predominate, and the city is so
directly below that one can see almost to the bottom of every tree-grown
patio. A few buildings are of two stories, and the twin-towers of the
little white cathedral stand somewhat above the general level. But most
noticeable of any is the fact that all the vast broken plain surrounding
it far and wide lies almost entirely uncultivated, for the most part
neither cleared nor inhabited, crossed by several roads and trails, most
conspicuous of all the two white ribbons by one of which I had arrived
from the north and the other of which was already inviting me onward to
the coast and new climes.

A fellow-gringo, bound for the Pacific exit on a miniature horse, packed
away my baggage on his cargo mule and left me to walk unhampered. A
highway some fifty feet wide and white with dust struck off uncertainly
toward the southwest, a splendid highway once, built for automobiles by
the combined efforts of the government and an American mining company
farther up in the hills, but now suffered to fall here and there into a
disrepair that made it as useless for such traffic as a mountain trail.
The first day of thirty miles brought us to Sabana Grande, with a
species of hotel. During the second, there were many down-grade
short-cuts, full of loose stones and dusty dry under the ever warmer
sun, with the most considerable bridge in Honduras over the Pasoreal
River, and not a few stiff climbs to make footsore my entrance into the
village of Pespire. Here was a house that frankly and openly displayed
the sign "Restaurante," in a corner of which travelers of persuasive
manners might be furnished _tijeras_, scissor-legged canvas cots on
which to toss out the night; for Pespire is far below Tegucigalpa and on
the edge of the blazing tropics.

For which reason we rose at three to finish the half-day of sea-level
country left us. The stars hung brilliant and a half moon lighted up a
way that was hot even at this hour. From sunrise on huge lizards
scurried up among the wayside rocks as we passed, and sat torpid,
staring at us with their lack-luster eyes. Natives wearing spurs on
their hoof-like bare feet rode by us now and then, and mule-trains or
screaming wooden carts crawled past on their way up to the capital. All
traffic between Tegucigalpa and the outside world passes either over
this route or the still longer trail from Puerto Cortez, on the north
coast, from which a toy railroad limps a few miles inland before losing
its courage and turning back. By daylight the fantastic ranges of the
interior had disappeared and the last low foothill soon left us to plod
on straight across a dust-dry sandy plain with brown withered grass and
mesquite bushes, among which panted scores of cattle. Honduras runs so
nearly down to a point on its Pacific side that the mountains of both
Salvador and Nicaragua stood out plainly to the right and left.

By sweltering ten we were swimming in the Pacific before the scattered
village of San Lorenzo, though there was visible only a little arm of
the sea shut in by low bushy islands. It was our good fortune not to
have to charter by telegraph and at the expense of a Honduranean fortune
means of transportation to the island port of Amapala; for before we
could seek the shelter of our sun-faded garments a launch put in for a
party that had been forming for several days past. The passengers
included a shifty-eyed old priest in charge of two nuns, the rules of
whose order forbade them to speak to men, and the mozo of an influential
Honduranean who had shot a man the night before and was taking advantage
of his master's personal friendship with the judge of the district. The
launch wound between bushy banks and came out at last on a rich-blue bay
shut off in the far distance by several jagged black volcanic islands,
toward one of which it wheezed a hot and monotonous three hours. This
was "Tiger's Island," named evidently from the one moth-eaten specimen
that had once been landed here by a passing circus. At a narrow wooden
wharf of this we at length gradually tied up. Ragged, barefoot soldiers
stopped us to write our pedigrees, as if we were entering some new
country, and addressed us in monkey signs instead of the Spanish of
which experience had convinced them all traveling foreigners were
ignorant.

Amapala is a species of outdoor prison to which all travelers to or from
Honduras on the Pacific side are sentenced for a term varying in length
according to their luck, which is generally bad. Those who do not sleep
in the park toss out their imprisonment on a bedstead of woven ropes in
a truly Honduranean building that disguises itself under the name of
"Hotel Morazán," the slatternly keeper of which treats her helpless
inmates with the same consideration as any other prison warden devoid of
humanity or oversight. The steamer I awaited was due before I arrived,
but day after day I lay marooned on the blazing volcanic rock without a
hint as to its whereabouts. Not even exercise was possible, unless one
cared to race up and down the sharp jagged sides of the sea-girt
volcano. The place ranks high as an incubator of malignant fevers and
worse ailments, and to cap the climax the ice-machine was broken
down. It always is, if the testimony of generations of castaways is to
be given credence. Our only available pastime was to buy a soap-boxful
of oysters, at the cost of a quarter, and sit in the narrow strip of
shade before the "hotel" languidly opening them with the only available
corkscrew, our weary gaze fixed on the blue arm of water framed by the
shimmering hot hills of Salvador by which tradition had it ocean craft
sometimes came to the rescue.

But all things have an end, even life imprisonment, and with the middle
of January we awoke one morning to find a steamer anchored in the
foreground of the picture that had seared itself into our memories. All
day long half-naked natives' waded lazily back and forth from the beach
to the clumsy tenders, exchanging the meager products of the country for
ill-packed merchandise from my own. Night settled down over their
unfinished task, the self-same moon came out and the woven-rope cots
again creaked and groaned under unwilling guests. But by noon next day we
had swung our hammocks under the awning of the forecastlehead and were
off along the tropical blue Pacific for Panama.

THE END





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