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Title: A Gringo in Mañana-Land
Author: Foster, Harry L. (Harry La Tourette)
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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MAÑANA-LAND ***



  A GRINGO IN MAÑANA-LAND



  [Illustration: A CHIEFTAIN DRESSED FOR THE EASTER CEREMONY OF THE YAQUI
  INDIANS]



  A GRINGO IN
  MAÑANA-LAND


  BY HARRY L. FOSTER

  Author of “The Adventures of a Tropical Tramp,”
  “A Beachcomber in the Orient,” etc.


  WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM
  PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN BY THE AUTHOR

  [Illustration]


  NEW YORK
  DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
  1924



  Copyright, 1924,
  By DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, Inc.


  PRINTED IN THE U. S. A. BY
  The Quinn & Boden Company

  BOOK MANUFACTURERS
  RAHWAY NEW JERSEY



FOREWORD


The term “_gringo_”--a word of vague origin, once applied with contempt
to the American in Mexico--is now used throughout Latin America,
without its former opprobrium, to describe any foreigner.

The Spanish “_mañana_”--literally “to-morrow”--is extremely popular
south of the Rio Grande, where, in phrases suggesting postponement, it
enables the inhabitant to solve many of life’s most perplexing problems.

This book covers various random wanderings in Mexico, Guatemala,
Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. It deals with a romance
or two, a revolution or so, and a hodge-podge of personal experience.
The incidents of the earlier chapters precede, while those of the later
ones follow, the author’s vagabond journeys recorded in “The Adventures
of a Tropical Tramp,” and “A Beachcomber in the Orient.”

The chapter on the Yaqui Indians is published with the permission
of the editor of “The Open Road.” The photographs of the Guatemalan
revolution were taken by Roy Neil Bunstine, of Guatemala City.



  CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                              PAGE

  I ON THE BORDER                         1

  II BANDITS!                             4

  III IN SLEEPY HERMOSILLO               13

  IV AMONG THE YAQUI INDIANS             24

  V DOWN THE WEST COAST                  47

  VI THOSE DARK-EYED SEÑORITAS!          70

  VII IN THE DAYS OF CARRANZA            93

  VIII THE MEXICAN CAPITAL              112

  IX INTERMISSION                       145

  X THE LAND OF THE INDIAN VAMPS        149

  XI THOSE CHRONIC INSURRECTIONS!       170

  XII UP AND DOWN GUATEMALA             187

  XIII IN SUNNY SALVADOR                216

  XIV THE REVOLUTION IN HONDURAS        241

  XV WHERE MARINES MAKE PRESIDENTS      282

  XVI A LONG, LONG WAY TO COSTA RICA    327

  XVII ADIOS! 352



ILLUSTRATIONS


A Chieftain Dressed for the Easter Ceremony of the Yaqui Indians
_Frontispiece_

FACING PAGE

In Those Days Trains Did Not Venture to Run at Night Across the Sonora
Desert 8

An Escort of Soldiers Occupied a Freight Car Ahead as a Precaution
Against Bandits 8

A Burro Train Laden with Bullion from the Mines 16

La Colorada, Once the Home of Gold Mines, Now Served Only as a Depot
for Trucks That Crossed the Desert 30

Indian Women, Pounding Clothes upon the Rocks Beside a Shallow Brook,
Ceased Their Work to Stare 30

The Christ Was Represented by a Cheap Rag Doll Cradled in a Wicker
Basket 42

For Three Days the Indians Neither Ate Nor Slept, Refreshing Themselves
Only with Mescal 42

The Mexican Señorita Has Always Been Portrayed in Our Fiction as a Wild
Vampire 80

In the Days of Carranza One Frequently Saw a Bandit Hanging Around the
Railway 60

Pedro Zamorra Had Removed a Few Ties Where the Train Came Around a Bend
100

So Worthless Were the Federal Troops That Many Americans Professed a
Preference for Bandits 100

The Orange Trees in Guadalajara’s Plaza Were Golden Throughout the Year
114

Mexico City, One of the Most Ornate Capitals in the Western Hemisphere,
Somewhat Resembled Paris 114

The Mexican Pyramids Probably Antedate Those of Egypt by a Thousand
Years or More 130

In the Gardens of Xochimilco, Relics of an Aztec Paradise, Only the
Cabbages Were in Bloom 130

Mexican Policemen in White Spats 142

No Latin-American Village Is So Tiny But That It Has a Square Devoted
to Bartering 172

The Mexican Peon So Loves the Excitement of the Market That He Refuses
to Sell His Goods Elsewhere 172

The Tehuana Maidens Regarded a Man as a Luxury Rather Than a Necessity
156

The Abundant Central-American Volcanoes Fertilize the Coffee Fincas
with Lava Dust 222

Guatemala’s Population Includes a Million Pure-blooded Aborigines 190

Occasionally the Resultant Earthquakes Knock Down a City or Destroy the
Guatemalan Cathedral 222

When Orellana Started a Revolution, President Herrera Made No Strenuous
Objection 206

The Only Casualties Were a Few Policemen Who Mistook the Revolution for
a Disorderly Demonstration 206

A Banana-Boat Loading on the East Coast 286

In These Pleasant Tropical Countries No Peon Girl Escapes Maternity 236

From His Palace the President Could Watch the Treasury to See That No
One Stole the National Debt 254

Soldiers Stopped a Pedestrian at Every Corner to Search for Weapons 266

The Warship _Rochester_ Had Anchored at Amapala on What Was Described
as a Courtesy Visit 254

The American Intervention Had Brought Peace, but Managua’s Dusty
Streets Suggested no Prosperity 306

If the American Marines Were Withdrawn from Nicaragua a Revolution
Would Transpire Over-Night 306

For Three Days the Boatmen Poled the Launch Through Shallows Framed in
Rank Green Jungle 330

Greytown Was a Typical East Coast Port--Low, Swampy and
Unattractive--With Black Complexions Prevailing 330

San José Contains the Most Delightful Plazas and the Most Beautiful
Women in the World 354

A Machine-Gun Tower Built by the Tyrant Tinoco 344

In Its Interior Decoration the Costa Rican National Theater Equals Any
Theater in the United States 354



  A GRINGO IN MAÑANA-LAND



  A GRINGO

  IN MAÑANA-LAND



CHAPTER I

ON THE BORDER


I

It was my original plan to ride from Arizona to Panama by automobile.

In fact, I even went so far as to purchase the automobile. It had been
newly painted, and the second-hand dealer assured me that no car in all
the border country had a greater reputation.

This proved to be the truth. The first stranger I met grinned at my new
prize with an air of pleased recognition.

“Well! Well!” he exclaimed. “Do _you_ own it now?”

So did the second stranger, and the third. I had acquired not only
an automobile, but a definite standing in the community. People who
had hitherto passed me without a glance now smiled at me. There was
even some discussion of organizing a club, of which I was to be the
president, my term of office to continue until I could sell the car to
some one else.

When I announced that I meant to drive to Panama--down through Mexico,
Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and any other
republics which I might discover along the way--every one who heard of
the idea offered encouragement:

“You’ve got the right car for _that_ trip, my boy. Since you’ll find no
roads down there, you’ll need a companion to walk ahead and chop down
the cactus or level off the mountains, and if you step hard on the gas,
you’ll just about be able to keep up with him.”


II

I suspected that there was an element of insincerity in this
encouragement.

I was rather young, however, at the time of that first venture at
foreign travel. It was only a few months after the Armistice, and I
felt disinclined to return to cub-reporting on a daily newspaper.
I elected myself to the loftier-sounding profession of Free-Lance
Newspaper Correspondent. I purchased a palm-beach suit and an automatic
pistol. I was going south into the land of romance--of tropical moons
glimpsed through whispering palm-trees--of tinkling guitars echoing
through Moorish _patios_--of black-eyed _señoritas_ and red-nosed
soldiers of fortune--of all the many things beyond the ken of mere
cub-reporters.

Despite the encouragement, I tacked my banner to the back of my car,
and set out upon a round of farewells.


III

My departure was very dramatic.

Men shook hands with an air of finality. Two or three girls kissed me
good-by with conventional little pecks that seemed to say, “I’ll never
see the poor devil again, so I may as well waste some osculation on
him.”

I had made the entire circuit, until there remained only a couple of
village school-marms, who happened--most unfortunately--to live on
top of the highest hill in town. Half-way to the summit, I perceived
that my car was never destined to climb that hill. It slackened speed.
It stopped. It commenced to roll backward. I was forced to throw it
into reverse, just as the school-marms appeared in their doorway. The
situation was humiliating. I became slightly flustered. I meant to step
on the brake, but I stepped on the gas.

Wherefore, after some one had picked me out of the débris, I started
southward by train.



CHAPTER II

BANDITS!


I

I crossed the border at daybreak.

In the manner of a Gringo who first passes the Mexican frontier, I
walked cautiously, glancing behind me from time to time, anticipating
hostility, if not actual violence.

In the dusk of early morning the low, flat-roofed adobe city of Nogales
assumed all the forbidding qualities of the fictional Mexico. But the
leisurely immigration official was polite. The customs’ inspector waved
me through all formalities with one graceful gesture. No one knifed
me in the back. And somewhere ahead, beyond the dim line of railway
coaches, an engineer tolled his bell. The train, as though to shatter
all foreign misconceptions of the country, was about to depart on
scheduled time!


II

Somewhat surprised, I made a rush for the ticket window.

A native gentleman was there before me. He also was buying passage,
but since he was personally acquainted with the agent, it behooved
him--according to the dictates of Spanish etiquette--to converse
pleasantly for the next half hour.

“And your _señora_?”

“_Gracias! Gracias!_ She enjoys the perfect health! And your own most
estimable _señora_?”

“Also salubrious, thanks to God!”

“I am gratified! Profoundly gratified! And the little ones? When last I
had the pleasure to see you, the _chiquitita_ was suffering from--”

The engineer blew his whistle. A conductor called, “_Vamonos!_” I
jumped up and down with Gringo impatience. The Mexican gentleman gave
no indication of haste. The engineer might be so rude as to depart
without him, but _he_ would not be hurried into any omission of the
proper courtesies. His dialogue was closing, it is true, but closing
elaborately, still according to the dictates of Spanish etiquette,
in a handshake through the ticket window, in an expression of mutual
esteem and admiration, in eloquent wishes to be remembered to everybody
in Hermosillo--enumerated by name until it sounded like a census--in
another handshake, and finally in a long-repeated series of “_Adios!_”
and “_Que le vaya bien!_”

What mattered it if all the passengers missed the train? Would there
not be another one to-morrow? This, despite the railway schedule, was
the land of “_Mañana_.”


III

On his first day in Mexico, the American froths over each delay. In
time he learns to accept it with fatalistic calm.

As it happened, the dialogue ceased at the right moment. Every one
caught the train. Another polite Mexican gentleman cleared a seat for
me, and I settled myself just as Nogales disappeared in a cloud of
dust, wondering why any train should start at such an unearthly hour of
the morning.

The reason soon became obvious. The time-table had been so arranged in
order that the engineer could maintain a comfortable speed of six miles
an hour, stop with characteristic Mexican sociability at each group of
mud huts along the way, linger there indefinitely as though fearful of
giving offense by too abrupt a departure, and still be able to reach
his destination--about a hundred miles distant--before dark.

In those days--the last days of the Carranza régime--trains did not
venture to run at night, and certainly not across the Yaqui desert. It
was a forbidding country--an endless expanse of brownish sand relieved
only by scraggly mesquite. Torrents from a long-past rainy season had
seamed it with innumerable gullies, but a semi-tropic sun had left them
dry and parched, and the gnarled greasewood upon their banks drooped
brown and leafless. Even the mountains along the horizon were gray and
bleak and barren save for an occasional giant cactus that loomed in
skeleton relief against a hot sky.

[Illustration: IN THOSE DAYS TRAINS DID NOT VENTURE TO RUN AT NIGHT
ACROSS THE SONORA DESERT]

This was the State of Sonora, one of the richest in Mexico, but its
wealth--like the wealth of all Mexico--was not apparent to the eye
of the tourist. The villages at which we stopped were but groups of
low adobe hovels. The dogs that slunk about each habitation, being of
the Mexican hairless breed, were strangely in harmony with the desert
itself. And the _peons_--dark-faced semi-Indians, mostly barefoot, and
clad in tattered rags--seemed to have no occupation except that of
frying a few beans and selling them to railway passengers.

At each infrequent station they were awaiting us. Aged beggars stumbled
along the side of the coach, led by tiny children, to plead in whining
voices for “_un centavito_”--“a little penny”--“for the love of God!”
Women with bedraggled shawls over the head scurried from window to
window, offering strange edibles for sale--baskets of cactus fruit
resembling fresh figs--_frijoles_ wrapped in pan-cake-like _tortillas_
of cornmeal--legs of chicken floating in a yellow grease--while the
passengers leaned from the car to bargain with them.

“What? Fifteen _centavos_ for that stuff? _Carramba!_”

“Ten cents then?”

“No!”

“How much will you give?”

Both parties seemed to enjoy this play of wits, and when, with a
Gringo’s disinclination to haggle, I bought anything at the price first
stated, the venders seemed a trifle disappointed. Everybody bought
something at each stopping-place, and ate constantly between stations,
as though eager to consume the purchases in time to repeat the
bargaining at the next town. The journey became a picnic, and there was
a child-like quality about the Mexicans that made it strangely resemble
a Sunday-school outing at home.

Although an escort of _Carranzista_ soldiers occupied a freight car
ahead as a precaution against the bandits which infested Mexico in
those days, the passengers appeared blandly unconcerned.

[Illustration: AN ESCORT OF SOLDIERS OCCUPIED A FREIGHT CAR AHEAD AS A
PRECAUTION AGAINST BANDITS]

Each removed his coat, and lighted a cigarette. From the car wall
a notice screamed the Spanish equivalent of “No Smoking,” but the
conductor, stumbling into the coach over a family of _peons_ who had
crowded in from the second-class compartment, merely paused to glance
at the smokers, and to borrow a light himself. Every one, with the
friendliness for which the Latin-American is unsurpassed, engaged
his neighbor in conversation. The portly gentleman who had cleared a
seat for me inquired the object of my visit to Mexico, and listened
politely while I slaughtered his language. The conductor bowed and
thanked me for my ticket. When the _peon_ children in the aisle
pointed at me and whispered, “_Gringo_,” their mother ceased feeding a
baby to “Shush!” them, their father kicked them surreptitiously with a
loose-flapping sandal, and both parents smiled in response to my amused
grin.

There was something pleasant and carefree about this Mexico that proved
infectious. Atop the freight cars ahead, the escort of federal troops
laid aside their Mausers, removed their criss-crossed cartridge-belts,
and settled themselves for a _siesta_. As the desert sun rose higher,
inducing a spirit of coma, the passengers also settled themselves for
a nap. The babble of the morning gave place to silence--to silence
broken only by the fretting cry of an infant and the steady click of
the wheels as we crawled southward, hour after hour, through the empty
wastes of mesquite.

And then, as always in Mexico, the unexpected happened.

The silence was punctured by the staccato roar of a machine-gun!


IV

In an instant all was confusion.

Whether or not the shooting came from the Carranzista escort or from
some gang of bandits hidden in the brush, no one waited to ascertain.
Not a person screamed. Yet, as though trained by previous experience,
every one ducked beneath the level of the windows, the women sheltering
their children, the men whipping out their long, pearl-handled
revolvers. The only man who showed any sign of agitation was my portly
friend. His immense purple sombrero had tumbled over the back-rest onto
another seat, and he was frantic until he recovered it.

After the first roar of the machine-gun, all was quiet. The fatalistic
calm of the Mexicans served only to heighten the suspense. The train
had stopped. When, a few months earlier, Yaqui Indians had raided
another express on this same line, the guard had cut loose with
the engine, leaving the passengers to their Fate--a Fate somewhat
gruesomely advertised by a few scraps of rotted clothing half-embedded
in the desert sand. The thought that history had repeated itself was
uppermost in my mind, and the _peon_ on the floor beside me voiced it
also, in a fatalistic muttering of:

“_Dios!_ They have left us! We are so good as dead!”

We waited grimly--waited interminably. With a crash, the door opened. A
dozen revolvers covered the man who entered. A dozen fingers tightened
upon a trigger. But it was only the conductor.

“_No hay cuidado, señores_,” he said pleasantly. “The escort was
shooting at a jack-rabbit.”


V

The passengers sat up again, laughing at one another, talking with
excited gestures as they described their sensations, enjoying one
another’s chagrin, all of them as noisy and happy as children upon a
picnic. They bought more _frijoles_, and the feast recommenced, lasting
until mid-afternoon, when we pulled into Hermosillo, the capital of
Sonora.

A swarm of porters rushed upon us, holding up tin license-tags as
they screamed for our patronage. Hotel runners leaped aboard the car
and scrambled along the aisle, presenting us with cards and reciting
rapidly the superior merits of their respective hostelries, meanwhile
arguing with rival agents and assuring us that the other fellow’s beds
were alive with vermin, that the other fellow’s food was rank poison,
and that the other fellow’s servants would at least rob us, if they did
not commit actual homicide.

I fought my way through them to the platform, where another
battle-scene was being enacted.

Mexican friends were meeting Mexican friends. To force a passage was
a sheer impossibility. Two of them, recognizing each other, promptly
went into a clinch, embracing one another, slapping one another upon
the back, and venting their joy in loud gurgles of ecstasy, meanwhile
blocking up the entire platform.

Restraining _Gringo_ impatience once more, I stood and laughed at them.
In so many cases the extravagant greetings savored of insincerity. One
noticed a flabbiness in the handclasps, a formality in the hugs, an
affectation in the shouts of “_Ay!_ My friend! How happy I am to see
you!” Yet in many cases, the demonstrations were real--so real that
they brought a peculiar little gulp into one’s throat, even while one
laughed.

Be they sincere or insincere, I already liked these crazy Mexicans.



CHAPTER III

IN SLEEPY HERMOSILLO


I

A little brown _cochero_ pounced upon me and took me aboard a
dilapidated hack drawn by two mournful-looking quadrupeds.

“_Hotel Americano?_” he inquired.

“_No._ _Hotel_ distinctly _Mejicano_.”

He whipped up his horses, and we jogged away through narrow streets
lined with the massive, fortress-like walls of Moorish dwellings, past
a tiny palm-grown _plaza_ fronted by an old white cathedral, to stop
finally before a one-story structure whose stucco was cracked and
scarred, and dented with the bullet holes of innumerable revolutions.

The proprietor himself, a dignified gentleman in black, advanced to
meet me. Were there rooms? Why not, _señor_? Whereupon he seated
himself before an immense ledger, to pore over it with knitted brows,
stopping now and then to stare vacantly skyward in the manner of one
who solves a puzzle or composes an epic poem.

“Number sixteen,” he finally announced.

“Occupied,” said a servant.

Another period of intellectual absorption.

“Number four.”

There being no expostulation, a search ensued for the key. It developed
that Room Number Four was opened by Key Number Seven, which--in
conformity to some system altogether baffling to a Gringo--was usually
kept on Peg Number Thirteen, but had been misplaced by some careless
servant. The little proprietor waved both hands in the air.

“What _mozos_!” he exclaimed. “No sense of orderliness whatsoever!”

A prolonged search resulted, however, in its discovery, and the
proprietor himself led the way back through a succession of _patios_,
or interior gardens, the front ones embellished with orange trees, and
the rear ones with rubbish barrels, to Room Number Four, from which the
lock had long ago been broken.

It was a large apartment, with brick floor. It contained a canvas
cot, a wobbly chair, and an aged bureau distinguished for its sticky
drawers, an air of lost grandeur, and a burnt-wood effect achieved by
the cigarette butts of many generations of guests. The bare walls were
ornamented only by a placard, containing a set of rules--printed in
wholesale quantities for whatever hotels craved the enhanced dignity of
elaborate regulations--proclaiming, among other things, that occupants
must comport themselves with strict morality.

“One of our very choicest rooms, _señor_,” smiled the proprietor, as
he withdrew. “It has a window.”

A window did improve it.

From the narrow street outside came the soft voices of _peons_, the
sing-song call of a lottery-ticket vender, the tread of sandaled feet,
the clatter of hoofs from a passing burro train laden with bullion from
distant mines, the guttural protesting cry of the drivers, all in the
exotic symphony of a foreign land.

[Illustration: A BURRO TRAIN LADEN WITH BULLION FROM THE MINES]

Yet there was a calm, subdued note about the chorus. In Mexico, a newly
arrived Gringo expected melodrama. It was disconcerting to find only
peace.

An Indian maiden, straight as an arrow, swung past with the flat-footed
stride of the shoeless classes, balancing an earthenware jar upon her
dark head. A fat old lady cantered by upon a tiny donkey, perched
precariously upon the extreme stern. A little brown runt of a man
staggered past under a gigantic wooden table. Another staggered past
under the influence of alcohol. Women on their way to market stopped
to offer me their wares. Did I wish to buy a chicken or a watermelon?
Would I care for a bouquet of yucca lilies? Or an umbrella? If not an
umbrella, a second-hand guitar?

“No?” They seemed surprised and disappointed. But they smiled politely.
“_Gracias_ just the same, _señor_! _Adios!_”

An ice cream vender made his rounds with a slap of leather sandals,
balancing atop his _sombrero_ a dripping freezer. He stopped before a
patron to dish the slushy mixture into a cracked glass, pushing it off
the spoon with a dirty finger, and licking the spoon clean before he
dropped it back into the can. From one pocket he produced bottles and
poured coloring matter over the concoction--scarlet, green, and purple.
Then he swung his burden aloft, and continued on his way, chanting, “I
carry snow! I carry snow!”

Even the cries of a peddler were soft and gentle here. I was about to
turn from the window, when around the corner came a strange procession
of mournful men and wailing women, led by three coffins balanced, like
every other species of baggage in this country, upon the heads of
_peons_. Mexico was Mexico after all! Here was evidence of melodrama!
Excitedly I hailed the proprietor.

“A bandit attack, _señor_? No, indeed. José Santos Dominguez had a
christening at his house last night. Purely a family affair, _señor_!
Nothing more.”


II

After the dusty railway journey I craved a bath.

From a doorway across the _patio_ a legend beckoned with the
inscription of “_Baños_.” I called an Indian servant-maid, pointed at
the legend, struggled with Spanish, and finally secured a towel.
The bath-room door, like that of my room, had long ago lost its lock.
Searching among the several tin cans which littered one corner, I found
a stick which evidently was used for propping against the door by such
bathers as desired privacy. Having undressed, I leaped jubilantly into
the huge, old-fashioned tub, and turned on the water. There _was_ no
water. Poking modest head and shoulders around the edge of the door, I
looked for the maid. She eventually made her appearance, as servants
will, even in Mexico, and regarded me suspiciously from a safe distance.

“No, _señor_, there is no water. You asked for a towel. You did not
mention that you wished also a bath.”

“Well, for the love of Mike, when--”

“_Mañana, señor._ Always in the morning there is water.”

And so, after supper and a stroll in the _plaza_, I retired, still
coated with Sonora desert, to my room. There was some difficulty in
locating the electric button, since another careless _mozo_ had backed
the bureau against it. There was also some difficulty in arranging the
mosquito net over my bed. It hung from the ceiling by a slender cord
which immediately broke in the pulley. I piled a chair on top of a cot,
climbed up and mended the string, climbed down and lowered the net to
the proper height, unfolded it, and discovered that it was full of
gaping holes through which not only a mosquito but possibly a small
ostrich could have flown with comfort and security. Finally, beginning
to feel that the charm of Mexico had been vastly overrated by previous
writers, I retired, prepared to fight mosquitos, and discovered that
there _were_ no mosquitos in Hermosillo.

In the morning, rejuvenated and reënergized, I again waylaid the Indian
servant-maid.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, as though it were a new idea. “The _señor_ wishes
a bath? Why not? _Momentito! Momentito!_”

“_Momentito_” is Spanish for “Keep your shirt on!” or “Don’t raise hell
about it!” or more literally “In the tiny fraction of a moment!” It
suggests to the native mind a lightning-like speed, even more than does
“_Mañana_.”

And eventually I did get the bath. There was some delay while the water
was heated, and more delay while the maid carried it, a kettleful at a
time, from the kitchen to the bath-room, but the last kettle was ready
by the time the rest had cooled, and I finally emerged refreshed, to
discover again that in Mexico the unexpected always happens.

When I pulled out the old sock used as a stopper, the water ran out
upon the bath-room floor, and disappeared down a gutter, carrying with
it the shoes I had left beside the tub.


III

But Hermosillo possessed a charm which even a Mexican bath could not
destroy.

It was a sleepy little city, typically Mexican, basking beneath a warm
blue sky. It stood in a fertile oasis of the desert, and all about it
were groves of orange trees. Its massive-walled buildings had once
been painted a violent red or green or yellow, but time and weather
had softened the barbaric colors until now they suggested the tints of
some old Italian masterpiece. And although ancient bullet holes scarred
its dwellings, there hung over the Moorish streets to-day a restful
atmosphere of tranquillity.

At noon the merchants closed their shops, and every one indulged in
the national _siesta_. The only exception was an American--a quiet,
determined-looking man--who kept walking up and down the hotel _patio_
with quick, nervous tread.

“Somebody just down from the States?” I asked the proprietor.

“No, _señor_. He is the manager of mines in the Yaqui country. One of
his trucks is missing, and he fears lest Indians have attacked it.”

Such a contingency, in sleepy Hermosillo, sounded quite absurd. It was
the most peaceful-appearing town in all the world. As the _siesta_ hour
drew to a close, the _señoritas_ commenced to show themselves, dressed
and powdered for their evening stroll in the _plaza_. They were dainty,
feminine creatures, not always pretty, yet invariably with a gentle
womanliness that gave them charm. Upon the streets they passed a man
with modestly downcast head. Behind the bars of a window and emboldened
by a sense of security, they favored him with a roguish smile from the
depths of languorous dark eyes, and sometimes with a softly murmured,
“_Adios!_”

I drifted toward the _plaza_, wondering how a Free-Lance Newspaper
Correspondent were to earn a living in any country so outwardly
unexciting as Mexico, and dropped disgustedly into a bench beside
another young American.

He was a rosy-cheeked, cherubic-appearing lad. He wore horn-rimmed
spectacles, and his neatly-plastered hair was parted in the middle.
Like myself, he was dressed in a newly purchased palm-beach suit. His
name was Eustace. He, too, was just out of the army. He had enlisted,
he explained, in the hope that he might live down a reputation as a
model youth. And the War Department had given him a tame job on the
Mexican border, cleaning out the cages of the signal-corps pigeons.
Wherefore he was now journeying into foreign fields in the hope of
satisfying himself with some mild form of adventure.

Very solemnly we shook hands.

“I couldn’t quite go back to cub-reporting,” he explained. “So I
decided to become a free-lance newspaper correspondent.”

Even more solemnly we shook hands again. Since neither of us actually
expected that any editor would publish what we sent him, we formed
a partnership upon the spot. The Expedition had a new recruit. And
together we mourned the disappointing peacefulness of Hermosillo.

Evening descended upon the _plaza_. A circle of lights appeared around
the rickety little bandstand. An orchestra played. The _señoritas_
strolled past us, arm in arm, while stately _Dons_ and solemn _Doñas_
maintained a watchful chaperonage from the benches. The night deepened.
The cathedral clock struck ten. _Dons_, _Doñas_, and _señoritas_
disappeared in the direction of home. The _gendarmes_ alone remained.
Each muffled his throat as a precaution against night air, and each set
a lantern in the center of a street crossing. From all sides came the
sound of iron bars sliding into place behind heavy doors. Hermosillo
was going to bed.

As we, also, turned homeward, our footsteps rang loudly through the
silent streets. A policeman unmuffled his throat and bade us “Good
night.” Then he produced a tin whistle and blew a melancholy little
toot, to inform the policeman on the next corner that he was still
awake. From _gendarme_ to _gendarme_ the signal passed, the plaintive
wail seeming to say, “All’s well.”

A beggar huddled in a doorway hid his cigarette beneath his ragged
blanket at our approach, and held out his hand. A lone wayfarer,
lingering upon the sidewalk before a window, turned to glance at us,
and to bid us “_Adios_.” Through the bars a girl’s radiant face shone
out of the darkness. Then the man’s voice trailed after us, singing
very softly to the throbbing of a guitar. A moon peeped over the edge
of the low flat roofs--a very aged and battered-looking moon, with
a greenish tinge like that of the old silver bells in Hermosillo’s
ancient cathedral--a moon which, like the city below it, suggested that
it once had known troublous days, yet was now at perfect peace.

This was a delightful land, but to a pair of Free-Lance Newspaper
Correspondents--

As we entered the wide-arched portals of the hotel, the telephone
struck a jarring note. The American mining man, still pacing nervously
up and down the _patio_, leaped to the receiver.

“Laughlin speaking! What news? Did they--? Shot them both? White and
Garcia both? Get the troops out! I’ll be there in just--”


IV

In an instant Eustace and I were at his elbow.

Ours was the newspaperman’s unsentimental eagerness, which might have
hailed the burning of an orphan asylum with its four hundred helpless
inmates as splendid front-page copy. Here was murder! This was Mexico!
_Viva Mexico!_ Here was our first story!

“No time to talk!” snapped Laughlin. “I’ll send John Luy for you in the
morning. He’ll take you to La Colorada, in the Yaqui country itself.
You’ll get the dope there!”

And he vanished down the street. We stood at the hotel gate, a little
startled, gazing out into the night. The moon smiled down over low,
flat roofs, and a man’s voice drifted to us, singing very softly to the
throbbing of a guitar, and the plaintive note of a _gendarme’s_ whistle
seemed to say, “All’s well.”



CHAPTER IV

AMONG THE YAQUI INDIANS


I

John Luy met us in an elderly Buick early the next morning.

He was a stocky man in khaki and corduroy, a man of fifty or sixty,
with slightly gray hair, and the keen, friendly eyes of the Westerner.
He was a trifle deaf from listening to so many revolutions, and
questions had to be repeated.

“Heh? Oh, the holes in the wind-shield? They’re only bullet holes.”

He motioned us into the back seat, grasped the wheel, and drove us
out through the suburbs of Hermosillo into the open desert. The road
was nothing more than the track of cars which had crossed the plains
before us. Sometimes it led through wide expanses of dull reddish sand;
sometimes the cactus and mesquite grew in thorny forests up to the very
edge of the narrow trail.

It was a country alive with all the creeping, crawling things that
supply local color for magazine fiction. Swift brown lizards shot
from our path, starting apparently at full speed, and zigzagging
through the yucca like tiny streaks of lightning. Chipmunks and
ground squirrels dived into their burrows at our approach. A rattler
lifted its head, hissed a warning, and retired with leisurely dignity.
Jack-rabbits popped up from nowhere in particular and scampered into
the brush, laying their ears flat against the head, running a dozen
steps and finally bouncing away in a series of long, frantic leaps.
Chaparral cocks, locally known as road-runners, sped along the trail
before us, keeping about fifty feet ahead of the car, wiggling their
tails in mocking challenge, slackening their pace whenever we slackened
ours, speeding whenever we speeded, and shooting away into the mesquite
in a low, jumping flight as John stepped on the gas.

Now and then we passed a mound of rocks surmounted by a crude wooden
cross, and once we saw the wreck of what had been another automobile.

“Heh?” asked John. “Oh! Graves. People shot by Yaqui Indians. Oh, yes,
quite a few of them. Quite a few.”

He gave the wheel a twist, and we plunged down a steep slope into a
deep, sandy river-bed. The car lumbered through it, sinking to the
hubs. In the very center it came to an abrupt stop. John picked up a
rifle.

“One of you lads take the gun and lay out in the brush. This is the
kind of place where White got _his_.”

Eustace seized the weapon, and crawled into the cactus, while I
worked savagely to dig the wheels from their two-foot layer of soft,
beach-like sand. John, puffing complacently at his corn-cob pipe, tried
the self-starter again and again without success, meanwhile giving me
the details of White’s murder:

“It was an arroyo exactly like this one. Exactly like this one. He come
around a bend in his truck, and hit the waterhole, and was plowing
through it when a dozen Mausers blazed out’n the cactus. Three bullets
hit him square in the head. Maybe Garcia, his mechanic, got it on the
first volley, too. You couldn’t be sure--so the fellows said over the
telephone. The Yaquis had cut him up and shoved sticks through him ’til
his own mother couldn’t’ve recognized him. Dig the sand away from that
other wheel, will you?”


II

I breathed more freely half an hour later, when we climbed the farther
bank of the river-course, and rattled on again, through ever-thickening
forests of cactus, to the low adobe city of La Colorada.

John showed us a nondescript mud dwelling that passed for a hotel, and
we presently sallied therefrom, with paper and pencil, fully convinced
that the pleasantest method of securing copy would be that of sitting
on the village hitching post and listening to the experiences of some
one else.

There were half a dozen other Americans in La Colorada. It had once
been the home of gold mines from which heavily-guarded mule trains
carried away a hundred and eight millions of dollars in bullion, but
revolutionists had destroyed the machinery during the turbulent years
that led up to the Carranza régime, and the town now served only as a
depot for the big motor trucks which ran through hostile Yaqui country
to mines farther in the interior. The half dozen Americans were the
drivers of these trucks. The eldest of them was under thirty, but most
of them had knocked about the far corners of the earth since childhood,
and all of them surveyed with undisguised contempt the little
thirty-two-caliber automatics we carried.

[Illustration: LA COLORADA, ONCE THE HOME OF GOLD MINES, NOW SERVED
ONLY AS A DEPOT FOR TRUCKS THAT CROSSED THE DESERT]

“If you was to shoot me with one of them things, and I was ever to find
it out,” said Dugan, a lad of twenty, “I’d be downright peeved about
it.”

Dugan stood over six feet in height. His jaw resembled the Rock of
Gibraltar, and his hair suggested Vesuvius in eruption. His favorite
literature, I suspected, was the biography of Jesse James. He carried
a forty-four in a soft-leather holster cut wide to facilitate a quick
draw. His great ambition was to “shoot up” a saloon, and since there
was no bar-room in La Colorada, he had recently compromised upon
the local drug-stores, and had blazed holes through the pharmacist’s
castor-oil bottles.

All of these youths had encountered the Yaquis. One showed us a dozen
bullet-dents in his truck, mementos of a brush with Indians on his last
trip. Another had been captured, stripped of his clothing, and chased
naked back to town. But of the latest incident--the murder of White
and Garcia--they could give us little information. W. E. Laughlin was
supposed to have an understanding with the Yaqui chiefs whereby his
property and his employees were protected.

“He pays ’em so much a year to leave him alone. He’s never had any
trouble before this. A year ago one of his drivers was shot--Al
Farrel--but it wasn’t Yaquis. It was a gang of Mexican soldiers. They
robbed the truck and blamed it on the Indians, and went scouting all
over the country pretending to chase the guys that did it. Maybe the
same thing has happened again.”

“That’s about it,” echoed another. “The Yaquis hold us up, but it’s the
Greasers they’ve got it in for. We get off light--usually. They just
rob us. When they catch a Mex, they rip his clothes off and chuck him
into the cactus, or cut the soles off his feet and make him dance on
the hot sand.”

But the others disagreed. It was merely border tradition that the
Yaquis treated Americans better than Mexicans. There was the case of
Otto, the draft-dodger, who came to La Colorada to avoid the war, only
to be caught by the Indians and tortured to death. There was the story
of One-Legged Joe, who went prospecting just outside of town, and of
whom nothing was found except the wooden leg, charred with fire. And
there was the tragedy of Pedro Lehr, who left his ranch near Hermosillo
for a few hours, and returned to find his entire family slain, with the
exception of a sixteen-year-old daughter whom the Yaquis had carried
away with them.

Pleased at our eager interest, the truck-drivers warmed toward us. Only
Dugan remained aloof, grinning a trifle contemptuously. Eustace turned
to him:

“What can _you_ tell us?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, for a starter, how do you feel when you ride through hostile
Indian country on a truckload of dynamite?”

Dugan spat eloquently upon the ground. Then he pointed toward two
loaded trucks that stood in the road before us.

“MacFarlane over there is going out to a mine to-morrow. If you want to
know how it feels, go along with him. He’s carrying six hundred pounds
of dynamite.”


III

Since he put it _that_ way, we sought out MacFarlane.

He was a tall, lean-faced man--one of the quiet, self-possessed,
determined-looking mine superintendents usually encountered in Mexico.
He was about to make a week’s trip to _El Progresso_ mine, sixty miles
farther in the interior. He would be glad to take us along.

And at dawn the following day, we rode out of La Colorada in one
of MacFarlane’s trucks. We sat upon a miscellaneous assortment of
machinery, provisions, and blasting powder, with a crew of twenty hired
gunmen, each of whom wore several hundred yards of cartridge belt
draped around his waist and criss-crossed over his shoulders in the
approved Mexican style.

The desert seemed a trifle more forbidding than the one we had crossed
the day before. When we were in the open our gunmen laughed and chatted
together; when we approached the forests of yucca and mesquite, I
noticed that they grew silent and watchful. But no sound came from the
vast expanse of wasteland except the peaceful song of the locusts.

At rare intervals we passed a native village--a cluster of mud hovels
surrounding an aged white church--and our advent created a sensation.
A host of mongrel dogs but slightly removed from the coyote stage
hailed us with furious yelps. Children raced barefoot beside the trucks
to get a better view of us. Half-naked Indian women, pounding clothes
upon the flat rocks beside a shallow brook, ceased their work to stare
at us. Even the adult male population, reclining against the shady side
of the adobe dwellings, sat up to look at us.

[Illustration: INDIAN WOMEN, POUNDING CLOTHES UPON THE ROCKS BESIDE A
SHALLOW BROOK, CEASED THEIR WORK TO STARE]

There was something in these tiny hamlets that recalled pictures of
the Holy Land. Civilization had changed but little here since the
days of the Aztecs, and despite the excitement caused by our passage,
there was an air of sleepiness about the whole place which suggested
another continent, a million miles farther from Broadway. So perfect
was the scene that I resented the sight of a Standard Oil tin used as
a water-jar, and felt distinctly offended when I heard the click of a
Singer sewing machine issuing from a tiny, cactus-roofed hut.

The natives here showed little Spanish ancestry. Their features
were purely Indian. A few, by their prominent cheek-bones and dark
complexion, suggested a trace of Yaqui blood, but most of them were of
other tribes, and all carried arms as a precaution against Yaqui raids.
Every one wore a large knife, and in an open-air barber shop one native
with a six-shooter on his belt was shaving another who held a rifle
across his knees. All of them greeted us with the cry:

“Have you met any Yaquis?”

The day passed without incident, however, and nightfall brought us to
our first stopping-place, the village of Matape, another cluster of mud
hovels surrounding an ancient white church.

A buxom Indian woman, who operated a hotel on those rare occasions when
visitors came to town, served us _frijoles_ and _tortillas_--beans
and cornmeal pancakes--and produced from its hiding place a bottle of
fiery _mescal_. Later, when we had consumed the meal by the light of a
flickering oil lamp, her daughter joined us with a guitar, and while
MacFarlane watched his gunmen to see that no one kept the bottle too
long inverted over his black moustachios, the girl sang to us. Still
later, after she herself had sampled the potent Mexican liquor, she
danced. She was rather comely, in a stolid Indian way, but she was
much too heavy and graceless for complete success as a _danseuse_,
even after two swigs of such inspiring stuff as _mescal_. The gunmen,
however, found it highly diverting. They pushed back their chairs to
clear a stage for her, and watched her with the pleased expression
which a Mexican always wears when looking at a woman. The guitar
twanged a weird, savage melody; the dim light from the swinging lantern
shone upon a sea of dark faces, and reflected from a score of gleaming
eyes; in the center of the crowded room the girl danced awkwardly, her
bare feet pounding monotonously upon the mud floor.

As she finally sank, flushed and panting, upon a bench, her mother
favored us with a toothless grin:

“For one hundred dollars gold I sell her!”

Eustace shook his head.

“She’s scarcely an essential part of a newspaper correspondent’s
equipment.”

“Seventy-five!” persisted the woman.

“That’s a special rate,” exclaimed MacFarlane. “She lacks one ear. They
say her last husband bit it off before chasing her home with a club. Of
course, you can’t believe everything you hear. But you’d better turn
in. To-morrow we travel on muleback.”


IV

The trucks were to continue, with the guard, by the longer road to
the mine. MacFarlane and ourselves, with two of the gunmen, were to
ride over the mountains. The bridle trail led through questionable
territory, but it was shorter.

Neither Eustace nor I had ever ridden a mule before. Both of us had
read Western fiction, and had noted that the hero not only loved his
steed, but left nearly everything to the animal’s good judgment, and
that the noble beast, appreciating and reciprocating his master’s
affection and trust, invariably anticipated his every wish, and carried
the hero out of every conceivable difficulty.

We had just discussed the matter, and had determined to encourage the
same fond relationship with our prospective mounts, when MacFarlane
rode up to the hotel with the five most woebegone-looking specimens of
quadrupeds that we had ever seen.

“Cut a good big stick,” he advised.

Two minutes after mounting, I welcomed the suggestion. It seemed
inhuman to beat anything so small as that mule, but the animal appeared
not to mind it in the least. The moment I ceased whaling him, he
assumed that this was where I wished to stop. His one virtue was that
no matter how often he stumbled on the edge of a precipice, he never
fell over.

“When you come to a tight place,” warned MacFarlane, “let the mule use
his own judgment.”

And there were plenty of tight places. Hour after hour the path twisted
through narrow ravines, along deep water-courses strewn with bowlders,
down sandy embankments where the animals slid like toboggans, around
narrow cliffs, and up sharp inclines where they fairly leaped from
rock to rock. It was a gloriously desolate country, hideous perhaps,
yet awesome in its ugly grandeur. Mountains reared themselves above
the trail, covered sometimes with huge candelabra cactus, but usually
bare and towering skyward like the battlements of a gigantic fortress.
So fascinating was the whole panorama that four of us rode across a
valley a full mile in length before we discovered that Eustace had
disappeared.

MacFarlane stopped abruptly.

“Good Lord! I told him to keep close to us! Four months ago one of my
men dropped behind, and they nabbed him so quietly we never heard a
sound!”

He was off his mule in an instant, and leading the way on foot,
revolver in hand, while I followed at his heels, both of us crouching
behind bowlders as we hurried back along the path we had traversed.
Turning a bend, we found Eustace sitting on his mule at the top of a
sandy decline, complacently smoking a cigar.

“What the devil are you doing?” snapped MacFarlane.

“Tight place,” said Eustace. “I’m letting the mule use his own
judgment.”

“Hell!” growled MacFarlane. “The mule’s gone to sleep!”

And throughout the day he lectured us upon the fallacies of the
S.P.C.A. spirit as applied to Mexican mules, all the way to Suaqui de
Batuc, another mud-village at the junction of the Yaqui and Moctezuma
Rivers, where we were to spend another night.

There was no hotel in this town, but we found lodgings with an Indian
family. A woman brought us the inevitable _frijoles_ and _tortillas_,
gave us water to drink which tasted as though it had been inhabited
by frogs, and ushered us to one large bed which undoubtedly _was_
inhabited by everything except frogs. The name of the town, I learned,
when translated from the Indian, meant something which could be printed
only in French. As I scratched myself to sleep, I reflected upon the
appropriateness of the name. I had just succeeded in closing my eyes
when a volley of pistol shots sounded outside the window. Eustace and
I bumped heads in a frantic dive to locate the automatics beneath our
pillow.

“Don’t worry,” said MacFarlane. “It’s a gang of drunks. This is a
Saint’s Day, and the faithful are celebrating.”


V

In the morning, before continuing the journey, I set out to secure a
few photographs.

“Ask permission before you snap a native,” the mining man warned me.
“Some of them are superstitious--have an idea that they’ll die within a
year if you take their picture. They killed the last photographer that
tried it.”

So I took special pains to ask permission. Invariably they said, “No!”
Some appeared to regard the camera as a new species of machine-gun.
Even those who knew what it was were reticent about posing. The more
picturesque the native, and the more I wished his picture, the more
resolutely he said, “NO!”

Strolling some distance from town, I finally discovered an aged squaw
who looked as though she might die within a year even though her
photograph were not taken. But her “NO!” was not merely in capital
letters but in type larger than the largest in a Hearst newspaper.
Still, I could not resist that picture. She was standing in the center
of the shallow river, filling deer-skin water-sacks and loading them
upon the back of a moth-eaten little burro. But since the sun shone
directly in my lens, I had to pass her. And the moment I unslung my
camera, she started to walk upstream directly into the light. The
faster _I_ walked, the faster _she_ walked. I broke into a trot, and
she broke into a trot, dragging the burro after her, and splashing
water over the two of us. I felt a trifle undignified, but I had
determined to have that picture, and I increased my pace to a run.
Thereupon she gathered her skirts about her waist and sprinted like an
intercollegiate champion.

From the village behind us came a series of war-whoops. I looked back
to see the entire population joining in the chase. Suddenly I realized
that my behavior _was_ undignified. Some fifty angry natives were
rushing toward me, waving in the air an assortment of weapons that
might have delighted a collector of antiques, but which at the moment
gave me no cause whatsoever for rejoicing. I stopped and faced them,
trying vainly to explain my conduct in my inadequate Spanish, while
they shook their fists, and waved knives in the air, and jabbered
furiously.

Eustace came to my rescue. Two years and eight sweethearts upon the
border had given him a fluent command of the language.

“They’ve misjudged your intentions,” he chuckled, after he had calmed
the mob. “I’ve explained it all. This old geezer with the four whiskers
on his chin is her man, and he says he’ll let you take her picture for
two pesos. I suppose he’s tired of her, and doesn’t care whether she
croaks or not.”

But the squaw evidently valued her life at more than two pesos. For
she gathered up her skirts once more, and fled away down the river,
dragging the burro behind her.


VI

It was but a few hours’ ride from Suaqui to _El Progresso_ Mine. It
lay in the center of a ragged, bowl-shaped valley in the heart of the
mountains, some ninety miles from the railroad--a group of gaping
shafts beside a stone blockhouse, with a village of thatched laborers’
quarters straggling along a sandy, cactus-hedged street.

Some half dozen American bosses occupied the blockhouse. The native
workmen numbered about two hundred, most of them Pimas and _mestizos_,
or mixed-breeds.

“Don’t shoot at any rattlesnakes,” MacFarlane warned us, “or you’ll see
everybody dropping work and running for headquarters to resist attack.”

The mine itself had never been threatened by the Yaquis, but on several
occasions they had attempted to ambush the provision trucks. Like most
of the mines in Mexico, _El Progresso_ was not the sort where one had
merely to walk out with a pick and chop large pieces of silver off
a convenient mountain side; before a single speck of mineral could
be extracted, it had been necessary to transport across the desert a
hundred thousand dollars’ worth of machinery; every bit of it had been
brought over the long trail on truck or muleback, and the journey of
every train had meant the possibility of a fight with Indians.

The Yaquis of Sonora are closely related to the Apaches of our own
border country. From the earliest coming of the white man, they have
resented the invasion of their domain. The Spaniards were never able
to conquer them. Porfirio Diaz, who pacified all the rest of Mexico,
could never make the Yaquis recognize the sovereignty of the Mexican
government over their territory. He sent expedition after expedition
against them, depleted their ranks by constant warfare, and took
thousands of prisoners whom he shipped to far-off Yucatan to labor as
virtual slaves upon the henequin plantations. But the atrocities of the
Diaz soldiers merely aggravated the Indians’ hatred of their would-be
rulers.

From time to time, in more recent years, groups of Yaquis have made
their peace with the Mexican authorities. Many of them, known as
“_manzos_” in distinction from the “_bravos_” in the hills, are to
be found in every Sonoran village and even in Arizona. As soldiers,
they are the bravest in Mexico, and as laborers the most industrious.
But they were never especially friendly to Carranza, and in his era,
although some served in the federal army, they frequently did so in
order to obtain arms or ammunition for their own use. Soldiers one day,
they were apt to be bandits the next.

Although the Yaquis had first declared war upon the invading white man
with every possible justification, they had been forced, through years
of constant retreat into the unfertile recesses of the desert, to prey
upon the invaders for a living. Although their original grievance had
been against the Mexican, bandits can not be choosers. And the miners
at _El Progresso_ were always on the watch.

“It’s a bad time just now,” one man explained. “They all get together
for a big hullabaloo every Easter, and drink a lot of mescal, and get
so enthusiastic that they start out for a few more scalps.”


VII

I had witnessed the Easter ceremony of the Yaqui Indians before leaving
the border.

Strange as it may sound, the Yaqui is a Christian. Years ago the
Spanish missionaries, the greatest adventurers in all history,
penetrated the Sonora desert where warriors feared to tread, and
finding themselves unable to converse with the Indians, enacted their
message in sign language. To-day, at Easter time, the Yaquis reënact
the same story, distorted by their own barbaric conception of it until
it is but a semi-savage burlesque upon the Passion Play.

In the _manzo_ settlement at Nogales, the Christ was represented by a
cheap rag doll, garbed in brilliantly colored draperies, and cradled
in a wicker basket beneath a thatched roof. The ceremonies lasted from
Good Friday until after Easter Sunday, and during that time the Indians
neither ate nor slept, refreshing themselves only with _mescal_.

The native conception of the life of Christ was that of a continual
warfare with Judas. To make the odds harder for Him, they had six
assistant Judases, selected--I was told--from the young braves who had
committed the most sins during the current year.

[Illustration: THE CHRIST WAS REPRESENTED BY A CHEAP RAG DOLL CRADLED
IN A WICKER BASKET]

“We have several,” explained an intelligent old Indian, “because my
people could not respect a Savior who allowed himself to be licked by
any one man.”

The Judases appeared in startling devil masks, and for three days they
capered before the Infant, contorting their semi-naked bodies, howling
like fiends, poking Him with sticks, spitting upon Him, kissing Him in
mockery, and challenging Him to come out and fight. About the cradle
the women of the tribe sat cross-legged upon the ground, wailing a
strange Indian hymn that rose and fell in plaintive minor key. A tomtom
pounded monotonously. Night descended, and the fires threw weird,
fantastic shadows upon the reddened mountain sides. Hour after hour,
and day after day, the barbaric orgy continued, until on Easter Sunday
the tribe rose in defense of the Christ, seized the Judases and carried
them to the fire, where they pretended to burn them. Afterwards, they
carried the image of the Savior in mournful procession to a little
grave behind the village. It was a ridiculous travesty upon religion,
yet one could not laugh. There was a solemnity in the faces of these
people, as they followed the rag doll to its burial place. Many of
the women were weeping. The men bared their heads, and there was true
reverence in the dark, savage eyes. The capering of the devil-dancers
had been ludicrous, yet now I found myself strangely impressed. And,
anyhow, it is inadvisable to laugh at religious fanatics--especially
if they happen to be Yaqui Indians.

[Illustration: FOR THREE DAYS THE INDIANS NEITHER ATE NOR SLEPT,
REFRESHING THEMSELVES ONLY WITH MESCAL]


VIII

The same ceremony is practiced, with variations in ritual, by the
_bravos_ in the hills.

Frequently, as the miner had suggested, it serves as a get-together for
the Spring raiding season. Spring is harvest-time in southern Sonora,
and an ideal time for the Yaquis to sweep down from the mountains and
pillage the valleys which the Mexicans have taken from them. In the
days of Carranza, the Indians not only invaded the rural districts, but
carried their raids to the very outskirts of Guaymas and Hermosillo.

Word came to us at _El Progresso_ that a band of the Indians was
operating not far away. They had attacked several of the neighboring
villages, and had visited the _Gavilan_ Mine, another American concern
in our district, where they had done the miners no bodily harm, but had
left them without clothing or provisions.

“When we start back to-morrow, we’ll travel by night,” decided
MacFarlane. “The Yaquis are superstitious about the crosses along
the trail. The ghosts of the murdered men are supposed to be out for
revenge after dark. That’s the safest time to travel.”


IX

We left at sunset, a little party of five.

As we rode silently toward the vague mountains ahead, their peaks
became a magic crimson that deepened slowly to purple against a silver
sky. We passed Suaqui, where the rivers gleamed like shining ribbons in
the last faint twilight. Then the swift desert night was upon us, and
we were riding into a deep pass, where the air grew strangely chill.

I can recall every minute of that long night. Perhaps the mule could
see the path. I couldn’t. Now and then, as we ascended, I caught a
momentary glimpse of the rider ahead, looming abnormally large against
the sky. Usually I listened to the crunch of hoofs upon the gravel, and
followed close behind. One had the sensation of being about to enter
a tunnel into which the other riders had disappeared. When the faint
moonlight seeped down into the pass, it converted each cactus into the
semblance of a crouching Yaqui. And despite MacFarlane’s assertion
that night travel was comparatively safe, neither he nor the others
were taking chances. The howl of a coyote or the cooing of a dove
brought every revolver out of its holster, for these noises, although
common enough in the mountains, are sometimes used by the Indians as
signals. Once, when something trailed us for half a mile through the
brush, we all rode half-turned in the saddle, covering the spot where
the twigs crackled. It was probably some animal--perhaps a mountain
lion--following us out of curiosity, but we watched it, lest it prove a
bandit.

Hour after hour we rode in silence through the black defiles. We knew
whether we were ascending or descending only from the slant of the
mule’s back. The nervous strain seemed to affect even the animals. When
we paused at a mountain stream to water them, my own beast suddenly
lashed at me with his heels, and bolted. I chased him several hundred
yards up the ragged bed of the water-course, stumbling over slippery
stones, and splashing into the pools until I finally captured him, both
of us making enough noise--it seemed to me--to awaken any Yaqui within
a mile.

And within a mile, we turned a bend, and found ourselves in the very
center of an encampment! A score of camp-fires, dwindled to smoldering
red ashes, lined the trail, and about them, as though they were the
spokes of a wheel, a group of men were sleeping with feet toward the
blaze, in Yaqui fashion, each man with a rifle beside him. Not a sentry
had stopped us. Even as I realized where we were, I found that my mule
was stepping over the recumbent figures.

One of the men awoke, yawned, and raised himself on an elbow to stare
at us.

“Who are you?” demanded MacFarlane in Spanish.

“Federal soldiers,” and the man composed himself for another nap.


X

We rode into Matape at dawn, and a truck carried us back to La
Colorada. Dugan offered his hand.

“I done you an injustice, pardners. I thought you’d be scared.”

Eustace and I, exchanging confidences in private, agreed that Dugan had
done neither of us an injustice, but we kept this to ourselves.

John Luy, driving us back to Hermosillo in his Buick, seemed highly
amused about the whole affair. He chuckled to himself for a long time
before he spoke:

“It’s funny! Mack don’t usually make that ride at night. He did it
to give you guys a thrill, and I suspect he got a thrill himself.
Laughlin’s been investigating that last murder, you know. It was Yaquis
that done it, but a bunch of Yaquis serving as federal soldiers. Lucky
they were asleep without sentries last night when you fellows rode
through.”



CHAPTER V

DOWN THE WEST COAST


I

On the train that carried me southward from Hermosillo I met “The
General.”

He was young--scarcely out of his teens--slender, mild-mannered, almost
feminine in voice and appearance. His large, dark eyes were shaded
with long, girlish lashes. One felt startled when, upon more intimate
acquaintance, he confided that he was an ex-bandit.

His rank, in reality, was only that of _teniente_, than which one could
not be much lower in a Mexican army, but it pleased him so much when I
first addressed him as “General” that I continued the practice.

Our meeting was accidental. Eustace and I, still traveling together,
found him in a double-seat, with his handbags spread over whatever
space he did not fill himself. As we paused before him, he looked up
in surprise, apparently feeling that the railway had not made proper
provision for so many passengers.

“Pardon, _General_, but is this bench reserved?”

He smiled. He removed his baggage most graciously. Within half an hour
he had announced himself our humble servant, and was planning gay
parties for us at the several stopping-places ahead. He knew all the
girls along the West Coast, he said, both respectable and otherwise. He
would see that we enjoyed the trip. He would be our guide and mentor
in things Mexican. And when we reached Mazatlán--the southern terminus
of the road, some three or four days distant--_his_ house would be
_our_ house. We should attend his wedding, which was to be celebrated
immediately upon his arrival, and if we remained long enough, we should
be the godfathers to his first child.

And although he impressed me as somewhat too lavish in his promises, he
proved an entertaining companion on the long journey--a journey through
a monotonous continuation of the Sonora desert, with stop-overs at
cities which, with minor variations, were replicas of Hermosillo--at
Guaymas, San Blas, and Culiacán--cities pleasant and interesting, yet
never so interesting to me as my first Mexican friend, the little
General.


II

The young _teniente_ was typical in many ways not only of the Mexicans,
but of most of the Latin-Americans.

He lived completely in the present, with scarcely a thought of the
morrow. For him _tempus_ did not _fugit_, save very rarely, and even
then there was sure to be more _tempus_ afterward.

He had unlimited time for friendliness and politeness. In his
friendliness he was prone to those professions of love which to the
Anglo-Saxon mind savor of hypocrisy; in his politeness he was inclined
toward phraseology that suggested figurative language; yet if this were
hypocrisy, it was tempered with self-deception, and the phraseology was
intended frankly as figurative language.

If he sometimes lacked veracity, it was because his code of etiquette
called not for the truth, but for some statement that would give more
satisfaction than the truth. Seldom thinking beyond the immediate
present, he apparently did not reflect that an ultimate discovery
of reality might bring disappointment greater than the original
satisfaction.

One encounters this mental habit everywhere in Latin America. If one
inquires of a fellow-passenger whether he is nearing his destination,
he invariably is assured that he is, although a half-day’s journey may
confront him. If one asks a hotel servant whether laundry may be washed
before to-morrow night, he invariably learns that it may, although the
servant knows perfectly well that the laundress will not call until the
day after to-morrow.

In Guaymas, our first stopping-place, the General was to meet us in
the Plaza at three o’clock to take us to visit his uncle. At about
five, we bumped into him accidentally upon the street.

“_Amigos!_” he cried delightedly, enfolding each of us in a Latin
embrace. “So glad I am to see you! I wish to take you to visit my
uncle.”

“You were going to do that at three.”

“So I was! So I was! I was on my way to the _plaza_, but I met a
friend, and we had two or three drinks of _tequila_, and I forgot all
about it!”

He spoke not in apology. He merely offered what he considered a
satisfactory explanation. To him, as to most Mexicans, an engagement
was merely a tentative agreement, to prove binding only in the event
that neither party forget it or happen to be doing something else at
the appointed hour. He was delightfully free from any troublesome sense
of obligation. While an Anglo-Saxon would rise each morning, taking
mental inventory of the many things to be done during the next sixteen
hours, the Mexican solved life’s problems by merely reflecting, “Here’s
another pleasant day!”

Having met us upon the street, the General promptly forgot the date he
had made with some one else, and took us to call upon his uncle. His
uncle was not at home.


III

The Mexican is by nature impractical. When he makes a promise, he
usually means it. Afterwards he discovers that he has promised
something which he can not fulfill.

“To-night,” said the General, “I shall arrange a dance in your honor.”

And this time, he did meet us at the appointed hour--or soon
thereafter. He had with him the musicians, two barefooted _peons_ with
mandolin and guitar, and we started again for his uncle’s residence.
Everything was ready for the dance except that the uncle had not been
informed that he was to be the host, or that any such affair was to
transpire.

The General, however, was determined that we should have a good time.
We were duly presented to a middle-class family of a dozen or more
individuals, all eager to be friendly, but all a trifle embarrassed.
The musicians played some dance that had long since faded from
popularity north of the border--it was either “Smiles” or “Hindustan,”
which are still the rage in Mexico--and the General made the rounds
in search of a partner. In turn he offered his arm to each of his
cousins--three rather shy little olive-faced girls of thirteen,
fourteen, and fifteen--while each in turn pleaded:

“I don’t know how to dance. I wish I did.”

He finally discovered a stout, middle-aged lady who professed some
slight knowledge of terpsichore, and marched with her thrice about the
room, as is the fashion in Latin America. Then he seized her manfully,
and sped away in a two-step. The lady, taken seemingly by surprise,
did not move, and the little General came to a sliding stop. Still
determined, he recovered his balance, and sped away in the other
direction, with the same result. There was then a discussion as to
whether this were a waltz or not. That question being settled by the
musicians, who said it was a polka, both parties danced in the same
direction, until they had made a couple of flying rounds, when they
stopped, and the General offered his partner to me. It was somewhat
reminiscent of putting out the ash-barrels on Monday morning, but the
lady was willing, and for the next three hours Eustace and I and the
General took turns whirling her over the adobe floor.

“A little excitement like that,” said the General, as we finally took
our departure, “breaks the monotony of life.”


IV

As I came to know the Mexicans better, I discovered that such an
evening, although it impressed a Gringo as a trifle boresome, was quite
an event in middle-class Mexican existence.

The Latin-American had an amazing knack of not being bored. This, too,
was a product of his mental habit of living wholly in the present. He
never suffered from the Anglo-Saxon sense of a waste of time; he was
never afflicted with reflections about countless other ways of spending
his evening.

He could sit every night in the same _plaza_, looking at the same
faces. He could meet the same friends day after day, and be just as
pleased to see them, and ask them the same questions about their many
relatives, and part with the same elaborate courtesies. He could listen
hour after hour with the same enjoyment to the same pieces of music
that the village band had played for the past ten years. And he could
talk with the same neighbors about exactly the same things again and
again, and never lose his enthusiasm either as speaker or listener.

After supper, at the hotels along the way, proprietor and guests
would bring their chairs to the sidewalk, where they could see the
passers-by, and would remain there for hours, chatting with tremendous
zest about nothing at all. Inconsequential remarks, which Americans
of equal intelligence might consider unworthy either of utterance or
audience, would be offered for popular consideration with emphatic
statement, and received almost with applause. I recall the declaration
of a young _señorita_ to the effect that she considered a bath very
refreshing. This bit of wisdom, which elsewhere in the world might
have been accepted as trite and obvious, brought every member of the
circle into enthusiastic agreement. It was quite as though she had
advanced a startling new theory, which had long been hovering vaguely
in the minds of the others, but which they now heard propounded for the
first time. It stimulated cries of “Yes, indeed!” or “You have spoken
most truly!” and the discussion lasted for half an hour.

With Mexican kindliness, they always included me in the conversation,
although I spoke their language abominably. Had a foreigner murdered
English as I murdered Spanish, I should not have had the patience
to listen to him. Yet they listened avidly, knitting their brows
sometimes in their effort to guess the meaning. If they smiled, their
smiles were kindly. They were pleased that the foreigner should try
to learn their language. If they disliked Americans in general, they
were quickly ready to like any individual American who would meet
them half-way. And the moment he showed a willingness to adopt their
own elaborate courtesy, they described him as _muy simpatico_--an
expression that means infinitely more than our nearest equivalent of
“very sympathetic”--and hailed him as “_paisano_”--“fellow-countryman.”
And they would promise him anything.


V

If at first impression, the elaborate Spanish politeness seems
boresome, it gradually seeps its way into the soul of the average
visitor so insidiously that within two weeks he finds himself resenting
the rudeness of Americans more recently arrived than himself.

I met one on the train that took me out of Guaymas.

He was trying to tell the conductor that this passenger coach would
have been condemned long ago in the good old U.S.A. Since the official
did not understand English, even when shouted, the newcomer was growing
a trifle peeved. He turned disgustedly to Eustace and myself:

“Damn these spigs, anyway! How do they expect anybody to come down here
and do business with them when they can’t talk like other people?”

He seemed out of place in Mexico. He belonged essentially to the
smoking compartment of an American Pullman, where his counterpart can
invariably be found with thumbs beneath suspender straps, telling the
world about the big deals which his type seems always to have “just
pulled off between trains in Detroit.”

In Mexico, he admitted failure. He was selling soap--“the best grade
of pure white bath soap on the market.” But buyers were too ignorant
to converse with him in _his_ language, and they showed a ridiculous
inclination to purchase the brilliant scarlet soaps turned out by a
German firm that catered to the native love of bright color.

“If I’d known what they were like,” he said, speaking loudly, “I’d have
laid in a side-line of perfume and bug powder.”

We suggested that some of the passengers _might_ understand English.

“What the hell do I care? Let ’em hear it. It’ll do ’em good. Let the
dirty greasers know what we Americans think of ’em! Say, I’m glad I met
you fellows. I’ve been lonesome for somebody from God’s country.”

He attached himself to us, and stuck like a leech. At Culiacán, where
we stopped over for a day, he made the discovery that “whiskey” was the
same in Spanish as in English. After imbibing freely in a little saloon
kept by an elderly lady whose manners were those of royalty, he propped
his feet on the table and expectorated with impressive accuracy at a
picture of the Madonna that hung on the wall.

We dragged him out, and led him toward the hotel.

“What do I care about her?” he growled. “Damned spig! Let ’er _call_ a
policeman. I’ll lick ten Mexican policemen!”

At the hotel, after we had persuaded him not to hit the General, he
favored our friend with another discourse on the relative prowess of
Americans and “Greasers.”

“Any time we get good and ready, we’ll come down here and take this
rotten republic and make a decent place out of it! We’ll clean up your
spig army in two weeks! All you guys can do is knife people in the
back! When you have a war, you point your rifles around the corner of
a building and pull the trigger without lookin’ where you shoot! Any
good Yank can lick ten of you--ten of you--with one arm tied behind his
back!”

The General’s face darkened. I watched him, rather hoping that the
slender little Mexican would proceed to mop up the floor with the
valiant soap-salesman. Beneath his politeness, I knew, there was a
sensitive, proud nature quick to resent an insult. Yet so ingrained
were his traditions of courtesy that--even while a tigerish gleam in
his eyes betrayed his wrath--he merely smiled.

“The _señor_,” he said, “is feeling very lively to-night.”


VI

As he walked away, we feared that he had no further use for gringos,
but on the following morning, as we sat in the _plaza_, the General
came up to embrace us with more than his usual ardor. He was feeling
“very lively” himself. He announced that he had been up all night, and
that he was now ready to wander over to the shady side of town to call
upon a few of the “girls.”

When we suggested that it was too early in the day, and advocated
rest rather than recreation, he was agreeable, as always. He was even
tractable. He would allow us to lead him back to the hotel; at the door
he would embrace us again, promising to go straight to bed; fifteen
minutes later he would come strolling up to us in the _plaza_, falling
upon our necks as though it were our first meeting, and repeating his
suggestion about calling upon the girls.

“How about your fiancée in Mazatlán?” Eustace inquired.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“But she is in Mazatlán! And I am in Culiacán!”

“Don’t you love her?”

“Love her! Ah, _señor_, who would not love her! So good, so pure, so
true, so beautiful, so like an angel in Heaven! For two whole years I
have dreamed of her! Throughout the two years that I was _Villista_ in
Chihuahua!

“Listen, _señor_. Two years ago I left Mazatlán. She promised that she
would marry me. But I was penniless, _señor_. And in Mexico, the man
must buy his bride’s trousseau. I was mechanic, and I went to Sonora
to work in the mines. I was in the village of San Pedro when the
_Villistas_ came through. Some youths from the town fired upon the
rear-guard, killing Villa’s cousin. And Villa ordered that every man
in San Pedro should die in punishment. They herded me with the others
in the public square, and took us out, twenty at a time, to the church
wall, where our youths were slaughtered with pistol and machine-gun.
But they spared me, for I was mechanic, and Villa had use for mechanic.

“Of course, I became _Villista_. Who, _señor_, would not? And I fought
Carranza with the others. Why not? Who was Carranza but a general
more fortunate than Villa, who captured Mexico City, and made himself
president? I fought with Villa all through Chihuahua. Yes, I helped to
fire upon Columbus, in your own New Mexico, but I liked Americans, and
I fired in the air. I would have come home, but I had no money for the
journey. There came a day when we took Juarez. I was lieutenant then. I
captured a building with my men. It was gambling house. There was gold
upon the tables, and I filled my pockets. Why not, _señor_? Some one
else would have taken it. I ran away from the _Villistas_. I rode four
hundred miles--four hundred miles, _señor_--through the mountains and
across the Yaqui desert.”

Unconsciously he struck a dramatic pose.

“Would I have done that, _señor_, if I did not love the girl?”

Then he climbed into a coach, and rode away toward a questionable
destination with a gay little wave of his hand.


VII

I was inclined to doubt the General’s story.

He was manifestly a poseur. He possessed, among other qualities, an
inordinate desire to attract attention. He knew, for instance, that he
was handsome, and would spend hours combing his dark hair, or powdering
his face. He loved to be stared at by the young girls in the _plaza_.
He basked in admiration and reveled in adulation or flattery.

His vanity manifested itself also in a desire to be photographed. If
I wished to snap a landscape or a street scene, Eustace had almost
to hold him, lest he arrange himself artistically in the immediate
foreground. Upon his return from the red light district that morning,
he announced that he had promised its inmates to bring us there with
our camera for a group picture.

He led us to the outskirts of town to a region where several slatternly
brown females sat upon the curb in negligée, smoking cheap cigars, and
introduced us in a speech which seemed more elaborate than such an
informal occasion required. The ladies, surprised as Mexicans always
are when some one keeps an agreement, begged that we wait while they
beautified themselves, and we waited for over an hour. They appeared
eventually, in silk finery, with an eighth of an inch of powder laid
upon a facial coating of glycerine.

Then ensued the difficulties that confront every photographer in Latin
America. They protested against venturing into the sunlight. Sunlight
would ruin the complexion! When, in response to explanations, they did
step out from the shade, they kept raising their hands to shelter their
faces. And finally, when we had them properly grouped with the General
in the center, some one exclaimed that she must be holding her doll,
and while she searched for the doll, the group broke up and scurried
out of the sunlight.

At length, the picture being taken, they all clamored to see it at
once. To my statement that it had to be developed by a photographer,
they listened with suspicion. Their familiarity with the itinerant
tin-type man had bred a distrust of my slow methods. Yet they, with the
politeness that extends in Latin America even to the underworld, did
not voice the suspicion. And when, in the afternoon, we returned with
what we considered an excellent picture, they rushed excitedly to view
it.

There was a disappointed silence. They did not intend to be rude, but
their grief escaped them.

“I’m not smiling!”

“My face came out dark!”

My camera, being a _Gringo_ camera, had insulted them by its blunt
frankness. But they tried to conceal their disappointment. They thanked
us profusely. And they carried away the film, to destroy it as soon as
our backs were turned.

“You were very foolish,” said the General afterwards. “You did not have
to take a real picture. You should have pointed the camera and clicked
something else. It would have pleased them.”


VIII

Strangely enough, the more hypocrisy one discovered in the little
General, the more one liked him.

It was a hypocrisy leavened by kindliness and humor. And to him, as to
other Latin-Americans, it was not hypocrisy at all, for his was a code
of life wherein our Anglo-Saxon standards were completely inverted.

Each race has developed its own ideas as to what is important in human
conduct. The Anglo-Saxon, being by nature blunt and frank, regards
truth as a supreme virtue. When he discovers something wrong, he sets
about correcting it. The Latin-American, being by nature suave and
courteous, regards truth as an irritating and offensive bad habit. When
he discovers something wrong, he politely ignores it.

From our viewpoint, the Latin-American appears shallow and superficial.
He lives a life of pretense, completely satisfied so long as outward
effect is properly maintained. He lies cheerfully and gracefully as
a matter of good form. He offers one short change with a knightly
gesture. If reminded gently that he has made an “error” in his count,
he is extremely grateful for the correction. If informed that he has
cheated, he becomes highly indignant that his honor has been so rudely
questioned. He wears handsome clothes and shabby underwear. He usually
lets the tailor wait indefinitely for payment, and when pressed to
settle a bill, he says with impressive dignity, “Because you insult me
in your implication that I am not to be trusted, I shall not pay you
for another month!”

He is inordinately fond of parading himself in public. He deliberately
caters to theatrical taste. He is by nature no more impulsive than an
Anglo-Saxon, but upon the right occasion, since it attracts attention
and distinguishes him as a temperamental creature, he indulges in
great emotion. He makes a wild demonstration of enthusiasm over
friends. He affects much grief over the death of his mother-in-law. He
grows furious at times, but usually in the absence of the enemy, in
the presence of an enemy whom he believes he can lick, or under the
influence of alcohol. He is courageous enough--frequently to a point
of recklessness which the Anglo-Saxon seldom equals--but usually when
he believes the object worth the risk, or when vanity overcomes his
judgment, to lure him into a dramatic scene before an admiring audience.

He understands the shallow pretenses of his fellows, but he accepts
them as real, just as they accept his. He professes unlimited faith
and confidence in their loyalty and integrity, although he suspects
that they can be trusted only so long as it is to their advantage. He
knows them to be--like himself--indolent, undependable, and potentially
dishonest, yet he makes eloquent speeches to them, extolling their
energy, reliability, and general uprightness. By a process of
self-hypnotism, he convinces himself momentarily that he means these
lavish professions. When they respond with similar praises of his own
worth, he glows all over with a very much gratified self-satisfaction.

Generalizations of this sort, I admit, are always unjust. Out of the
mass of the Latin-American population stand many splendid individuals
to whom this character analysis does not apply. Even in the mass,
the various characteristics are subject to variation from country to
country. But on the whole, from an Anglo-Saxon viewpoint, these people
appear idealists in speech and materialists in action. One hand counts
the rosary while the other scratches fleas. Judged by the Anglo-Saxon,
they have few real virtues. Yet one must remember that each race has
its own standards, created out of an unconscious desire to glorify
itself by worshiping as virtues the qualities which it happens to
possess. Judged by their own standards, their vices are virtues, and
our virtues are vices.

It is the Latin-American’s many faults that make him likeable. His
own defects, which he understands but refuses to admit, have made him
extremely tolerant toward the defects of others. Being supersensitive,
he is considerate of a stranger’s feelings. Loving flattery, he
is lavish in its bestowal. Being vain, he is eager to make a good
impression, and frequently proves generous and hospitable. Being
indolent, he has infinite leisure for entertainment. At all times he is
friendly, agreeable, and courteous.

To-day, several years after my first visit to Mexico, when I have lived
among the natives of twenty-six different lands, and met travelers from
many others, there is no people whose company I have enjoyed more than
that of the Latin-Americans. And no one individual who proved a more
pleasant companion than the little Mexican General.


IX

He was still with us when Eustace and I set out upon the last stage of
our railway journey to Mazatlán.

So, incidentally, was the soap-salesman.

The train brought us to the end of the long stretch of desert that
extended from Sonora far down into Sinaloa. An occasional palm tree
rose among the cactus. Adobe huts gave way to structures of cane and
thatch. A delicious balminess in the air heralded the approach of the
tropics. A tang of salt came from the Pacific breezes, and the sea
itself loomed presently before us, a glorious blue beneath a cloudless
sky.

The little General leaned from the window, his eyes shining.

“Home! Home at last, _señores_!”

Then the eyes darkened, with a somber melancholy that came at times
into their depths. I suspected, as often I had suspected, that he was
playing his dramatic rôle to gain our sympathy.

“You are worrying about the authorities?” I asked.

But he spoke without effort at effect:

“There is danger. I have informed them of my coming. But I can prove
that Villa took me prisoner--that I could not help myself.”

“The girl will be waiting for you, of course?”

“I have not informed _her_. It will be a surprise! Such a surprise,
_señores_!”

He did not know that she had already married a rival. He never did
know. Somewhere at the edge of the desert, the train stopped, and a
party of federal soldiers came aboard. A _Carranzista_ officer walked
quickly up the aisle, scanning the faces of the passengers. Before the
little General, he paused.

“Ramón Vásquez?”

“_Sí, señor._”

“Come with me.”

The General rose. He was strangely calm. He seemed suddenly to have
gained in stature. There was a quiet pride in his bearing--a poise--a
distinction. He shook hands with each of us, even with the American who
had insulted him.

“There is an army post here, _señores_. I had hoped to go home to-night
to see the girl. But it is better, perhaps, that the investigation come
first. Remember, _señores_, in Mazatlán _my_ house is _your_ house.”


X

There was no investigation.

The soldiers cast a noose about his neck, and threw the other end over
the limb of a tree. A horseman made it fast to his saddle. For the
moment, so unbelievable was the proceeding, I was stunned. Then, my
heart pounding as though the noose were about my own neck, I hurried
with Eustace to the scene, protesting.

The General smiled at us.

“You are good friends,” he said. “I am grateful. But you can
not help me, and you may invite trouble for yourselves. If in
Mazatlán you should meet the _Señorita_”--and he whispered her name
reverently--“please to tell her that I would have come. Good-by, my
friends.”

He glanced toward the car window, where the other American stared with
blanched face. And he laughed. Then, with characteristic vanity, he
stroked back the hair from his forehead.

“If any one shoots,” he said, “please not to shoot at the face.”

The horseman dug his spurs into the beast, and the rope tightened. The
tree was not high enough. The little General reached earthward with
his toes, barely touching the ground with them, balancing there in an
instinctive effort to preserve life, even for a moment. The officer
gave an order. The men unslung their rifles, and fired a scattering
volley.


XI

As the smoke cleared away, the train crawled slowly onward toward
Mazatlán. For a long time, no one spoke. When Eustace finally broke the
silence, it was in a futile effort to turn our minds to another subject.

“We’ll get there just in time to catch the boat south.”

The soap-salesman came out of his reverie with a start.

“I don’t know as I’ll go south. I think I’ll catch a boat north to
Frisco. You can’t do business with these spi--with these Mexicans.”



CHAPTER VI

THOSE DARK-EYED SEÑORITAS!


I

It was evening when the train brought Eustace and myself into Mazatlán.
Since the fortnightly steamer was scheduled to sail for the south at
eight o’clock, we leaped into a cab, and ordered the _cochero_ to drive
like fury.

He whipped up his slumbering nags, and we rattled toward the wharf,
through conventional narrow streets lined with the traditional
fortress-like houses of Latin America. But--although it may have been
the effect of the tropical climate--it seemed that each balcony or
window was occupied by a _señorita_ infinitely more attractive than any
that had occupied the same sort of balcony or window in the same sort
of dwellings in any of the previous cities.

“Whoa!” called Eustace. “In the interests of journalism, let’s have a
longer look at this town!”

But before the interests of journalism were fully satisfied, the
steamer whistled from the harbor, and our _cochero_ whipped up his
horses again. On we rattled until we came to the _plaza_. It was an
unusually attractive _plaza_. There were royal poincianas, tinkling
fountains, and--

“Whoa!” called Eustace. “In the int--”

The _plaza_ also appeared to be inhabited by what evidently was the
most abundant product of Mazatlán. But the steamer whistled again, and
the whip crackled, and we careened wildly around sharp corners to the
harbor. It was a delightful harbor. A semi-circle of driveway bordered
it--a driveway lined with graceful cocoa-palms that whispered softly
in the gentle breeze. A newly risen moon peeped through their fronds,
and sparkled along the wide expanse of sea, tipping each wave with a
streak of silver as the swells rolled in from the Pacific to shatter
themselves in gleaming spray against the rocks before us. From the
thatched cottages of the fisher-folk across the bay there drifted to us
the tinkle of a guitar. And from the city behind us sounded the chimes
of a cathedral clock. It was striking eight--the hour our steamer was
to sail.

“Hurrah!” we shouted. “We’ve missed it!”


II

We had just acquired the mental attitude requisite to appreciation of
Mexico--a state of unworried and unhurried tranquillity such as enables
the Mexican himself to sit all day on a _plaza_ bench, enjoying the
balmy southern breezes, smoking innumerable cigarettes, discussing
nothing in particular, watching the other idlers, and admiring the
beauties--both animate and inanimate--of the whole pleasant scene.

Mazatlán had been designed for people with such a mental attitude. The
climate was balmy. The whole city was quaintly Mexican. There was not a
tourist sight in town. There was, in short, nothing to do except to sit
in the _plaza_--such a _plaza_ as might be found in any other Mexican
city, a little square park with a music kiosk in the center, surrounded
by palms and ferns and shaded walks, and with an aged white cathedral
for its background. Sitting there, one saw the entire population pass
in review, for as elsewhere in Mexico, the _plaza_ was at once a club,
a meeting place, a music-hall, a playground, and even a marriage market.


III

On my first morning, fortunately a Sunday morning, while I still
retained a slight vestige of Anglo-Saxon energy, I was there at
daybreak, determined to observe minutely what transpired.

At 6.30, the only other occupants of the benches were several ragged
beggars.

At 7.00, the Mazatlán Street Cleaning Department, both members
barefoot, appeared upon the scene, dragging a long hose, whereupon the
beggars cautiously adjourned to the steps of the municipal building.

At 7.29, the first bootblack stopped to point accusingly at my shoes.
No sooner had he polished them than a dozen other bootblacks stopped to
point at them, evidently presuming that shoe-polish acted like alcohol,
and that I would now suffer from an insatiable craving for more.

At 7.30, I discovered that wiggling a finger--the Latin-American
gesture for “No!”--required less energy than shaking the head.

At 7.47, the first excitement! A policeman’s whistle screamed an alarm!
The policeman was chasing a small and very ragged urchin diagonally
across the park. The urchin appeared to be gaining, but just as they
reached the corner, out popped another policeman, also tooting his
whistle, and both pursued the youth up the north side of the square,
until joined by a third officer, similarly shrilling the alarm. They
disappeared around the cathedral, and the _plaza_ idlers settled back
into their seats. Popular sentiment seemed to be with the urchin.

At 7.48, a party of dogs invaded the _plaza_ fountain to enjoy a bath.

At 7.49, a party of _peons_ drove the dogs out of the fountain to enjoy
a drink.

At 7.50, the ragged urchin reappeared, having doubled around the
cathedral. There were now six cops in pursuit, still tooting their
whistles. Pursued and pursuers ran diagonally back across the _plaza_.
At the southeast corner, a seventh policeman dived out from behind a
rubbish can, and effected the capture. All marched away with a dignity
that emphasized the majesty of the law. The _plaza_ idlers settled
back again. No one inquired the wherefore of the chase. All seemed
sufficiently pleased that there had been such diversion.

At 8.00, the cathedral bells rang, not solemnly as though in invitation
to mass, but rapidly and aggressively, commanding attendance.

At 8.01, two middle-aged male _peons_ entered the church. They
wore their shirts outside the pants, in Indian fashion, and were
unconcernedly holding hands, like a pair of children.

At 8.35, more excitement! Policemen’s whistles were tooting again. This
time a pig had invaded the _plaza_. Evidently pigs were not allowed
there except when muzzled and on leash. Six policemen, assisted by a
full corps of bootblacks, chased the snorting little porker around palm
trees and through the flower beds.

At 8.37, the policemen formed an escort, and marched away again, still
with dignity and majesty, escorting the latest captive to the police
barracks.

At 9.00, the cathedral bell resumed its unhallowed racket.

At 9.08, Carmen Rosa María de la Concepción Purísima Rodríguez, who
lived upstairs opposite the _plaza_, commenced her piano lesson,
playing those rippling little Spanish melodies, with occasional pauses
while she searched for the bass note.

At 9.09, I decided to stroll to the other side of the park.

At 9.10, I found Eustace sitting on a bench with a
distinguished-looking middle-aged American who, I hoped, would gratify
my ideas of romance by proving an absconded bank cashier. But he was
introduced as a mining man by the name of Werner. He was eating oranges
and tossing the peels into the shrubbery, meanwhile bowing to the
celebrities who passed. “Here comes General _Cómo-se-Llama_, the worst
cut-throat in Mexico. Hello, General, _muy buenas días_, how are you?”

At 9.11, a second general passed, in a uniform which he had designed
himself--sky blue cap, bright red coat, and green trousers, all
embellished with gold braid. He was five feet high, and four feet wide.
“They use him for dress parade,” said Werner.

At 9.12, a third general passed, marching through the street, followed
by eight soldiers.

At 9.49, the first pretty _señoritas_, on their way to mass with a
forbidding-looking mother, stopped to rest on the bench opposite.
The girls wore the latest Parisian modes, but mother still clung to
the old-fashioned _rebozo_, or shawl. Each wore a little black lace
_mantilla_ pinned to the hair. One girl noted that we were looking at
her, and her eyes twinkled appreciatively. She whispered to the other
girl, and both smiled.

At 9.51, after an accusing glance from mother, we decided to stroll
around the _plaza_. “They’ll consider it an insult,” said Werner. “They
expect you to stay here and talk together about how lovely they are,
just loud enough for them to hear it.”

At 10.26, the musicians gathered for their Sunday morning concert.
Having tuned up, they continued to blow and toot, indulging the
Mexicans’ love of noise. Half of them were unshod; all were brown; none
looked like accomplished artists. I dreaded the racket they’d make when
all tooted at once.

At 10.30, they played the most beautiful band music I had ever heard.

At 10.52, society emerged from the cathedral. Barefoot _peons_ withdrew
from the _plaza_ to make room for the aristocrats.

At 11.00, the beggars became active. The blind men closed their eyes,
and the cripples started to flop. They wriggled from bench to bench;
they suffered themselves to be led by little children; they crawled
in snake-like twists and propelled themselves in frog-like jumps;
they hobbled upon crutches; they stumped upon legless knees; they
turned over on their backs and squirmed upside down. At each bench,
they would whine in plaintive voice, “A little penny, for the sake
of God, _señores_!” The Mexicans liked this. They regarded beggars
as an institution that enabled them to gratify personal vanity by
giving alms. It did not cost much. And they regarded curse or blessing
with superstitious respect. So the procession hopped and flopped and
squirmed and for-god-saked unmolested all around the park.

At 11.10, the Promenade was in full swing. The elders kept a watchful
eye on their daughters from the benches. The youths draped themselves
gracefully on their canes along the outer walk. The girls, in merry
groups of twos and threes and fours, arm in arm, swung past on
exhibition--dainty little creatures, fairly radiating sweetness and
modesty, yet keenly aware of the masculine admiration they aroused,
quick to notice if a youth’s gaze lingered, ready to exchange opinions
in whispered conference, ready even to respond with a brief flash of
eyes, supremely self-assured, yet never bold. From childhood they
had paraded this _plaza_, accustoming themselves to the sensation of
being on exhibition. They liked to be looked at. It brought a flush
to their cheeks, and a luster to their dark eyes. This was their only
opportunity, in an existence of semi-seclusion, to see and to be seen.
There were stolid-looking maids in the procession, carrying babies all
done up in silks and laces. There were little girls of ten and twelve,
already practicing coquetry. And there were innumerable maidens of
fifteen and twenty, suitable for marriage, and watching the circle
of young men for an indication that to-day’s parade had awakened the
divine fire.

At 11.20, the first youth fell. He detached himself from the onlookers
and--accompanied by a companion who carefully showed his neutrality by
a super-nonchalance of manner--followed one of the damsels around and
around the square, affecting a melting expression of countenance, and
beseeching her with melancholy eyes for a backward glance. The girl’s
companions nudged her and giggled; the girl herself pretended to be
unaware that she was followed; but the flush heightened in her cheeks,
and her eyes sparkled.

At 11.59, the families reassembled, and moved homeward, each a parade
by itself. The enamored youth gazed in the proper affectation of
despair after his departing maiden, and gave an imitation of a candle
that has been extinguished.

At 12.00, Werner announced that the bench-slats had stamped him with an
accordion-pleated design, and left us.

At 12.01, two surviving _señoritas_--the two of the 9.49
episode--stopped at our bench, and seated themselves coyly at the far
end.

At 12.02, a boy sold us three bags of peanuts for a nickel.

At 12.04, not knowing what to do with the third bag of peanuts, I
offered it to the _señoritas_, and was rewarded with a “_Gracias_”
which could not have been sweeter had the offering been a five-pound
upholstered box of the most expensive chocolates.

At 12.05, the observations inscribed in my now-faded notebook during
those first vestiges of Anglo-Saxon energy, appear for some reason to
have ceased.


IV

As I recall that first conversation with Herminia and Lolita, it ran
somewhat as follows:

Were we from the United States? _Ay_, what a wonderful country must
be the United States! How they would love to go to a land where women
enjoyed such freedom! And American men respected women more than
did the Mexicans. But how long were we remaining in Mazatlán? So
short a time! Why did we not stay longer? Did we not think Mexican
girls as attractive as American girls? _Ay_, but we were very polite
to say such nice things! Still, did we not have wives at home? Not
even sweethearts? No? Then why should one be in such haste to leave
Mazatlán? _Ay, Dios!_ The cathedral clock was striking twelve and a
half, and their family would scold them for lingering so long! But
they came to the _plaza_ every evening at eight. Yes, always at eight.
_Adios!_ And again _muchas gracias_ for the peanuts!


V

The _plaza_ became a very definite habit to Eustace and myself. At
home, we could never have loitered day after day in a park, doing
nothing, but in Mexico one could. The other idlers were always
interesting. Some amusing little incident was always happening. Yet
nothing ever seemed to disturb the prevailing restful calm.

Herminia and Lolita were always there at eight.

They were slender little girls, with the delicately molded features and
the immense dark eyes characteristic of their race. They were adept,
too, in the use of those eyes--as all Spanish girls are adept--yet
if, to a casual observer they appeared flirtatious, they proved upon
further acquaintance--as all Spanish girls prove--to be quite the most
shy, and modest, and altogether circumspect little misses to be found
anywhere in the world.

For some inexplicable reason, the Spanish _señorita_ has been most
inaccurately portrayed in our fiction and drama as a wild vampire,
modeled after the operatic Carmen, until the average American pictures
her as a fiery adventuress who lifts one shoulder higher than the other
and curls her sensuous lips into a sinister smile destined to wreck
the life of every passing bullfighter.

[Illustration: THE MEXICAN SEÑORITA HAS ALWAYS BEEN PORTRAYED IN OUR
FICTION AS A WILD VAMPIRE]

In real life, the Mexican maiden--and one might include her sisters of
Spanish ancestry--is, with all her mischievous smiling--the most timid,
sedate and well-behaved little miss that can be found anywhere. She
lives at home in semi-seclusion. She never appears in public without a
chaperon, except possibly to stroll with another maiden to the shops or
the _plaza_. She is at all times guarded against the machinations of
wicked males--who are always assumed to be predatory animals until they
indicate very definitely that they intend marriage, and who are by no
means to be trusted even then--and she never meets a man except where
others are present or when the window-bars afford insulation for her
virtue.

In the more cosmopolitan centers, where the daughters of the wealthier
families have been educated abroad, and where parents have adopted a
foreign viewpoint, this close guardianship is often relaxed. But in the
smaller city, like Mazatlán, the _señorita_ is still the victim of a
social system carefully designed to protect her against a race of men
whose mind dwells almost exclusively on sex.

The Mexican--even more than most of his brothers of Spanish
ancestry--while he publicly extols women as the most exquisite
handiwork of God, privately regards them as instruments exclusively
for the gratification of natural instincts. Although he may talk
eloquently of love, he is incapable of any infatuation which is not
based primarily upon sex appeal. But, since he is a jealous creature,
and since he knows that his brothers, like himself, would take
advantage of any opportunity for seduction, he demands that his wife be
a model of unquestionable propriety.

And the Mexican maiden, brought up to believe that her only aim in
life is to attract a husband, smiles quite alluringly, and leads
conversation to sentimental themes, yet remains most circumspect. In
her smile there is a promise, but her family will see that the promise
is not fulfilled until marriage.

Even in love there is nothing genuinely impulsive about the Latin of
either sex. He, originally, is motivated by the desire to possess
something more attractive and exclusive than the females which can
easily be found in Latin America, either in officially segregated
districts or among the servant classes. She, originally, is motivated
by a desire for home and children--a desire not unknown among the women
of other countries, but far keener in lands where, despite the inroads
of foreign custom, there is still but little amusement for women except
the care of babies.

Romance, in the beginning, is as carefully studied by the Latin as is
his politeness and his every other quality. Once begun, since he is an
adept at self-hypnotism, it may become a thing of tremendous emotion.
Yet the courtship at all times follows an extremely formal course. The
youth, charmed by a maiden’s smile (and having made inquiries about her
family), follows her home from the _plaza_ night after night, and leans
against the opposite wall to stare at her window until she, finally
captivated by his persistence (and having made inquiries about his
family), allows him to coo at her through the bars. At length he makes
a formal call, announces his intentions, and is duly accepted by her
parents, who thereafter welcome him to the parlor, but seldom allow him
alone with the daughter.

It is the ideal system for these people. It may seem absurd to a
_Gringo_, yet it is quite satisfactory to the Spanish-American. The
barriers that surround the girl prove to him that others have not been
able to reach her. If they prevent him from learning her disposition,
it does not particularly matter. He knows that she has been brought
up with the idea of becoming an obedient wife. He does not expect
intellectual stimulation from her companionship. He can see that
she is beautiful and desirable. And if there has been an element of
premeditation in the beginning of his courtship, his mental habit of
dwelling almost exclusively upon sex will soon arouse a keen desire
which the tantalizing window-bars merely aggravate.

Yet after marriage, children usually bring something akin to a
higher love. The man may not remain faithful, but he will provide for
his wife, and honor her, and accord her every respect. She, having
accomplished her chief aim in life, will forget herself in her devotion
to husband and offspring. She will grow fat and sloppy, and spend most
of her time preparing daughters for _their_ chief aim. But at all
times, unlike the Carmen of fiction, she will be modest and reserved,
and faithful to a degree seldom found elsewhere in the world.

If Herminia and Lolita gave us a longer flash of eyes than was
customary, at eight o’clock in the _plaza_, they were not adopting
Carmen’s tactics. They were merely two of many girls in a small city
which, like most small cities, was equipped with comparatively few men
to smile at.


VI

At that time, Eustace and I knew very little about Spanish custom.

We looked upon our mild flirtation as a pleasant and instructive way of
spending the evening while waiting for another boat.

Herminia and Lolita would pass us two or three times, always with that
promising flash of eyes, and a murmured “_Adios_.” Presently they would
stop at a bench beyond, and glance back. Thereupon we would rise,
stroll around the park as we had seen Mexican youths do, and stop
casually, as though by accident, at the girls’ bench.

And conversation, as I recall it, invariably ran somewhat as follows:

_Ay_, but one was surprised that to-night we came to _their_ bench!
After the way we had stared at Carmen Rosa María de la Concepción
Purísima Rodríguez, one expected that we might have gone to _her_
bench. _Ay_, but both of them had seen! And Carmen Rosa María was the
most beautiful girl in Mazatlán, no? No? Then who was? Ay, _gracias,
gracias, señores_! So nice it was that we should say so! Did we really
think so? Ay, but we were _simpatico_--_muy simpatico_--to say it!

Then commenced the Spanish lesson. It seemed, at times, a trifle
impractical, for it was usually limited to phrases conveying admiration
of feminine charm. If the male Latin-American revels in flattery, the
female lives upon it, and these two _señoritas_ were merely typical
of most of their sisters in Mexico. A young man in their country was
expected to spend the entire evening raving about their beauty. It
mattered not how elaborate were his phraseology; he could expand his
theme to a degree which would have brought any American flapper to her
feet with the disgusted exclamation of, “How do you get that way? Do
you think I’m a dumb-bell?”, yet here it was not only accepted, but
demanded. This, as any traveling Gringo soon discovers in Mexico, was
the theme most interesting to a _señorita_.

I suspected, at times, that I lacked the true grace of the Spanish
cavalier. Since my command of the language was still somewhat limited,
it was necessary to repeat the same phrases with tiresome regularity. I
became aware of a foreboding, as we sat there beneath the coco-palms,
that if I recited those phrases once more, all the cocoanuts would drop
on me.

But when I suggested, as a change of entertainment, that we stroll over
to a little café on the harbor-front for ice cream, the _señoritas_
were quite shocked.

_Ay_, but one was now in Mexico! It was not custom! People would talk!
And was it true that in the United States the girls--nice girls--could
do such things? One had heard so, but it sounded incredible. One had
even heard that young people went away, without chaperones, to theaters
or dances. And was this true? One had actually heard that there were
petting parties. How delightfully wicked! _Ay_, what a wonderful place
must be the United States!

There was a pleasing simplicity about these little convent-sheltered
maidens. If they craved flattery until it seemed a bit monotonous,
one could at least pay it with veracity. And the _plaza_, although it
was overpopulated with observers, was always pleasant. One had the
illusion, particularly in the evening, that it was a theater where
one collaborated with the rest of the populace in enacting a polite
comedy-drama. The palms and ferns hung lifeless in the tropic calm, and
the red hibiscus resembled paper flowers. The old cathedral transformed
itself into a backdrop. The strains of the band came to one as from an
orchestra hidden off-stage. There was something unreal about the soft
whispers and the rippling laughter of the other youths and maidens.
And when, as the chimes announced the hour of ten, the _señoritas_
betook themselves homeward with cheerful little calls of “_Adios_ until
to-morrow!”, I waited expectantly for a curtain to descend.

One evening, after the girls had departed, Werner stopped at our bench.

“Just thought I’d warn you,” he said. “I know you don’t mean any harm.
There’s something about this place that makes one lonesome for feminine
company. But down here, unless you show very definitely that you intend
marriage, they take it for granted you’re up to monkey business. So
just go easy, or you’ll have their family jumping on your necks.”

We thanked him. It was timely advice. And when, on the following
evening, the girls suggested that we meet the family, we agreed. It
seemed advisable as an indication of the highly sanitary state of our
consciences.

Theirs was the usual one-story dwelling of solid masonry
characteristic of the country. A faded and crumbling plaster front
concealed a pleasing, albeit conventional interior. The living room
was floored with cool tiling. The furnishings--except for a piano with
yellowed keys, and a marble-topped table littered with forbidding
pictures of stout female ancestors--consisted mainly of stiff-backed
chairs formally arranged in a row along each wall; yet the conventional
effect was relieved somewhat by numerous white lace doilies on the
seats, or by potted palms which gave the room the semblance of a garden.

The family proved gracious, but not entertaining. Papa and mama assured
us that the house was ours--as is customary when a stranger enters
the Latin-American home. Then, one by one, they brought forward their
relatives and presented them--a daughter or two, several sons, a few
cousins, nephews or nieces, a flock of aunts, some assorted uncles or
brothers-in-law with their respective families, and finally grandma.
Having informed us in turn that they were our servants, they took
seats until the walls were lined with them, and silence fell upon the
gathering.

Papa opened the conversation with a pleasant inquiry regarding the
object of our visit to Mazatlán. Ah, we were writers! An admiring nod
ran around the circle, finally reaching grandma, where it stopped
momentarily until Uncle Somebody transmitted our answer through an
ear trumpet. Grandma seemed a trifle perplexed, as though she did not
know just what writers might be, but she nodded politely. Thus the
conversation proceeded, papa acting as spokesman for the entire party,
until--after the ordeal had continued for an hour or more--a servant
entered with glasses of vermouth, and our reception closed in a toast
proposed by papa to the “very distinguished guests, who have honored
our humble household to-night.”

Our necks seemed to be free from the likelihood of assault, for upon
the following evening the girls announced that they had permission to
stroll beyond the _plaza_, as far as the driveway that bordered the
harbor.

“Never have our parents permitted it with our own countrymen,” they
added. “Our people trust Americans more than themselves.”

To show our appreciation, we took the girls home each night, even
though it involved another session at which the family lined up around
the wall to nod while papa conducted another tedious conversation. Yet,
if we were occasionally bored, our two weeks passed rapidly.


VII

Our steamer finally whistled from the harbor. We had already purchased
our tickets, and were on our way to bid the _señoritas_ farewell, when
Werner intercepted us, waving a newspaper.

“Congratulations, boys! You’ve picked out mighty nice girls!”

Papa, it seems, had announced our engagement without consulting us. It
was in the daily journal of Mazatlán!

“Why, good Heavens! Look here, Werner, we haven’t said a word to them!
We called at the house every night, and we walked along the Olas Altas,
with the permission of the family, but--”

“Oh, you called at the house every night! That’s the worst thing
you could have done, my boys! That’s considered an avowal down
here--especially since the town’s full of marriageable daughters with
scarcely any men in sight! And it’s taken for granted, of course, that
all Americans are millionaires. So you’re engaged all right. Now, what
are you going to do about it?”

“I can’t think of any suggestion,” said Eustace, “except that we run
like the devil for that boat.”

Werner shook his head.

“That means the girls are ruined for life. When a man breaks the
engagement, it’s assumed that he’s learned the girl wasn’t chaste, or
that he’s succeeded himself and doesn’t want her any more. No one else
would marry them after that. And it’s hell to be an old maid in Mexico.”

We were somewhat appalled. They were really very lovely little girls.
But a Gringo couldn’t pay compliments night after night for the next
fifty years. And one thought, too, of grandma and her ear trumpet, and
a solemn circle of relatives, and a table littered with pictures of
forbidding-visaged female ancestors.

“There’s one way out,” said Werner. “Say good-by to them as though you
were going on a short business trip. From Manzanillo wire me that you
were shot by bandits. That’ll clear the girls. Hurry now, or you’ll
miss another boat. And by the way, when you wire me that you’re dead,
don’t sign your own names.”


VIII

At 7.49 p.m., having recovered the last vestiges of my Anglo-Saxon
energy, I drove with Eustace to the house, and bade the family
farewell. The girls appeared a trifle distressed, but not so much
as we felt they ought to be. The family knew intuitively that we
were fleeing, but with true Mexican politeness they accepted our
explanations as though they believed.

At 7.52, we leaped back into the cab and ordered the cochero to drive
like fury.

At 7.56, we passed the _plaza_, but paused not in the interests of
journalism.

At 8.00, we sailed out of Mazatlán’s attractive harbor, where the
moonlight sparkled along the wide expanse of sea, and the tinkle of a
guitar came to us from the thatched cottages of the fisher-folk, as
though it were an accompaniment to the chimes of the old cathedral
clock that we knew so well. Eight o’clock! Herminia and Lolita would be
strolling in the _plaza_, where the strains of the band, as though from
an orchestra off-stage, blended with the ripple of the fountain, with
the voices of youths and maidens and the whispering of the palm trees!

At 8.01, Eustace discovered three peanuts in his pocket, and we
solemnly dumped them overboard.



CHAPTER VII

IN THE DAYS OF CARRANZA


I

The steamer plowed southward through a dazzling blue sea to Manzanillo,
the port of disembarkation for Mexico City.

Despite its commercial importance, this is one of the several places
on the Pacific Coast where a traveler, upon leaving his ship, takes
one hasty glance at the dirty black beach and the cluster of driftwood
shacks, grasps his nose firmly between thumb and forefinger, and makes
a dash for the daily train that will carry him somewhere else.

As soon as a boatman had rowed us ashore, Eustace and I hastened to the
telegraph office, and dispatched our message to Werner: “Foster and
Eustace slain by bandits.” Then we ran for the train. But, although an
excited crowd surrounded the station, there was no train in sight.

“There will be none to-day,” explained the agent. “Zamorra stopped it
just outside of town, wrecked it, and shot most of the passengers.”


II

By sheer coincidence, our message to Werner had been seemingly
confirmed. Following the news dispatch of this hold-up, which
undoubtedly would reach Mazatlán, the notice of our murder would carry
conviction. For the moment, we were delighted. Then the agent added:

“There may be no train for several weeks.”

And we found ourselves stranded in the filthiest hole in Mexico.
Manzanillo’s streets were of thick sand, inadequately paved in spots
with refuse or garbage, over which hovered millions of flies, and
about which a host of black buzzards were picking and quarreling. The
whole town was perched upon a narrow landspit between the murky bay
and a still murkier lagoon, and backed by low hills whose scraggly
jungle-growth the tropic sun had burned to a crisp. A few buildings
of wood or plaster rose to the majesty of a second story; the others
were low and of ramshackle structure, their driftwood composition
varied occasionally by patches of flattened tin that had once done
service as Standard Oil cans. The roofs were mainly of thatch. Interior
decoration, as glimpsed through doorless doorways, was limited to
pages from the local equivalents of the _Police Gazette_. Over the
whole unsightly place there hung an odor of rotted fish, emanating
from neighboring lagoons which had evaporated throughout the long dry
season to nothing more than a crust of reddish scum.

The principal virtue of the leading hotel--a wobbly two-story edifice
operated by a Chinaman--was that it possessed enough odors of its own
to neutralize the fishy breezes from the lagoon. The food was nauseous
and the water poisonous. The natives of the town quenched their thirst
at the stagnant jungle pools by rolling up a leaf into the semblance of
a funnel, poking it through the inch of scum that covered the water,
and drinking the fluid beneath with ecstatic sucks. Cautious foreigners
were forced to patronize the hotel bar, where the beer ascended in
temperature from lukewarm in the morning to some degree near boiling
point in mid-afternoon.

Determined to make the best of our indefinite residence, we looked
about for amusement.

There was always the beach. Its sand was black, and the rollers assumed
the shade of molasses. The women of the town, since Mexican women are
too modest to wear short-skirted bathing suits, always took their bath
in a clumsy white linen gown which reached to the ankles, but which, as
soon as it was wet, became completely diaphanous. They were as dark,
usually, as the beach, and the silhouette effect was highly educational.

When the sights of the waterfront had received due attention, we
retired to the lagoons to hunt alligators. In the larger pools, which
had not completely evaporated, we could see the corrugated tails of
the big caymans tracing a leisurely path across the surface, and
occasionally by making our way silently along the brush-grown shore,
we could surprise a greenish-gray monster asleep on the mud-flats. Our
diminutive pistols seemed to have little effect on their tough hide;
our shots brought only a splash as the quarry plunged into the lagoon;
a few bubbles would rise, and a muddy discoloration of the water would
indicate that the alligator was safely imbedded in the loamy bottom of
the pool. We tried to lasso one of them, with a loop of rope on the end
of a pole, but the monster vanished, as usual, carrying with him the
stoutest cord to be purchased in Manzanillo.

From alligator-hunting we turned to a study of natural history in
general. The town and its environs offered plenty of material. One
could scarcely walk the streets without shooing buzzards out of the
way. Sooty black in color, with ashen-gray neck curved to suggest
hunched shoulders, they hopped about with rocketing step, pouncing with
hoggish squeals upon rotted carrion, and squabbling among themselves
over its possession. One was tempted always to try the pistols on
_them_, but they were protected by law, for without their services in
disposing of the mess which Latin-American servants are accustomed
to toss from the kitchen window, cities like Manzanillo would be
altogether uninhabitable.

Of insects there was an infinite variety. We did not have to seek them;
they sought us. One could not push through the jungle without being
bitten by ants on the bushes. In the town itself, half the population
seemed to find constant occupation in picking something out of the
other half’s hair. The _peon_ women would form a small circle, back to
back, and perform this friendly little operation with one-hundred-per
cent. efficiency. In the hotel room the scratchy noise of cockroaches
scrambling up and down the wall lulled us to sleep each night.

Eustace, not content with this material for study, took up snakes
in a serious fashion. He had once earned his way through college by
feeding the reptiles in a neighboring zoo, and had formed a strange
affection for them. He maintained that they recognized him as a friend
and refused to bite. In Manzanillo he discovered a family of young
serpents--squirmy green fellows which we could not identify but which
the natives regarded as extremely venomous--whereupon he brought a
handful of them to our room, and dumped his other possessions out of
his suit-case to make a home for them. Later, when I absent-mindedly
opened the same suit-case in search of cigars, and fled precipitately,
our Chinese proprietor was greatly incensed because for days afterward
the snakes would appear at the most unexpected moments in various
parts of the establishment, to the terror of servants and guests.

It not only worried his regular boarders, he said, but ruined trade
at the bar. After a drink of hot beer, when a patron saw these things
writhing across the counter--well, just yesterday the mayor himself had
overturned a whole tray of glasses, smashed two chairs in his haste to
reach the open air, and had not returned since! And the mayor was one
of his best customers!


III

The bandit attack upon the train had occurred so close to the city
that the _Carranzista_ garrison threw up temporary barricades on the
approaches to town.

Instead of sallying forth to pursue the bandits, however, the soldiers
contented themselves with a daily parade across the _plaza_, led by
a wheezy band of four pieces, intended presumably to reassure the
civilian population.

The local _commandante_ had suddenly assumed an air of great
importance. He was a tall man with broad but extremely thin shoulders,
with a wasp-like waist, and with legs that tapered toward the ground
until one marveled that he could maintain his equilibrium in a stiff
breeze. As though to accentuate the top-heavy effect, he wore the
largest-brimmed _sombrero_ in Mexico, a pair of moustachios that curled
in several spiral twists, a flowing red necktie, six kilometers of
cartridge belt, and a massive old rifle, while he clad his slender
ankles in skin-tight Spanish trousers of a type seldom seen to-day
except upon the stage.

Seeing him alone, one felt that the rank of general was too little for
him. Seeing him with his twenty valiant soldiers, one felt that the
grade of corporal was too much.

The first qualification for a federal soldier in Mexico appears to
be that he shall not exceed four feet in height. He comes invariably
from the very lowest rank of society, which in Mexico is extremely
low. He represents the poorest--and frequently the worst--specimen of
humanity in the republic. In the days of Carranza he was ununiformed,
except in the capital, and usually barefoot. He was generally dirty and
unshaven, and his principal occupation seemed to be that of lounging on
street-corners, insulting passing servant maids.

No motive of patriotism had prompted his enlistment. In some cases
he was a mere boy attracted by the privilege of carrying a rifle. In
others, he was a _peon_ drafted against his will. In others, he was
some old devil who could earn a living in no other fashion. Having
been issued his arms, he became a full-fledged soldier. No one drilled
him. He was allowed to wear whatever clothes he already possessed,
although a faded pair of overalls was considered especially _de
rigeur_. Sometimes he received a _peso_ a day, sometimes nothing. When
I was in Mazatlán, a federal paymaster newly arrived with a satchelful
of gold for the local garrison was giving such an elaborate series of
booze-parties to his friends, that one wondered how much the troops did
receive.

Such discipline as the soldiers possessed was due solely to fear of
their particular commander. Under a _strong_ man they made pretty fair
soldiers. Under a _weak_ man they were quite apt temporarily to turn
bandits themselves. Every train in Mexico in those days was accompanied
by a guard of them, but they seldom offered resistance in case of a
hold-up.

[Illustration: IN THE DAYS OF CARRANZA ONE FREQUENTLY SAW A BANDIT
HANGING AROUND THE RAILWAY]

“Why should they?” said an Old-Timer in Manzanillo. “The bandits don’t
attack unless they outnumber the guard. The soldiers haven’t much
chance. If the bandits win, they make a lot of money. If the soldiers
win, they get nothing. So they usually cut and run.”

“I suppose that’s what they did when Zamorra held up this train?”

“No. According to reports, they pitched in and helped Zamorra rob the
passengers.”

Even though our _Commandante_ marched across the _plaza_ each day
behind his wheezy band, Manzanillo was expecting an attack, and there
was considerable speculation as to what part the garrison would
play. But the gunboat _Guererro_--one half of the Mexican navy--finally
came down the coast from Guaymas, and landed a force of sailors.
Under their escort a party of workmen marched out to the scene of the
disaster, and we followed them.

It was a jolly little picture. Pedro Zamorra, the local _bandido_, had
twisted the rails and removed a few ties at a point where the train
came around a bend. All that remained of the cars was a mess of twisted
iron and a pile of splintered boards. A thousand ashen-gray buzzards
were picking and quarreling about the wreckage. A thousand more,
sleek and content, roosted upon the surrounding hillsides. From the
tangled débris the workmen extracted the few remaining bodies of the
passengers--very nonchalantly and unconcernedly, as though this were an
accustomed task--and heaped them into a gruesome pyramid. A few cans of
oil--a match--a bonfire. The buzzards glared in silent indignation at
this interruption of their holiday. And the workmen commenced the labor
of reconstruction.

[Illustration: PEDRO ZAMORRA HAD REMOVED A FEW TIES WHERE THE TRAIN
CAME AROUND A BEND]


IV

This was a common enough spectacle in those days to the residents of
Mexico.

For years the republic had been in the throes of civil war--ever since
the downfall of the great Dictator, Porfirio Diaz.

Diaz had built up his country by encouraging the foreign capitalist
and the foreign promoter. It had become one of the leading nations of
the world. But Mexican pride had been wounded at the admission that
foreigners were essential to Mexico’s development and prosperity.
Mexican jealousy had resented the fortunes which the foreigners were
reaping. Mexico had risen to cast out Diaz, and no other man had proved
capable of filling his place. Conditions had grown steadily worse,
until a dozen revolutionary leaders were squabbling for the presidency,
each of them ruling a portion of the republic and claiming to rule the
whole.

In an effort to bring order out of chaos the American government--under
Wilson and Bryan--had recognized Venustiano Carranza as “First Chief.”
With American arms and ammunition, which proved even more useful than
the American moral support, Carranza took Mexico City and elected
himself president. In the estimation of most Old-Timers in the country,
the American government might much better have recognized Pancho Villa
or any other bandit. For Carranza, of all the contenders for power,
was the leading exponent of the doctrine, “Mexico for the Mexicans!”
His first move was to promulgate a new constitution, in many ways a
splendid document, but one that gave every right to the workman and
none to the capitalist. The foreigner promptly withdrew. And Mexico, in
the hands of the Mexicans, enjoyed a complete economic collapse.

Without employment, the _peon_ everywhere turned to banditry as the
only profitable occupation. Rebel leaders continued to dominate many
sections of the republic--Villa in Chihuahua, Pelaez in the Oil Fields,
Felix Diaz in Vera Cruz, Meixuerio in Oaxaca, and others elsewhere. And
even in the territory nominally under Carranza control, gentlemen like
Pedro Zamorra were popping up from time to time to spread a few rails,
remove a few ties, pitch a railway train over a cliff, and provide
another holiday for the buzzards.


V

Each evening in Manzanillo, when the beer had lost its mid-day warmth,
two or three Old-Timers, stranded like ourselves, would gather at the
bar to discuss conditions.

The Old-Timer in Mexico is very much of a type.

He is usually a quiet, unassuming man, with grizzly gray hair, and
friendly blue eyes. He came from somewhere in the West or Middle West,
so long ago that he has forgotten just when. He owns a mine that has
ceased operation pending the arrival of better times. He is easy-going
and fatalistic, a trifle careless about dress, blunt in manner yet
with a natural kindliness, slow of movement from long residence in
the tropics, and very fond of talking about “these people,” by which
he means the Mexicans. During the last revolution they took all his
money away from him, and smashed up his mine, but he still cherishes an
affection for them. He is waiting hopefully for another Diaz to bring
prosperity back to Mexico.

He is a trifle reticent at first about talking. He is surprised that
the itinerant writer regards him as an interesting character. But he is
secretly very much pleased. Gradually he commences a yarn. It suggests
another, and that one suggests another, until they follow in rapid
succession.

Quoth one:

“I always used to carry a gun. Nowadays I’m afraid to. It’s getting
too dangerous. You can’t tell who’s a bandit. Some one comes riding up
to you, looking like any other _peon_, and just as he reaches you, his
blanket slides off his shoulder and you’re looking into the muzzle of
a six-shooter. Like as not, too, he’s got some pal covering you from
the brush. If you’re armed, they’re likely to make it a sure thing
by shooting you first and robbing you afterward. So, when I hit the
interior nowadays, I just take a bottle of _tequila_. When I meet a
bandit, I show him I haven’t anything worth taking, and offer him a
drink, and that ends it.”

Quoth another, a mining man from Durango:

“You see, there’s good bandits and bad bandits. Lots of ’em are chaps
as can’t make a living no other way. And some’s just kids that think
it’s smart, and do it because it’s so easy. Take Trinidad, down below
Rosario. Just a youngster, but he’s got the police buffaloed. Rides
into town in broad daylight and covers the barber with a Colt while he
gets shaved. Shoots up a dance-hall now and then, but don’t do much
real harm.

“Only trouble with Trini is that he likes women. He come down from the
hills one day with five of his gang, going to Rosario for something
or other, and on the way he seen a fifteen-year-old girl--daughter of
some rancher. Says he to the father, ‘I’ll stop to-morrow and take her
along home with me.’ Well, the father wasn’t thrilled at having Trini
for a son-in-law, especially so informal-like, so he sent to town for
protection, and got a couple of dozen soldiers. They was all asleep in
the shade next afternoon, when Trini gallops up, swings the girl on
his saddle--most of these country kids think it’s kind of romantic to
be taken away like that--and off he goes with her. The soldiers chased
him, of course, but he held them off in a mountain pass ’til dark, and
got away with her.

“That’s the way things are these days. I’m still trying to run my mine
up in Durango, and I’m paying taxes to Carranza for protection, but
I have to pay four different bandits to leave me alone. Even then, I
got to ship my ore unsmelted for a hundred miles. If I sent out pure
bullion, some other bandit would probably grab it.”

Quoth a third:

“There’s worse than Trini just north of here, up in Tepic. They were
capturing people so often that a prominent banker up in Mazatlán was
making a regular business of ransoming them. He went down one time with
five thousand pesos to buy another fellow’s liberty, and the bandits
grabbed him, and held him until his friends sent down five thousand
pesos more. So anybody who gets caught now is out of luck. Those
fellows have a nasty habit of cutting off your finger each week, and
sending it up, all nicely preserved in a bottle of alcohol so it can be
recognized, with a little reminder that unless the cash comes pretty
soon, they’ll send the head.”


VI

So worthless were the federal troops that many Americans whom I met
during my trip professed a preference for bandits.

[Illustration: SO WORTHLESS WERE THE FEDERAL TROOPS THAT MANY AMERICANS
PROFESSED A PREFERENCE FOR BANDITS]

One, operating a mine in Hidalgo in a town that had never contained
a Carranza garrison, had experienced no difficulty at all. Twice he
had been visited by members of Pelaez’s gang, and on both occasions
the rebels had paid for whatever they took from the company’s stores.
When the governor of Hidalgo announced that he was sending troops to
guard the mine--for which courtesy the mining company was supposed to
pay--the American protested that he needed no troops. The soldiers were
sent, despite the protest. On the night of their arrival, the company
stores were looted by “bandits.”

While I was in Manzanillo, thieves raided the ranch of Tom Johnson, an
American living a few miles south of the port. Among other plunder,
they took away five mules. A few days later a _Carranzista_ lieutenant
rode up to the ranch-house with the animals, announcing that he had
recaptured them, and demanding a reward.

“Reward!” exclaimed Johnson. “Why, you’re being paid by your government
to recapture stolen property. I won’t pay you a damned _centavo_!”

The lieutenant laughed.

“Very well, _señor_.”

And he rode away, taking the mules with him.

In recognizing Carranza, our State Department had merely created
trouble for Americans living in the territory controlled by other
leaders.

Several weeks later, in Vera Cruz, I was to meet Dr. Charles T.
Sturgis and his wife, who had been held prisoners for many months by
_Zapatistas_ in Chiapas. Dr. Sturgis, a retired dentist, had lived a
quiet life for years upon his farm in Southern Mexico, practicing his
profession gratis among the _peons_ of his neighborhood. One day a
party of rebels kidnapped him and his wife, and brought him to the
bandit camp on the Rio de la Venta, where they set the Doctor to work
on the bandits’ teeth, while Mrs. Sturgis was assigned to labor with
the native women. Mrs. Sturgis’ mother, who also had been kidnapped,
died after a few weeks. Neither the Doctor nor his wife were young, or
robust, yet Cal y Mayor, the _Zapatista_ chieftain, constantly added
insult and injury to their toil and privation.

“Why do you go out of your way to hurt us?” Mrs. Sturgis asked him.

“Because your Gringo president has recognized my enemy!” he answered.

For months they remained prisoners. The chieftain used Mrs. Sturgis as
a messenger to other bandits, on missions which he considered unsafe
for his own men, always holding her husband as hostage for her return.
At last, when illness had rendered the Doctor unfit for further work,
they were released, with one horse for the two of them, and with only
five _tortillas_ as food for their journey of sixty miles through a
tropical jungle. When, after six days, they reached their farm, they
found that the Carranza government had declared them rebel sympathizers
and had confiscated their property. Strange natives were gathering the
crops they had sowed. Friends provided funds for their journey to Vera
Cruz, where they were to embark for New Orleans. When I met the frail,
gray-haired couple in the Vera Cruz consulate, they were on the verge
of nervous breakdown.

Yet compared with some Americans, they were fortunate. Many of the
stories one picked up at that time were unprintable, particularly those
of young girls who fell into bandit hands.

“We went up to Washington,” said one Old-Timer, “with actual
photographs of two American women after the rebels were through with
them. And those fellows in the State Department just raised both hands
and shook their heads, and told us: ‘But such things can’t possibly be
true!’”


VII

Everywhere in those days _Carranzista_ generals could be seen
disporting themselves in the _plaza_.

“If they’d get busy, couldn’t they clean up the bandits?” I asked an
Old-Timer in Manzanillo.

“Quite likely. But that’s hard work. And they don’t really want to. If
they licked all the bandits, the need for so many generals would cease.
A general has a pretty good job, you know. Even though he doesn’t get
so much salary, he pads his expense account with fodder that the horses
never smell, and his payroll with the names of several hundred soldiers
that don’t exist.”

He showed me the newspaper account of a battle wherein General
Somebody-or-Other with a force of four thousand men, had just defeated
Villa in a bloody engagement.

“Now I happened to see the General start on that campaign. He had only
two hundred men. And if my suspicion is correct, he never met Villa.
It was a lot easier to sit down and write a telegram describing an
imaginary victory. The President cited him for distinguished service,
and he came home a hero. Carranza does the same thing. Instead of
cleaning up the country, he just sends out reports telling the rest of
the world that Mexico is now at perfect peace.”


VIII

Eustace and I occupied our enforced sojourn at Manzanillo by writing up
the many stories we had gleaned from the Old-Timers, and mailing them
home to newspaper editors.

If the American government still insisted most stubbornly in giving
Carranza a chance to make good, the American public was waking up.
Newspapers were beginning to publish accounts of Mexican outrages upon
American citizens and their property. The American press was commencing
to expose the Carranza régime.

So many were the stories coming up from Mexico that readers were
prepared to believe anything. In fact, they were ready to believe too
much. For the news contained in the message we had dispatched upon our
arrival in Manzanillo--“Foster and Eustace slain by bandits”--when
disseminated by the worthy Mr. Werner, traveled rapidly to the border,
and brought back to Manzanillo, from a former associate of mine in
Nogales, a telegram inquiring about the details of our death.

Eustace and I regarded the whole affair as a joke.

We wrote my friend a joint letter, explaining that we had merely been
captured by Zamorra, and had made our escape from his camp, after
having thrashed him and his fellow cut-throats with our bare fists. And
when at length the railway resumed operation, and we could resume our
journey to Mexico City, we rode away, blissfully ignorant of the future
consequences of that absurd letter, rejoicing that Manzanillo was a
horror of the past. Having attacked President Carranza consistently in
all our newspaper articles, we were eager to visit his capital to learn
whether he were really so bad as we had pictured him.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MEXICAN CAPITAL


I

It was another four days’ journey to Mexico City--a journey directly
eastward and a trifle skyward.

Mexico is a mountainous country--so loftily mountainous that one has
only to travel upward to pass in turn through every variety of climate
and every type of landscape.

The road led from Manzanillo through the hot coastal plain--through
palm-land and swamp-land where sweating, semi-naked _peons_ waded
knee-deep in pools formed overnight by the first downpour of a tropic
rainy season--to Colima, a conventional little city at the base of
a snow-tipped volcano--into the highlands through tortuous defiles
where the cane gave way to maize and the jungle-growth to cactus--past
tiny villages of adobe huts clustering about a huge white church that
dwarfed the rugged gullies--into a climate of eternal spring--to
Guadalajara, the second largest and the most delightful city of the
republic, where orange trees were golden throughout the year--and
beyond, to the wide expanses of Mexico’s high plateau--to a land of
vast, gloomy spaces and lonely grandeur--the grandeur of rolling
yellow plains stretching to a distant horizon rimmed with jagged peaks,
where at twilight the purple shadows crept upward toward an azure
sky--to a country desolate and superb, and a trifle wintry.

[Illustration: THE ORANGE TREES IN GUADALAJARA’S PLAZA WERE GOLDEN
THROUGHOUT THE YEAR]

To the stay-at-home American, Mexico is only a sun-scorched desert.
In reality, it is a land of everything--of sandy wastes, of rugged
mountains, of rank tropical jungles, of temperate valleys--of lowlands
bathed in moist tropic heat, of midlands where strawberries are always
ripe, even of highlands swept eternally by chilling winds. Yet always
there is some intangible spirit about it that makes it unmistakably
Mexico, especially upon the bleak plateau.


II

The haunting melancholy of the high altitude seemed to have affected
the natives.

Below, on the coast, the poverty-stricken Indians had appeared
contented and happy. On the tableland they were very solemn. A _peon_
marching behind his little burro wore the same stolid, pack-animal
expression as the beast itself. There was no animation in the faces.
The greater part of the masculine population sat upon the station
platforms, wrapped in blankets and meditation, waiting only for another
day to pass.

The women, more energetic than the men, still besieged the car windows,
offering for sale the local products, not in the cheery manner of the
lowland women, but hopelessly and mournfully, as though they expected
that no one would buy. Unimaginative as the men-folks, they all sold
the same article--whatever article some more energetic ancestor, many
years before, had sold in their particular village. At Irapuato it was
strawberries; at Celaya a species of fudge in tiny wooden boxes; at
Queretaro opals from the neighboring mines; at San Juan del Rio lariats
and ropes.

They waited in a bedraggled group as the train pulled in. They all
advanced toward the same window. When the first customer did not buy,
they shrugged their shoulders and turned away. Gradually it would dawn
upon them that there were other passengers, and they would drift out
along the sides of the other cars, holding up their baskets in mute
appeal.

“It is _pulque_,” explained a Mexican fellow-passenger. “They are all
sodden with it here. _Que borachos!_ What drunkards!”

_Pulque_, the cheap liquor of the plateau, grows only in the highlands,
and sours too quickly to be transported elsewhere. As we ascended
toward the 7500-foot altitude of the capital, fields of _maguey_--the
source of the beverage--became more and more frequent until they lined
the railway in long even rows that covered the rolling plains to the
distant mountain-rim--each cactus resembling a huge blue artichoke,
and adding another touch of color to the landscape. In blossoming, the
plant sends up a tall stalk from which, if it be tapped, there flows
a milky fluid locally known as “_aguamiel_” or “honey-water,” which
ferments very rapidly. Within a few hours it becomes a mild intoxicant
with a taste like that of sour buttermilk; within a few hours more it
becomes a murder-inspiring poison with a taste which the most profane
of mortals could never adequately describe.

In the fields _peons_ could be seen, each with a pigskin receptacle
slung over his back, trotting from plant to plant, climbing upon the
pulpy leaves of the big cactus as though he were some little bug
crawling into a flower, bending over the central pool to suck the
liquid into a hollow gourd, and discharging it into the pigskin sack.
When the bag was filled, he would trot away to the _hacienda_ with it;
a little stale _pulque_ would start it fermenting; on the morrow a
series of early trains, the equivalent of the milk trains elsewhere,
would carry it to all the neighboring cities to befuddle the population
there.

Drunkenness is extremely common in Mexico. Although _pulque_ can not
be widely distributed, the Mexicans boil the lower leaves of their
cactus and distill therefrom their _mescal_ and _tequila_--two fiery
alcoholic stimulants condemned both by moralists and by connoisseurs
of good liquor--which are responsible for most of the acts of violence
which transpire in the republic. Yet drunkenness is most prevalent in
the highlands, for _pulque_, while comparatively mild, is the cheapest
thing in Mexico, and one can buy a quart or two for a few pennies.

On each station platform the men sat patiently, waiting while the women
offered their wares. The old girl probably would not make a sale, but
_quién sabe_? If she did, there would be more money for _pulque_.
Already sodden with it, they wrapped their tattered blankets about
them, and watched fatalistically, inhabitants of the world’s richest
country, resigned to an empty life, oblivious to the charm of the most
fascinating country on all the earth.

For despite its gloom, I know of no country more fascinating than the
Mexican plateau.

In the clear mountain air each picturesque detail of the vast landscape
stood out distinctly--the peaked hat of a little Indian plodding
solemnly behind his burro--a herd of cattle grazing leisurely upon
the coarse bunch-grass, mere brown specks against the yellow hills--a
lonely white chapel with two slender towers and a massive dome,
standing by itself without the suggestion of a possible worshiper
within miles and miles--an infrequent _hacienda_ with a host of tiny
laborers’ shacks grouped about a crumbling ranch-house that once had
been a palace. Yet the indefinable charm of the scene lay not in the
details, but in the immensity of the canvas. Against the majestic sweep
of the wasteland itself, the details appeared dwarfed and isolated.
They gave one a feeling of utter loneliness--even of sadness--a
strangely delicious sadness. A bleak, gloomy place was this plateau,
yet many years hence, whenever one heard “Mexico,” one would think not
of the desert or the jungle, but of these vast stretches of yellow
wasteland and this horizon of purple mountains, and one would sense a
haunting desire to see them again.


III

After two days upon that plateau, Mexico City was a shock.

The train roared into a crowded station. Vociferous hotel runners burst
into the car and fought up and down the aisles. _Cargadores_ clamored
outside the windows. Mexican friends met Mexican friends with loud
cries of joy. All screamed noisily to make themselves heard above the
din of claxons from riotous streets outside.

Some runner, having driven rivals away from Eustace and myself, handed
our suit-cases through the window to a waiting desperado, and we chased
him frantically through the mob. Some chauffeur, having driven rivals
away from the suit-cases, packed them inside a taxi, shoved us in after
them, and shot away at full speed the moment his assistant cranked the
car, leaving the assistant to dodge aside and jump aboard as best he
could, zigzagging madly through a fleet of other taxis, all of which
were shrieking their claxons and roaring past with wide open cut-out,
avoiding a dozen clanging trolley cars and scraping along the side of a
thirteenth, pausing momentarily while a rabid policeman waved his arms
and screamed abuse in voluble Spanish, then tearing onward as wildly as
before through a world of leaping pedestrians.

We drew up with a grinding of brakes before a modern hotel, the
chauffeur collected a modern fare, a hotel clerk grunted at us with
modern incivility, a bell-hop conducted us with modern condescension
to a modern room, and left us to spend a night of modern wakefulness
listening to the nerve-wracking din of a thoroughly modern city outside.

After the plateau, it seemed profane. One had the illusion that in the
midst of a grand cathedral service the bishop had given a college yell,
the organ had burst into jazz, and the choir had danced an Irish jig.


IV

In the morning Eustace and I wrote President Carranza a friendly little
note, requesting an interview. Then we set out to see the town.

It proved surprisingly attractive by daylight--one of the most ornate
in the Western Hemisphere outside of Argentina or Brazil. If it lacked
the impressive solidity of an American city, and failed to startle with
giant sky-scrapers, it undoubtedly surpassed New York or any other
Yankee metropolis--including Washington--in the beauty of its parks and
boulevards.

[Illustration: MEXICO CITY, ONE OF THE MOST ORNATE CAPITALS IN THE
WESTERN HEMISPHERE, SOMEWHAT RESEMBLED PARIS]

Superficially it suggested Paris. Along the streets of its business
section the buildings, all of the same height of three or four
stories, were of European architecture. Its avenues and gardens, with
their numerous statues and monuments, were distinctly French. There
was a suggestion also of other lands. There were German beer halls
and rathskellers, dignified English banks, Italian restaurants, and
Japanese curio shops. There was even the American quick-lunch counter
where a darky from Alabama asked abruptly, “What’s yours, boss?” and
shouted “One ham sandwich!” through a wall-opening to a white-capped
cook. But French window-displays of modes and perfumery predominated,
and combining with the architecture, gave the city the general aspect
of Paris.


V

It proved a cool city, however, both in climate and manners. Of the
two, the former seemed the more kindly. If the air were chilly at
morning or evening--either in summer or winter, wherein there is little
variation--it was hot enough at mid-day to bring out the perspiration.
But the manners remained constantly those of all large cities, even in
Mexico.

There was no reason that they should be otherwise. After traveling,
nevertheless, through smaller towns, where natives looked upon a
newcomer with interest and other Americans immediately introduced
themselves, we found that we were regarding the entire population of
the capital as downright discourteous. Americans upon the street were
not merely indifferent but suspicious. When we attempted to stop one to
inquire the way to the National Museum, he would duck aside and hurry
away before we could speak. We had about decided to punch the next
fellow-countryman we met, and were looking for a small one, when we
discovered the reason for American distrust.

Every fourth _gringo_ in town seemed to be broke and in need of alms.

Two clean-cut youngsters, lured here evidently by the illusion that
any one could make his fortune in Latin America, came into an American
restaurant where we lunched, and begged the proprietor for a job
washing dishes.

“For God’s sake, man, we’re hungry! And we’re willing to work! All we
ask is our meals, and five pesos a week to cover room rent--not a
penny more!”

The proprietor shook his head.

“I’m sorry for them,” he said, as the youths went out, “but there’s too
many. They use up all your sympathy.”

Another youth stopped us in the park.

“I’m not a regular bum,” he pleaded. “I came down here because a
fellow I knew invited me. He was a Mexican, and he worked beside me in
the auto factory up at Detroit. He was always telling me what a fine
country this was. After he went home, he kept writing to me about how
when I came to Mexico his house would be my house. I thought he meant
it. And he kept saying there were lots of jobs. I didn’t know it was
their habit to say nice things like that just to please you. I came
down here three weeks ago, and there _were_ no jobs--or else Mexicans
took them on a salary that wouldn’t support an American--and when I
looked up my friend, he kept saying that his house was my house, but
I’ve never seen the inside of it, and since the first day I haven’t
seen _him_. I’ve spent my last cent, and I’m up against it.”

But among the down and out were many less deserving, with stories just
as good. Some were draft-evaders that had come to Mexico during the
War, and had been unable to return. Others were professional vagabonds
who had gravitated southward to enjoy the privileges of a country that
recognized vagrancy as a legitimate profession. At first, like most
new arrivals touched by the pitiful sight of a fellow-countryman in
misfortune in a foreign land, we gave liberally. But within a few days,
we grew hardened, and like the Old-Timers, we ducked away at the very
approach of a strange American, even though he merely wished to ask his
way to the National Museum.

For companionship, we confined ourselves to Old Barlow, who occupied
the hotel room next to ours, and who drifted into our quarters now and
then to gratify an Old Resident’s love of spinning yarns.

He was somewhat of a pessimist. He liked Mexico but he always carried a
gun. A gray-haired man, walking with a slight limp, he claimed to have
been present at every earthquake, revolution, and dog-fight that had
ever transpired in Mexico or Central America, and when once started on
a recital, each murder suggested another.

“Best thing I ever did see was the duel Cash Bradley fought. Cash
didn’t know nothing about swords, so when this geezer challenged him,
he went up to ask General Agramonte for advice. Great old war-horse
was Agramonte! Says he, ‘You don’t need to know nothing about
swords--except one little trick of swordsmanship I’m going to teach
you. When you first start, the seconds will count three, and at each
count you bring down your sword and clash it politely with the other
guy’s sword by way of salute. Well, on the count of three, you just
accidentally miss the other fellow’s sword and salute him politely in
the neck.’ And believe me, boys, that little feat of swordsmanship just
saved Cash Bradley’s life.”

Then he would puff at his pipe, and muse a while.

“Great old war-horse, Agramonte! I remember when he had a run-in with
President Huerta, the bird Carranza chased out. Huerta invited him up
to the Palace for tea, and when Agramonte was about to leave, he says
to him, ‘I’ve got forty soldiers on the staircase, waiting to shoot you
on your way home.’ Agramonte didn’t blink an eyelash. He just shoved
his own gun into Huerta’s ribs, and answers, ‘Then you’ll come with me,
and if one soldier raises a gun, you’ll die first.’ They walked down
the staircase, arm in arm, and kissed each other good-by at the door,
and not a soldier fired a shot.”

Then he would muse again, rapturously, as though recalling pleasant
memories.

“Huerta was some war-horse himself. He used to be a general in Madero’s
army, until he suddenly walked into the Palace, with his army behind
him, and told Madero to quit. Huerta was always a great stickler for
constitutionality, so he wanted Madero to sign a proper resignation.
And Madero wouldn’t resign. Huerta heated the poker and started to
tickle him with it. You could see the blood running out of Madero’s
eyes, but he was stubborn as a mule, and he just kept saying, ‘I’m the
rightful president of Mexico!’ Finally Huerta had to shoot him. But he
was a great stickler for constitutionality, so he put Madero’s body in
a coach, and took it out for a ride and had his troops fire a volley on
the coach; then he told the world that Madero was shot by his own men
while fleeing the country. Some one had to take the presidency then, so
Huerta took it. Great stickler for constitutionality was Huerta!”

Another puff at his pipe.

“Carranza don’t do his own shooting, but he’s got plenty of generals
to do it for him. If I was you boys, and had written some nasty things
about the Old Gent, like you say you have, I wouldn’t wait for no
interview. I’d take the next train to Vera Cruz, and catch a boat.”


VI

We waited for the interview. The chances were that nothing we had
written would ever be published. If it were, Carranza would never know
it. And there was more of Mexico City to be seen.

If it bore a superficial resemblance to Paris, its population remained
distinctly Mexican.

In the early morning, upon the Avenida Francisco I. Madero, the
Mexican Fifth Avenue, the _boulevardiers_ were mostly Indians in
blankets, and shop girls hurrying to work with black shawls over their
heads. Gradually they gave way to people in European dress, yet here
and there in the crowd there passed an _hacendado_ just in from his
country estate and still wearing riding boots and _sombrero_ and a huge
revolver pendant from a heavy leather belt encircling his ample girth.
Then came the shoppers--stout, overpowdered matrons with a flock of
_señoritas_ in tow--all in Parisian garb, but unmistakably Mexican.
They came in handsome private cars, alighting with the assistance of
uniformed attendants, and disappearing into the fashionable _modistes_’
establishments with the grand aristocratic air of the newly rich--for
most of the city’s real aristocracy had fled the country during the
long series of revolutions, and these were largely the wives and
daughters of the successful generals.

At noon, the streets became almost deserted, for here as everywhere
the _siesta_ was a ritual, but later the crowd reappeared, and now
for a brief hour the Avenida did bear some true resemblance to Paris.
The womenfolk came out in their new finery, and rolled up and down in
their handsome cars to display themselves. The men, having finished the
day’s work, loitered along the sidewalk, chatting merrily, twiddling
their canes, puffing at their cigarettes, and keeping an attentive eye
on passing femininity. But at twilight, the womenfolk disappeared,
and the chill of evening brought an end to the atmosphere of gayety.
The men still loitered, but the attentive eye was fixed now upon the
shop girls that hurried homeward.

“Why hasten, _chiquita_?” they called after each _mantilla_-muffled
figure. “Come with me instead.”

Sometimes the male voices were serious. Usually they were casual, as
though merely performing the rite--considered a sacred duty by the men
of all Latin America--of insulting the unchaperoned woman. The girls
were accustomed to it, and paid no attention either to the words or
to the nudges and pinches that followed. Now and then there passed
a street-walker--an institution seldom seen in the smaller Mexican
cities, where vice is more carefully segregated--and she invited with
a concentrated flash of eyes, but she did not speak, as might her
counterpart in Paris. Over the crowded streets there hung an air of
gravity--of Mexican gravity--the gravity of the high plateau.

Darkness came. The men pulled up their coat collars, pulled in their
necks, and discussed the advisability of a cocktail. Lights appeared
in thick clusters of glowing bulbs, as in the French capital, but they
shed a radiance that inspired no gayety. The taxis still roared and
rattled, and shot zigzag through the streets like so many skating-bugs
on a millpond; the trolleys passed at thirty-foot intervals
incessantly clanging their gongs; the policemen at each corner turned
their “_Alto-Adelante_” or “Go-Stop” signs first one way, then another,
blowing their shrill whistles first with one toot, then two toots, and
sending the traffic scurrying first in one direction, then another;
above the Avenida there rose the grand discord of a busy metropolis;
yet Mexico City became merely noisy rather than lively. Acquaintances
embraced acquaintances demonstratively, yet with an air of
conventionality. The loitering throngs before the blazing doorways of
theaters or cinemas were subdued and solemn. The street-walkers invited
with unsmiling eyes. The boulevardiers withdrew, group by group, for
their cocktails, not to pleasant sidewalk cafés like those of Paris,
but to formal Spanish bar-rooms. By ten o’clock the sidewalks were
almost as empty as those of Hermosillo. Only the flying taxis remained,
dashing about with screeching claxons as though crying vainly, “This is
Paris.”

It looked like Paris, and from a distance it sounded like Paris, but
the Parisian insouciance was missing. This was still Mexico--the Mexico
of the high plateau.


VII

Carranza not proving very prompt in answering his correspondence, we
amused ourselves with a visit to the ancient pyramids of San Juan
Teotihuacán--remnants of what had been a mighty empire before the
Conquest--distant some twenty-eight miles from the Capital.

A leisurely train carried us there in something over an hour and a
half. We descended at the station, expecting to be pounced upon by
a dozen professional guides, but none molested us. Little barefoot
children with spurious relics were our only assailants. We looked about
for a conveyance and discovered the Toonerville Trolley. An individual
asleep inside acknowledged that he was the conductor. He proved also to
be the motorman, for having collected our fare, he aroused the mule,
and the car jogged slowly away with swaying gait through lanes of
cactus, toward the squatty figures of two pyramids, deceitfully small
with distance and dwarfed by the mountains behind them.

But at length the cactus-hedge ceased, and upon our right appeared the
ruins of a temple--the Temple of Quetzacoatl--a big square surrounded
by heavy ramparts of earth and stone, wherein a group of workmen
were restoring a wall lined with monster demon-heads and gargoyles
carved of solid rock. And a few minutes later we were at the foot of
the pyramids, no longer small and dwarfed, but looming skyward above
us--pyramids which, if less imposing in stature than those of Egypt,
excel them in the dimensions of their base, and may even antedate
them, according to the estimates of some archeologists, by possibly a
thousand or two thousand years.

[Illustration: THE MEXICAN PYRAMIDS PROBABLY ANTEDATE THOSE OF EGYPT BY
A THOUSAND YEARS OR MORE]

Speculation as to just how old they really are has kept many a
scientist out of worse mischief, but seems to have accomplished
little else. Thanks to the demolition by the fanatical Spaniards of
the heathen writings they found in the Americas, practically nothing
is known of their origin. It is believed that they antedate the
Toltecs, and that they testify to the existence of an ancient race in
Mexico, long since vanished to who-knows-where, that once surpassed in
engineering skill and presumably in civilization the early peoples of
the other Hemisphere.

So little had we read of them, and so free did they appear from
exploitation as a tourist sight, that Eustace and I experienced almost
the joy of personal discovery. But it was soon rudely shattered. For up
drove an automobile from Mexico City’s leading hotel, and out climbed
two other Americans.

They were recognizable immediately as Rotarians. They were both good
fellows. They had met at the Regis, and in talking over business had
discovered that both by profession were Realtors. They had found a
mutual bond of interest in the fact that Mexico City, although it
_was_ a better burg than they had anticipated, had a less up-to-date
garbage-disposal system than Long Branch, N.J., or Newburyport,
Mass. They were now having a whale of a time kidding the guide
good-naturedly about the shortcomings of his country, and were getting
to like each other better every minute. Next week, upon their return
home, each would tell his friends about the good scout he bumped into
down in Mexico, and would exclaim, “It beats all how you meet people!
The world’s a pretty small place after all!” And at Christmas, each
would send the other a card playfully addressed “Senor.”

“So that’s what you brought us out here to see!” said the man from Long
Branch.

The other drew out a guide-book and read:

“The pyramid of the Sun Tonatiuh Itzcuatl damn this language anyhow a
truncated artificial mound 216 feet high by about 721 and 761 feet at
the base divided into five pyramidal sections or terraces which narrow
as they ascend. Now that we’ve seen that, where do we eat?”

We left them below while we started up the long flight of stone steps
that led up the five terraces of the larger pyramid, The Sun. It had
been partially restored, and its surface of many-colored rocks, each
the size of a domesticated cobblestone, originally held together with
adobe, now gleamed white with Portland Cement. Upon its lofty top,
covered to-day by a flat rock, there had once been a gigantic statue
of the Sun, cut from a block of porphyry, and ornamented with gold.
And here the Aztec priests had probably plunged their arms into many a
victim’s breast, to draw out a beating heart, and toss the body of
the sacrifice down the steep rocky sides to the wasteland beneath.

It was very quiet now, with the restful calm that one finds only upon a
mountain-top. One could look down upon miles and miles of rolling plain
dotted with cactus of many shades of green, clustering sometimes in
prickly forests, stretching away in two parallel lines to mark a trail,
arranging themselves in military rows to indicate a _pulque_ hacienda,
gathering in a hedge about the low flat roof of an adobe homestead.
Here or there rose the unfailing spires and dome of another lonely
church. In the fields a yoke of oxen, plowing a cornfield, seemed
scarcely to move. The sky above was of vivid blue, with puffy white
clouds along the horizon. Sounds drifted up from the world below--the
mooing of a cow, the cackle of a hen, the tap of a hammer--each very
distinct, yet so softened by distance that it seemed not to interrupt
the silence--as though it merely came from a far-away land wherewith
one had severed connection.

Then the two tourists came panting up the steps.

“Damn those stairs, anyway. They ought to have a railing on each side.”

Eustace blandly suggested an elevator, but the sarcasm was lost.

“We’d have one, if this was in Newburyport. We’d have a regular train
service out here, and we’d put in a modern cafeteria. Boy, but you
could make money out of this thing, if you had it in the United States!
You could hire a bunch of Irishmen and dress them up like Aztecs, have
a couple of girls doing an Indian dance on top, charge a fifty-cent
admission--why, man, you’d clean up a fortune!”

As we started down to catch the evening train back to the
taxi-screeching City of Mexico, Babbitt and Kennicott were carving
their initials on the flat rock atop the Pyramid of the Sun.


VIII

A week drifted past, and Sunday arrived.

On that, of all days, Mexico City was most typically Mexican.

The aristocrats paraded themselves in the parks; the middle-classes
went picnicking; the _peons_ went to church.

We strolled out along the Avenida Madero, past the National Opera
House--said to be the handsomest building of its kind on the continent,
but still with an unfinished dome because one administration had
started it, and others had neglected to provide funds for its
completion. Beyond it lay the _Alameda_, the Mexican Central Park.
It was a European park, quite unlike the palm-grown _plazas_ of the
smaller cities, but there was the usual Mexican band concert, and the
people were renting camp-chairs along the shady walks to enjoy the
national pastime of seeing and being seen.

Beyond the _Alameda_, commenced a wide boulevard, the _Paseo de la
Reforma_, typically Parisian in its wealth of monuments, and lined
with handsome embassies and residences, leading out to Chapultepec,
a larger and even more charming park, with wide expanses of lawn
and woodland and lake and meadow surrounding the National Palace, a
squatty fortress-like structure pleasing in its effect of strength and
beauty, perched upon high cliffs and glimpsed through the tree-tops
as though it hung suspended in the sky. The policemen here were clad
in Mexico’s _charro_ costume--the costume of the old grandees--with
short buff jacket, skin-tight blue trousers lined with rows of silver
buttons, flowing red tie, huge velvet _sombrero_, and a big gleaming
sword. An orchestra in similar costume held forth beneath an awning
near the lake, playing sweetly upon a marvelous combination of guitars,
mandolins, marimbas, harps, cellos, oboes, and what not. Automobiles
rolled past along the winding driveway, each filled with a bevy of
_señoritas_. Horsemen rode grandly past, dressed also in _charro_
costume, and mounted upon the finest steeds in Mexico. Pedestrians
idled beside the lake, watching the procession, and listening to
the orchestra, with that rare enjoyment of really good music that
characterizes _peon_ and aristocrat alike. Here, as in the small-town
plaza, the Mexicans were finding a pleasure in their park such as
no American ever finds in the parks of the United States. Here, as
everywhere in Mexico, a public garden was not merely a place for the
perambulation of baby carriages by nursemaids, but an institution of
which even society took full advantage.

Having seen the aristocrats in action, we caught a trolley out to the
floating gardens of Xochimilco to observe the middle-class picknickers.
It was a profanely modern trolley, with a “No Spitting” sign, and
rimmed with lurid posters from which “Wrigley” and “Colgate” peeped out
from a conglomeration of Spanish, and it carried us through streets
whose buildings were defaced either by countless advertisements or
countless warnings not to post advertisements. But presently it left
the city behind, and raced out through maize-fields and _maguey_
fields, and dropped us at a quaint little town, complete even to
cathedral-fronted _plaza_.

Tiny children, their arms laden with flowers, surrounded us, sticking
bouquets into our buttonholes and pockets, and pleading for “a little
_centavito_.” They were irresistible. Dressed exactly like their elders
in long skirts and mantillas, and with the mature air characteristic of
Mexican children, they seemed like little dwarfed adults. Their voices
were caressing, and they would retreat whenever we tried to return
their bouquets without purchasing.

“Ah, no, _señor_! Buy them from me! A little _centavito_, no more!”

Looking rather like floating gardens ourselves, we drifted toward the
canals. These were the remnants of the great network of waterways that
the Spanish conquistadores saw when first they entered the Valley
of Mexico. In those days, before Modern Progress decreed that the
Valley should be drained, Mexico City was a Venice, upon whose lakes
there floated rafts of interlaced twigs, covered with rich soil, and
blossoming with flowers. Xochimilco was the last survival of the Aztec
floral paradise, and it proved distinctly disappointing.

[Illustration: IN THE GARDENS OF XOCHIMILCO, RELICS OF AN AZTEC
PARADISE, ONLY THE CABBAGES WERE IN BLOOM]

A barefoot boatman met us, holding up a piece of paper upon which was
written in English, “Do you want one bot? I have a fin bot.”

He led us to a dugout canoe, with an awning supported by vine-laced
framework, and paddled us out through a canal where native women were
washing clothes or cleaning chickens, under a bridge emblazoned with
“Drink Moctezuma Beer,” and along a waterway lined with decaying rafts
covered with a luxuriant growth of carnations, cane, eucalyptus, and
cabbages, of which only the last-named seemed to be in bloom. Parties
of picknickers drifted past us in larger boats, each with a table
in the center, at which every one was busily eating. Along the way
were restaurants and refreshment rooms, each with an orchestra of one
fiddle, one guitar, and one bass-drum, which started to play at our
approach and quit as soon as we passed, the bass-drummer invariably
outspeeding and outdrowning his collaborators. The final exhibit, at
the far end of the canal, was the city waterworks.

We came back to the churches to see the _peons_.

At the central Zocalo, or main _plaza_, a rather dusty square with
a few bedraggled palm trees, where once had stood an Aztec pyramid,
there now stands the famous Cathedral of Mexico. Mexicans will inform
one that it is the largest and handsomest cathedral in the hemisphere,
although it is much smaller than the Peruvian Cathedral, and one of
the least handsome churches in Mexico itself. There are really two
edifices, joined together like the Siamese twins; each with a façade of
elaborately carved gray sandstone against a background of cracked red
basalt, pierced by many little windows in which repose mildewed green
bells.

This, essentially, is the church of the common people. Society attends
a more exclusive church on the Avenida Madero, where the women (always
devout) go inside to mass, and the men (usually agnostic) remain at
the gate to ogle them as they make their exit. There one finds the dim
light, the subdued air, and the solemnity of churches in other lands.
There is none of it in the Cathedral.

Everything in the huge edifice was bright and gaudy and noisy. Many
windows flooded it with light. Glittering gilt ornamentation was
everywhere. The priests wore green and yellow robes. The choir sang
enthusiastically and loudly, without evidence of training, as though
each would outsing his fellows both in volume and speed. Services were
proceeding simultaneously in both halves of the institution, and each
seemed trying frantically to drown out the other.

Yet this, offensive even to one of mediocre taste, impressed the
_peons_ for whom it was intended. They knelt at the door and lighted
their candles. Then they crept forward upon their knees--ragged little
brown devils, unwashed, unshaven, and unlaundered--many of them still
a trifle _pulque_-sodden from a _fiesta_ of the night before. This
noise and display thrilled them as no solemn service could thrill
them. As they crept forward, with arms extended, expressions of rapt
ecstasy almost ennobled their villainous faces. Their sins were
forgiven! To-morrow, with that odd mixture of idealism and materialism
so characteristic of their race, they would start sinning again with a
clean conscience.

These ragged little devils were the pawns of a long series of
revolutions. To-day, while the successful generals rode grandly through
Chapultepec, the _peons_ who had won their battles and gained nothing
turned to the Cathedral for solace. One might not believe in their
religion, but one was forced to admit that they found comfort. And
certainly they needed it.


IX

To avoid religion as a delicate subject, as most writers do, is to
ignore a most important phase of Mexican life.

In Mexico, even more than in most parts of Latin America, the Church
has been obliged, to the regret of many of its own clergymen, to
sacrifice much of its dignity. It came originally to a land which
already possessed a religion consisting solely of barbaric rites. It
was adopted by a people whose conception of things ecclesiastic was
limited to the meaningless observance of pagan ceremonials. And these
people, as a whole, to-day attend mass and march about in procession
without any very definite idea of what the Church means, in much the
same fashion as in days of old they followed their Aztec priests. Even
in more intelligent circles, the Church must cater to a racial mind
which concerns itself not with substance but with form and cares little
about creed or doctrine so long as it can maintain outward appearances
by elaborate ceremony. And since the rank and file of the clergy come
from the same sort of people, the Church in Mexico has become largely
theatrical.

Religion, in short, caters here to a primitive mind. It has many
difficulties wherewith to contend. Because its earliest leaders were
gaining such authority among the _peons_, the government placed severe
restrictions upon them. To-day no foreign priest is allowed to conduct
services. No native priest may appear upon the street in clerical garb.
No collections may be taken at mass. No church may own its property,
which the government holds and permits it to use. And church bells may
ring but one minute out of every hour.

Yet the clergy still has a tremendous hold upon the people. It abides
by the letter of the law. The bells ring for one minute only, but
they ring loudly and with rapid strokes. The churches, although no
collections are taken, are filled with boxes for offerings. Mexico is
covered with chapels and shrines, religious holidays number about three
hundred and sixty-five a year, and the custom of pilgrimage is well
established. Practically the entire population professes the Catholic
faith.

Of all the many shrines, that of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico,
is the most popular. According to legend, a poor Indian on his way to
mass met the Virgin Mary at this spot, and was sent to the Bishop with
the command that a church should be erected here. When the Bishop was
incredulous, the _peon_ brought him a bunch of roses plucked from a
barren hillside. Convinced that a miracle had transpired, the Bishop
erected the church, and it became at once so popular that a deluge of
miracles swept all over Mexico, and every other good friar erected a
chapel. But none has ever rivaled that of Guadalupe.

It is situated only a brief distance from the capital. A trolley took
Eustace and myself there, stopping at a small square filled with
rude stands under improvised awnings where Indians sold soft drinks,
beads, edibles, and candles. Before the square stood a church and a
merry-go-round. Above it, reached by a long flight of winding stone
steps, there stood a small white chapel.

On each step sat a crippled beggar, seemingly a poor advertisement for
a shrine that purports to heal all ailments. Yet the Mexicans saw no
inconsistency in this, and no irreverence in the merry-go-round nor in
the host of tin-type photographers who had set up their stands upon
the vestibule of the church. Many of the Indians who pilgrimaged here
had come from the farthest ends of the republic, making the journey on
foot, and supporting themselves by plying along the way whatever trade
they possessed. Most of them sold trinkets, and were now selling them
at the shrine itself.

The flight of steps was long and steep. On certain holidays, the
faithful were accustomed to ascend it slowly upon their knees. In the
high altitude, it was sufficiently arduous to walk up. But the little
chapel on the hilltop was white and clean and simple. Behind it lay
a very peaceful, fragrant cemetery, neatly kept, with many flowers.
One wall was honeycombed with tiny little alcoves, where one might
rent “_Nichos para restos perpetuedad $100.00_”--“permanent niches for
corpses at 100 pesos”--or niches to be paid for by the year or month,
with the penalty, in case of non-payment, of seeing the ancestral bones
consigned to the scrap-heap. But there were graves and tombs as well,
many of them so handsome as to suggest that even while Guadalupe,
like the Cathedral, was mainly a _peon_ institution, the aristocrats
sometimes came here after death.

Descending by another long flight of steps, we came to the Chapel of
the Well--another small chapel under a big dome of glittering tiles,
containing a well of curative waters. Ecstatic _peons_, their faces
shining with joy, were lowering a bucket and drinking, seizing the
receptacle from one another’s hands in their eagerness. At a near-by
counter, where crosses were sold, and ribbons marked with the measure
of the Virgin’s head or feet, one might also obtain empty bottles--some
of them still bearing unhallowed labels--and these the natives filled
at the well for their fellow-villagers at home.

Turning around the corner, we came back to the larger church. In its
cellar was the evidence of the cures effected. There was the usual pile
of crutches to be seen in all healing shrines. The wall was covered
with letters of thanks, letters accompanied invariably with pictures,
as though their authors, who in their inability to read or write had
been forced to dictate their messages to a professional scribe, assumed
that their Benefactor was equally illiterate. Many of them were from
supplicants who could not reach the shrine, describing their troubles
and begging assistance. The illustrations showed them being run over
by a trolley-car, shot in battle, caught between two colliding steam
engines, massacred in other startling fashions or confined to a gloomy
sick-bed. There was one of papa looking out from between prison bars,
with a note from the family asking the Virgin to soften the heart
of the Magistrate. And there was one from a very pretty young girl,
inclosing her photograph, and thanking the Virgin--with an absence of
detail that piqued one’s curiosity--for having given her what she most
desired. The writing was frequently illegible, the words misspelled,
and the paintings execrably done by the very worst of artists. Yet
groups of _peons_, surveying them, murmured their admiration of the
bright coloring, and exclaimed aloud with astonishment at the marvelous
cures.

No other church could so satisfy the Mexican _peon_.


X

We came back from Guadalupe to find a uniformed Staff-Officer awaiting
us. Old Barlow was entertaining him in our absence.

The officer was a young man, in neat-fitting blue uniform, and he had
keen, sharp features. He wore a little black mustache, like that of the
villain from a melodrama. He was suavely polite.

[Illustration: MEXICAN POLICEMEN IN WHITE SPATS]

“Mario Sanchez, aide to his excellency, Venustiano Carranza, President
of the Republic of Mexico, at your service, _señores_!”

We bowed. There was a cool reserve about him that told us he did not
expect to be kissed.

“You are the _Señores_ Foster and Eustace, I believe, the authors of
these newspaper articles that I here display?”

We stared in amazement at a sheaf of clippings which he held before us.
Our writings had been published! The news of our death, followed by a
letter describing our heroic escape from Pedro Zamorra, had brought
us fame! We were headlined on front pages! And our articles about
Mexico had all found a market! We were successful free-lance newspaper
correspondents!

“But where on earth did you get them?” demanded Eustace, incredulously.

The officer smiled.

“My government keeps a careful check upon writers who discuss our
administration in the United States. And you have honored us with
a request for an interview. It is customary, of course, that such
requests come through the American Embassy, but in this case, we are
very pleased that it has not. President Carranza will grant the
interview on one condition--that you tell not the Embassy you are
coming. To-morrow evening, I shall call for you, but you must come with
me, very quietly, to the Palace, telling no one. I can not now explain.
But it is very important that you tell no one. Until to-morrow evening,
at the eight o’clock. _Adios, señores._ I am your humble servant.”

With another deep bow, he withdrew.

We turned, mystified, to Old Barlow. He was strangely nervous.

“Pack your suit-cases and beat it!” he advised. “I know these
devils--polite as they can be, and damned likeable, but don’t you
trust them. You heard him say, ‘Tell no one!’ He’ll take you away in a
car, and not a soul on earth will ever see you again, or learn what’s
happened to you. So beat it just as fast as you can!”

We packed our suit-cases. We bade each other farewell. Eustace was
determined to go back to Manzanillo, and catch a boat to San Francisco.
I was determined to go to Vera Cruz, catch a boat for Cuba, and see
something more of Latin America before I returned home. Only one thing
was certain. The expedition had reached a temporary halt.



CHAPTER IX

INTERMISSION


I

There was nothing thrilling about my escape from Mexico. I simply rode
down the railway to Vera Cruz, boarded a steamer without molestation,
and sailed away.

The reflection that I was now a fugitive gave me a sense of
international importance. It did seem a trifle uncomplimentary on the
part of the Mexican government that no one sought to interfere with my
departure. Still, there are some little slights that one is willing to
overlook, especially if one be a fugitive.


II

Fellow travelers were always interested in my story.

Occasionally I ran across persons who had heard of my thrilling escape
from the bandit camp of Pedro Zamorra. They demanded details. They were
so insistent that it would have been a shame to disappoint them. I
licked bandit after bandit for their benefit until completely fatigued.

Then, having begun to lose my original pride at the fictitious exploit,
I adopted a policy of modest silence. Or I admitted, “That was all
bunk!” This seemed to make it the more convincing.

“He’s reticent,” they said, “like all great heroes.”


III

Inspired by this success, I decided to quit free-lancing and become
a fiction writer. I set out to roam the world in search of material.
Since editors seldom bought the fiction I wrote, I roamed mostly on
foot.

In various odd corners of the globe, I found other people who once had
lived in Mexico. Most of them had fled the country during the long
series of revolutions. Their property had been destroyed. In some cases
their loved ones had been murdered. Yet I discovered--at first to my
amazement--that they were all dreaming of the day when conditions would
become settled, and permit them to return.

“Why?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s _something_ about that country. You can’t
explain it.”

I wandered through the West Indies--to South America--to the Orient. I
found many lands more colorful than Mexico, where native customs were
more interesting, where foreigners were more welcome. Yet I found none
that I liked so well, except Costa Rica, its Central-American neighbor.
There gradually came to me a haunting desire to return. And when
Carranza gave place to Obregon, and Obregon proceeded to restore peace
and order, I packed my suit-case for another trip to Mexico--and to the
other little republics to the southward.

“Why?” asked every one at home.

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s something about that country. You can’t
explain it.”


IV

My return was as uneventful as my flight.

I rather expected each Mexican I met to exclaim, “So you’re the fellow
that wrote all those dastardly things about my country!” Apparently a
few had forgotten my articles. The others had not heard of them.

I landed at Vera Cruz, and went up to the capital over the same
railway--up through gorges luxuriant with forests of banana, past the
snow-capped peak of Orizaba looming mistily out of the clouds, through
tunnels and over bridges, along mountain sides where one looked down
upon checkerboard farms as though one glimpsed them from an airplane,
across the magnificent plateau where yellow wasteland stretched away to
a purple horizon, and into the roar and bustle of Mexico City.

The capital had changed but little. If anything, it was noisier
than before. Advertising posters defaced every wall. The taxis had
multiplied like guinea pigs. Radios added a new note to the discord
of modern progress. The _señoritas_ had bobbed their hair. Old Barlow
alone remained the same.

I stopped just long enough to make inquiries about Eustace. Since our
parting, over four years ago, I had never heard a word from him.

“No one has!” said Old Barlow. “You were the lucky one that time. The
other lad just disappeared--like I predicted both of you would. Just
vanished, God knows where!”

I went back down the railway to Córdoba, to continue southward alone
through Mexico and Central America.



CHAPTER X

THE LAND OF THE INDIAN VAMPS


I

The railway southward into the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the worst in
Mexico.

It had been constructed back in the days of Diaz, and apparently had
not been repaired since that time. A rusty engine that wheezed with
asthma dragged behind it a long succession of splintered freight cars,
followed by an aged wooden passenger coach whose walls groaned and
protested at every jolt, and swayed sidewise until the roof threatened
to fall.

From Córdoba, on the main line, the track squirmed away with snake-like
course into the tropical jungles of the coastal plain. At times it
passed a pineapple farm or a banana plantation; usually it ran through
unbroken forest. The vegetation was riotous. Moss covered the trees,
plants sprouted from the moss, vines crept upward among the plants and
dropped their creepers from the limbs, and a thousand other varieties
of parasitic growths twined upward along the creepers. The rampageous
wilderness encroached upon the track so aggressively that a passenger
could not lean from the car windows; it grew up between the tracks, and
sprouted from holes in the rotting ties.

Our progress was leisurely. First a freight car jumped the rail. We
waited three hours while the engine left us and sought a wrecking crew.
Then, as soon as the wrecking crew had corrected the difficulty and
departed, the same car did the same thing, and continued to repeat,
until we reached a siding, where the trainmen left it with all its
contents, presumably to rot in the jungle.

Then there was more delay. Another train was expected from the opposite
direction, but no one seemed to know just where we might meet it, so
the engineer proceeded cautiously. We met it head-on at a dangerous
curve, both engines stopping with a shriek of brakes, and bumping
gently. The two train crews then engaged in heated argument as to
which should back up ten miles to the nearest station to let the other
pass. There was speculation among the passengers as to whether the
debate would be settled with knives or by a pushing match between
the two engines. The conductors finally tapped a telegraph wire, and
consulted headquarters, and received a decision in favor of our own
train. Thereupon the other backed, very slowly as though to maintain
its dignity and give us as little satisfaction as possible, and ours
followed a few feet behind, both engineers hurling Mexican curses at
each other from the car windows.

As always, the native passengers took things with fatalistic unconcern.
They expected to miss connections at Rio Blanco, and be another day
or two upon their journey, but they merely shrugged their shoulders.
One must take things as they come in travel, _señor_! So far, this had
been an unusually good trip. Cars always jumped the rail on this line.
It was not extraordinary to be stranded eighteen hours or so in the
jungle here, without food and water--unless one took the precaution,
observed by the more experienced travelers, of bringing provisions.
They shrugged their shoulders again, lighted their cigarettes, and
amused themselves at each delay by setting up a beer bottle in the
jungle, and shooting at it with their big revolvers, which seemed to
be quite as essential a part of a Mexican’s equipment to-day as in the
more turbulent times of Carranza.

And, as always in Mexico, everything turned out all right. Although
we crawled into Rio Blanco five hours late, it developed that the
connecting train had been similarly delayed. There was a hurried lunch
at a railway restaurant, where the waitresses had been blonds before
the local supply of peroxide gave out but now wore the Princeton
colors. Then the journey proceeded upon another line, which, if
possible, was worse than the one before.


II

In the days of Diaz, the Mexican railways had been built by Americans,
and were under American management.

They had now become a political football, however, operated by the
government not because they were thus more profitable or efficient,
but because they thus offered employment to deserving voters. The
railway men, of course, knew something of railroading, and the
Vera-Cruz-Mexico-City road--as well as the other more important
roads--was kept in repair. But the Obregon government, although an
improvement over its predecessors, was still maintaining itself by
force, and after paying its generals, had little money left for keeping
in order such railways as those that meandered through its southern
jungles.

President Obregon’s term was drawing to a close; there was soon to
be an election; there had never been an election in Mexico without a
revolution; in view of the forthcoming excitement, work of any kind
was practically at a standstill. An escort of troops was still to be
seen on every train--better-uniformed and equipped than in the days of
Carranza, but with the same villainous faces. And a garrison was lined
up at the platform of each hamlet through which we passed--a small
garrison, so that towns could be classified as one, two, three, four,
or five soldier towns--a mere handful of men, but always present.

Conditions had improved during my four years’ absence from the country,
but the land was by no means so pacific and prosperous as Obregon’s
propaganda--circulated widely through the United States at the moment
when Obregon was seeking recognition by our State Department--had led
Americans to believe. Mexico was still Mexico.


III

It was quiet, and peaceful, and sunny, however, as always.

This southern Mexico was a paradise of tropic luxuriance. On the
infrequent banana plantations the foliage was so thick that the tunnels
beneath the trees were black as night. The jungle not only slapped
the face of any passenger who poked his head from the window; it even
scratched along the sides of the car, seeking an opportunity to reach
inside and stick a thorn into the passenger’s eye.

The air was hot and moist. Inhabitants had reduced clothing to a
minimum. Naked children ran races with the engine. The ox-drivers,
leading their patient yokes with a barbed pole, wore only a straw hat,
a pair of pants, and a _machete_--a big two-bladed knife--wherewith to
hack their way through the undergrowth. The women were garbed in what
appeared to be a thin, loose-flowing nightgown. The houses were of cane
and thatch, festering usually in pools of filth. Swarms of pigs came
out at each stopping-place to nose about in search of the melon-rinds
or fruit-skins that passengers might contribute to their welfare. The
people, lolling usually in hammocks of grass-rope, surveyed us with
interest, but made little effort to sell us anything.

Here was the true languor of the tropics, and the train conformed. We
were supposed to reach Santa Lucrecia, the next transfer-point, at 8.30
in the evening, but in this country a railway schedule is much like a
party platform in the United States. Night descended. Dew saturated the
jungle, and the branches swishing past the windows sprinkled every one
inside the car. A golden moon peeped out from a rank mass of silver
clouds, and flitted through the palm-fronds for hour after hour.
There was a brief halt at another railway restaurant, where a sleepy
proprietor had given up all hope of the train’s arrival. He brought out
cold rice, and heated coffee. Milk, _señor_? _Ay_, but although there
were cows, the people here did not bother to milk them. If one wished
to buy a can of condensed milk, yes, but it was expensive in this
country.

We finally crawled into Santa Lucrecia at 2.40 the next morning. A boy
led me upstairs to a room in the station hotel. There was a canvas cot
there with a sheet badly soiled. But, _señor_, it had been washed
only last week! And its occupants since that time had all been white
persons, except one! The boy’s tone implied, “What more do you want?”
So I turned in, and fell promptly asleep, lulled by the scratching of
cockroaches upon the wall. And here--alone of all the station stops I
found in Mexico--one could sleep late the next morning, for the train,
instead of starting at sun-up, did not leave for Tehuantepec until noon.

Santa Lucrecia was a straggling village of tin and thatch, perched
upon stilts as a precaution against the floods of the rainy season,
its several houses connected by ramshackle board walks. Although in
the center of the isthmus, it had an altitude of only twenty-six
meters above the sea; its air was dank and humid and depressing. Its
inhabitants lived on the porch, usually in hammocks, which, although
not completely bug-proof, gave the insects the trouble of scaling
a wall and finding their way across a hook before they could reap
their harvest. All intimate daily functions were performed in public,
preferably on some conspicuous knoll or hilltop, as though the town
were eager to proclaim itself a formidable rival in filth and vileness
to Manzanillo.

But my fellow passengers were cheerful.

“It is a frightful place,” they agreed. “But wait, _señor_, wait!
To-night you shall be at Tehuantepec--in the land of marvelous women!
So big, so strong, so beautiful! They do all the work, while a man has
but to lie in the shade and rest. You will like Tehuantepec, _señor_!”


IV

The noon train carried me over a better road, across a range of
mountains, and down the sandy slopes of the Pacific coast, into an
oasis of waving coco-palms, and dropped me in the city of the far-famed
Indian vamps.

The entire female population was lined up at the station, each with a
basket of cocoanuts.

I had already heard much about their attractiveness, for every travel
writer makes it a point to rave about them. They are described
always as “sloe-eyed queens of the tropics, with the figures of a
golden-bronze Venus, clad in oriental garments of vivid color that do
not quite meet at the waist.” They are said to be of passionate and
jealous nature. But for several years I had been hearing, throughout my
travels, of women somewhere just ahead who were like that, wherefore
I was not surprised, upon descending to the station platform at
Tehuantepec, to discover that the far-famed beauties were smoking
eight-inch cigars.

A few of the younger ones were handsome. Their skin was a light brown,
their eyes large and dark, their hair long and jet-black, their teeth
white and regular, their lips red and sensual. They were a trifle
larger than most tropical Indians, with magnificent, sturdy figures.
But at least two-thirds of them were pock-marked. And although they
wore the costume described--a little jacket of brilliant color, and a
short skirt also of brilliant hue--most of the garments _did_ meet at
the waist, and those that showed a brief strip of Tehuana lady were
worn by extremely aged Tehuana lady, and were not at all romantic. For
what was sturdiness in the younger maidens became monstrous bulk in
their elders. They were majestically fat, solidly fat, with a weight
that must have amounted to three hundred pounds each. The writers
had told the truth about their figures. They had all the truck-horse
characteristics of the Venus de Milo herself.

I looked upon them with awe. I stood for a moment upon the platform,
reviewing the stories I had heard of their passionate nature, and
their aggressiveness toward the males who fell into their clutches.
And even as I reviewed these stories, the women, having seen me, made
a concerted rush. But having surrounded me, they merely removed their
eight-inch cigars from their far-famed lips, and chorused:

“Buy my cocoanuts, _señor_! Two cocoanuts for five cents!”


V

A barefoot youth came to my rescue, shouldered my suit-case, and led
the way to Tehuantepec’s one hotel.

Tehuantepec, although the largest city in population on the Isthmus, is
merely a big Indian village. Its streets are sometimes rudely cobbled,
but usually of sand. It lies in a wide, fertile valley, straddling a
shallow river. In the center its buildings are of heavy white stucco
roofed with red tile. Elsewhere its dwellings are of thatch, and
straggle up the surrounding mountain cliffs or out among the vast
groves of waving coco-palms. None of the merchants have bothered to
advertise on their shops the nature of their business, for travelers
seldom come there, and the natives all know one another and one
another’s occupation, which is usually that of selling cocoanuts to one
another.

There is a _plaza_, but it is a very inferior _plaza_, fronted by a
ramshackle church. In towns where there is an element of Spanish blood,
this would be the center of all activity. But Tehuantepec is of almost
pure Indian population, and its interests are in the native market.

When Cortez first came to Mexico, he and his followers were amazed
at the size of the Indian markets. To-day no village is so tiny but
that it has a public square devoted to bartering, even though it
may have nothing else. Usually it is a stone-paved courtyard beneath
a sheet-iron roof. From the rafters hang raw-hide thongs, lassos,
saddles, gaudy blankets, bunches of bananas, and miscellaneous
drygoods. The entire floor is covered with great heaps of Indian
pottery, jugs and pots and kettles of earthenware. Tables, arranged in
long rows, are laden with piles of big round cakes resembling maple
sugar, with gravelly hills of flour, salt, spaghetti, beans, and corn,
with strings of red or green peppers, slabs of meat, bleary-eyed fish,
and everything else imaginable. Flies swarm everywhere. Turkeys are
tied to the posts that support the roof. Ducks and chickens, their legs
hobbled or broken, lurch from side to side in a futile effort to gain
their feet. Dogs slink through the crowd. Buzzards hop about the floor.
The whole effect is of confusion and bedlam.

[Illustration: NO LATIN-AMERICAN VILLAGE IS SO TINY BUT THAT IT HAS A
SQUARE DEVOTED TO BARTERING]

The Mexican loves the noise and excitement of such a place. So
ingrained is his fondness for it that a native on his way to market
will sometimes refuse to sell his goods for any price along the road.
In the few shops outside the square, the clerks are listless; in the
market, every one is animated. People selling the same articles group
themselves together, for it stimulates competition. Let a potential
purchaser stop before one woman to glance at _tortillas_, and a dozen
other _tortilla_-vendors hiss to attract attention. Here rules the
great game of cheat-as-cheat-can. There is no credit. There is no
mutual confidence. The merchant tests each coin; the purchaser tests
each purchase. Women buying hens ruffle up the feathers and examine the
bird carefully. Every one watches the scales. And every one enjoys it
hugely.

[Illustration: THE MEXICAN PEON SO LOVES THE EXCITEMENT OF THE MARKET
THAT HE REFUSES TO SELL HIS GOODS ELSEWHERE]

But nowhere in Mexico is there a market more animated than that of
Tehuantepec.

It is essentially a feminine market. Years ago, the men of the Isthmus
were practically annihilated in local warfare. For a long time the
women outnumbered them by a ratio of five to one; they learned to do
their own work; men became to them a luxury rather than a necessity;
and to-day the position of the sexes--most strangely, in Mexico--has
become completely reversed. In most markets, women predominate. In
Tehuantepec so few males are evident that a visitor strolling among the
counters feels like Al Jolson surrounded by the Winter Garden chorus.

[Illustration: THE TEHUANA MAIDENS REGARDED A MAN AS A LUXURY RATHER
THAN A NECESSITY]

It was very clean--as compared with similar bartering places elsewhere.
Usually such places were overpowering in their odor of sweaty
femininity. In Tehuantepec, however, the ladies were addicted to a
daily bath, the prettier and younger ones taking it after dark, the
elder ones in broad daylight, when they were to be seen disporting
their massive bulks in the river that intersected the town, quite
untroubled by the attention they received from the military garrison on
the neighboring railway bridge.

Despite the comparative scarcity of males, the usual number of babies
were in evidence. Each market-woman had an infant slung over her
shoulder in a gayly-colored _reboso_--the invaluable Mexican shawl,
which serves as towel, handkerchief, wrap, carry-all for bringing
produce home, and also as a crib. While mother bargained, she fed
her offspring. The loose vest-like jacket was designed for such an
operation, as was the alternative garment, a low-cut lace-frilled
chemise. And she fed her offspring mechanically, without once taking
her attention from the business of haggling. A quick jerk of one
shoulder, and the _reboso_ with its infantile contents swung to the
front; a heated argument continued uninterruptedly with shoppers who
maintained that _her_ goods were inferior to those of the lady squatted
cross-legged on her right; another quick jerk, and the child swung
around again to her back.

So busy were the women that they paid no attention to the few
men--mostly soldiers--who strolled about. If these were the vamps that
writers have proclaimed throughout the ages, one saw no evidence of the
fact in the market. They were the least sex-conscious women that I have
seen anywhere in Latin America. The Spanish _señoritas_ of other parts,
no matter how modest their deportment, were always supremely aware
of the presence of a man. These Indian girls were intent upon their
haggling; in their rush to sell their goods, they bumped the lounging
men aside as though quite unaware of their existence. Once in a while,
when business lulled, they glanced up to survey me casually, since
I looked out of place among gaudily-dressed Indians, and I fancied
that they discussed me in Indian dialect. But they did not appear
fascinated. For their flirtation was limited always to the original
remark:

“Buy my cocoanuts, _señor_!”


VI

Tehuantepec was hot. One was always thirsty. The water supply was of
doubtful quality. So I spent most of my time walking home from market
with another armful of cocoanuts.

The saleswomen opened them with one deft chop from a huge machete,
cleaving off the heavy rind, and leaving just a tiny round hole covered
by a thin peeling of the white coco-meat. When one craved a drink, one
had only to poke a thumb through the thin white peeling. I consumed
cocoanut-milk like a toper, until my room in the adobe hotel was
littered with the empty shells.

Little Guadalupe, my fourteen-year-old servant-maid, never removed
them. For some reason known to herself, she would pile them neatly
around the walls of my chamber, where they looked strangely like the
rows of skulls in a catacomb.

Guadalupe was a husky little Indian, rather moon-faced, and very solemn
in the presence of guests. There were two other maids of her own age
who served us at table, where guests dined with the Spanish proprietor,
and his native wife--a Tehuana lady of masculine features and Amazonian
proportions. The maids would enter very seriously and sedately with
their trays of _frijoles_, but once they were out of sight, we could
hear their bare feet scampering across the _patio_ as they chased each
other to the kitchen in a game of tag.

Sometimes, as I sat in my mud-walled room, writing my notes, little
Guadalupe would come and hover about the door, watching me. Then the
other two youngsters would sneak up behind her and push her inside,
shouting:

“Guadalupe likes the _gringo_!”

Thereupon Guadalupe would exclaim indignantly, “I do not!” and seizing
the first available weapon, usually the heavy walking stick that lay
upon my table, would chase them over the _patio_, all three looking
like tiny plump butterflies as their vividly-colored garments trailed
behind them.

Presently Madame would appear from the region of the bar, clad also
in colors that shamed the rainbow, her massive bare arms as ponderous
as hams, her Jack Dempsey jaw set in firm lines of disapproval.
Immediately the three little maids would become as solemn as jurists.
Seizing brooms, they would sweep the _patio_ with great vim until
Madame withdrew. Then would come the taunt, “Guadalupe likes the
_gringo_!” and the chase recommenced.

The Spanish proprietor always referred to himself as the head of the
household, but Madame’s word was law in the establishment. This, in
Mexico, was a domestic situation which never could be found outside of
the Isthmus. Madame sat usually in a large chair at the bar-room door,
from which she could see whatever transpired in Tehuantepec. Like the
other Tehuana ladies, she carried her weight with impressive dignity.
She was grand and majestic. Beneath her, the plain little wooden
seat became a royal throne. From it she issued orders to husband and
servants with regal authority, and even to the passers-by on the street
outside.

One day an epileptic threw a fit on the cobbled roadway. Madame
sat there in calm unconcern. She was not lacking in pity; she was
merely waiting for a pedestrian to pass, in order that she might give
directions for the relief of the unfortunate fit-thrower. When one did
pass, she called out:

“Pick up that fellow and lay him in the sand where he’ll be more
comfortable!”

The pedestrian, a slouching little male person, jumped with alacrity to
obey the command. The epileptic had just been placed on softer ground
and was throwing his fit in comfort, when the daily circus parade came
around the corner. Its display consisted of a wheezy band, a horse, a
monkey, and one performer.

“Step over that fellow!” called Madame.

And the parade stepped carefully over the recumbent figure.

“A very fine woman!” commented the Spanish proprietor to me in a moment
of confidence. “An asset and an adornment to any hostelry! But there
are times, _señor_, when she does not comport herself with the dignity
befitting an inn-keeper’s wife. She feels the call of her Tehuana
blood--the manifestation of that strange energy which one finds among
these women. Then she slips away from the hotel. She picks a few
cocoanuts, and sneaks down to the market to sell them! _Carramba!_ What
idiocy! But you can not stop her! It is the nature of these people!”


VII

The more I saw of the Tehuana women, the more I marveled.

Writers had overrated their beauty, but not their character. Beside
them, the girls of Spanish ancestry appeared doll-like. The _señoritas_
were pretty, sweet, shy, modest creatures, but devoid of personality.
These Indian maidens had never been sheltered behind moorish walls;
from infancy they had faced the world, and met their own problems;
they had developed character, and their faces were clean-cut, with
individuality in every feature. The _señoritas_, accustomed to no
exercise more violent then a leisurely stroll in the _plaza_, were
frequently stoop-shouldered and walked with a débutante slouch. These
Indian maidens were as straight as the shortest distance between two
points, and their step was the lithe, springy step of the athlete.

They were tremendous workers. They would meet the morning train from
Salina Cruz at daybreak; they would haggle in the market throughout the
day; they would be back at the railway in the evening to meet the train
from the other direction; and thereafter, until midnight, they would
sit outside the circus tent, still selling their cocoanuts. Despite
their devotion to business, there was always an air of play about their
work. They laughed and chattered in their Indian dialect. They joshed
one another. They brandished their big machetes in mock anger, and
slapped one another with the flat of the blade, each slap against a
massive buttocks resulting in a loud “Bam!” that resounded even above
the riotous hubbub of the market-place. But let a stranger appear,
and all fooling ceased. The welkin rang only with cries of, “Buy my
cocoanuts, _señor_!”

Among such self-sufficient creatures, a man felt insignificant. These
women owned the town. The shops and most of the houses were feminine
property, as were the big coco-groves surrounding the city. Men were
mere appendages in Tehuantepec--a somewhat desirable comfort in a
tropical climate--but not at all necessary. The soldiers stationed here
looked peculiarly contented, and the older women all wore strings of
twenty-dollar gold pieces as mementos of the day when the gold-rush to
California led across this Isthmus, yet to the casual observer, these
Indian maidens were the least flirtatious to be seen in Mexico. If they
could find a man--a fairly permanent, dependable man, who could be
counted on to remain at home and keep house--well and good. They did
not bother to vamp the passing tourist. They were too much interested
in bartering.

Their careers as wage-earners and heads of family had made the older
women quite masculine. If they had lost the grace of the younger
maidens, they had acquired dignity. They strode along the street with
a ponderous aggressiveness, cigars cocked skyward as among Tammany
Hall politicians, arms swinging massively as though in readiness to
floor for the count any mere male who did not step aside. Many of these
older women were followed by troops of servants, ready to carry home
purchases from the market. This was a common practice in upper-class
circles elsewhere, for no Latin-American aristocrat can ever bear to
carry home his own purchases, even if they consist of a single tube of
tooth-paste. I was accustomed to the sight, but it was odd to see an
Indian woman in the gaudy, picturesque costume of Tehuantepec marching
before a retinue of retainers.

Before I realized that these were the local Hetty Greens, I had
the temerity to stop one on the street with a request that she
pose for a photograph. It was Sunday, and she had supplemented her
already-astonishing regalia with a _huipile grande_--the old head-dress
of the Isthmus--an elaborate creation of white lace that rose from her
head like a lion’s mane and fell to her heels like a peacock’s tail.

“Ten cents!” I said, holding up the coin, in an appeal which had proved
successful in other regions. “Ten cents if you’ll stop for a picture.”

She gave me one indignant look. Ten cents to one who owned thirty acres
of cocoanut grove, six houses, and a gin mill! She never paused for
a moment. She came on, full speed ahead, along the narrow sidewalk,
swinging her massive arms. Like the other mere males in Tehuantepec, I
stepped hastily aside. These Tehuana women might not be so beautiful
as writers had pictured them, but they undoubtedly were the reigning
queens of the Tropics.


VIII

Romance was not altogether lacking in Tehuantepec, even for the casual
traveler. As I was about to depart, the little hotel proprietor stopped
me.

“You really should stay longer, _señor_. In time, I believe you could
win Guadalupe, my little servant. Young men are scarce here, and she
has taken quite a fancy to you. These girls do not throw themselves
away upon one who flits from flower to flower, as does the tourist. If
you were to wait, _quien sabe, señor_? She is small, of course, but
eventually she will become a fine big woman, like my own wife.”

But I chose to flit. And one couldn’t take Guadalupe along. What would
a Tehuana lady do if the traveler were to visit a country that grew no
cocoanuts?



CHAPTER XI

THOSE CHRONIC INSURRECTIONS!


I

It was another long day’s journey to the southern border, through a
warm sunny country of jungle and blue lagoon.

An air of peace and tranquillity pervaded the land. The engineer, as
though infected with the lethargy of the tropics, loafed along from one
tiny village to another, stopping at every high-peaked hut of thatch
that arose from the low forests of wild cane.

Indians came aboard in merry, chattering groups. They were clad in
brilliant rags, invariably tattered to shreds, yet blazing with
scarlets and greens, and rivaling the plumage of the parrots and
cockatoos that screamed at us from the bamboo thickets. They wore
narrow-brimmed straw hats, of Guatemalan type, that seemed diminutive
after the immense _sombreros_ of central Mexico. Each had a hollow rod
of cane slung over the shoulder--the local style of thermos bottle. And
each was laden with an armful of infants.

The engineer waited patiently while babies were loaded and unloaded.
Some of the Indians, embarking, would clamber aboard and receive
the children passed up by friends through the windows. Others,
disembarking, would clamber down and catch the children tossed to them
by friends inside the cars. The confusion was astounding. Every one
jabbered in a babel of native dialects. But the good humor of the warm
countries always prevailed. Every one seemed eventually to find the
right infant. And we would loaf onward through the wilderness, among
rolling hills red with coffee berries, past the blue lagoons where
schools of tiny fish leaped in silver showers, and wild fowl rose in
flocks to skim across the placid waters.

Looking upon the quiet landscape, one would never have suspected that
Mexico was on the eve of another chronic insurrection.


II

This railway was a link in the much-discussed Pan-American road,
which dreamers hope may some day carry passengers from New York to
Buenos Aires in a week. How soon the vision will ever become a reality
is problematical. The existing links are few. European merchants,
resenting the commercial advantages it would offer to Americans, are
uniformly opposed to the project. And native governments, always
suspicious of one another, particularly in Central America, fear its
military possibilities.


III

Nightfall brought us to Tapachula, a pleasant little city in a rich
plantation district.

A diminutive trolley, operated by a Ford engine, awaited us at the
station. The motorman climbed out to crank it. The passengers crowded
aboard. A host of hotel runners and porters attached themselves to
roof, sides, and platform, until the car itself was invisible beneath
its coating of humanity.

It rattled away upon wobbly tracks through a low-built plaster city--a
city almost overpowering in its scent of coffee from the warehouses and
drying floors--and landed us eventually at one of the most picturesque
_plazas_ in Mexico. It fairly blazed with color. Amid its green were
masses of flowering purple bougainvillea. All about it were red-tiled
roofs. Above it towered a grove of royal palms, tall and stately, and
bursting far aloft into dark olive plumage, through which the façade of
the inevitable aged cathedral gleamed white against a flaming tropic
sunset.

The streets, bordered by high, narrow sidewalks, were rudely cobbled,
and sloped to a central gutter. Horsemen with gay ponchos trailing
behind them clattered over the rough stones. Long trains of burros
plodded beneath sacks of coffee, driven by _peons_ in scarlet rags.
Tehuana girls, homeward bound from market, passed in their quaint
costume, balancing earthenware jars above their turbaned heads.

Before the _commandancia_ which faced the _plaza_, six musicians were
playing upon a _marimba_, the sweet-toned Central-American xylophone,
standing shoulder to shoulder, all tattered and barefoot, playing so
swiftly that their sticks were but streaks of light, yet playing with
perfect rhythm, with beautiful harmonies, and with a verve that would
have delighted the most blasé jazz-lover on Broadway. The horsemen
paused to listen. The Tehuana girls lingered at the curb. Army officers
in the bright uniforms of peace-time, were strolling through the
_plaza_, flirting with the _señoritas_.

Mexico was quiet, and charming, even on the verge of revolution.


IV

The De la Huerta revolt of 1924 was but a comparatively small incident
in Mexican history.

It will probably be forgotten by the time this book appears in print.
Yet it is fairly typical of such affairs. And it is rather significant
of current political tendencies which are likely to continue long into
the future.

To understand it, as to understand everything that happens in Mexico
to-day, one must glance into the past.

This originally was the land of an empire which combined savagery with
civilization. The Aztecs normally were peaceful tillers of the soil,
cultivators of flowers, and builders of monuments, yet they could fight
courageously upon occasion, and were addicted to human sacrifices. To
this empire came a handful of Spanish adventurers bent upon conquest.
They were great warriors, these Spaniards, but they conquered mainly
through their cleverness in playing one group of Indians against
another. During the three centuries of their rule, there was much
progress in Mexico--as the world of to-day judges progress, which means
the growth of European institutions--but the Spaniard held the Indian
in subjection which in many cases became slavery.

Into the soul of the Indian crept a spirit of rebellion. He rose and
cast out the Spaniard. He chose his own leaders, usually from the
_mestizo_ or mixed-breed population, only to discover that they were
as ready to exploit him as the Spaniard had been. Blinded by the
eloquent promises of one politician after another, he marched in every
revolution. The Spaniard had brought to Mexico the political doctrine
that a governor is not the servant but the master of his people.
Whoever gained office promptly forgot his promises.

To the foreigner, the one bright spot in Mexican history is the reign
of the Dictator, Porfirio Diaz. He pacified a disorderly country. He
built fifteen thousand miles of railway, established telegraphic
communication throughout the republic, placed Mexico upon a firm
financial basis, and raised it to a foremost rank among nations. He
gave the Indian prosperity, but failed to educate him; he kept him in
subjection as stern as that of the Spaniard. And rival politicians,
whispering to the Indian that Diaz had sold his country to the foreign
promoter, found him ready for more revolution.

Then recommenced the old story of one president after another. In
the blood of each was that strain of the Spanish adventurer who had
come to Mexico to reap a fortune at the expense of the native. The
first to keep his promises to the Indian was Carranza. Under his new
constitution, previously mentioned, the _peon_ enjoyed so many rights,
and the capitalist so few, that foreigners ceased to invest.

The Indian, theoretically, now owned Mexico. But he was penniless and
ignorant, and he didn’t know what to do with it. Its riches were the
sort that required money and engineering brains. Its varied climes
would produce any crop grown elsewhere in the world, but in most
regions they required extensive irrigation. Its rugged mountains
possessed a vast store of mineral wealth--iron, onyx, opals, topazes,
emeralds, jade, marble, mercury, lead, zinc, antimony, asphaltum, coal,
copper, silver, and gold--but they needed machinery and transportation.
Its eastern sands with their fortune in oil had already made this the
third petroleum-producing country of the world, when only a tenth of
the possible fields had been prospected, but they were of no value to
the untrained Mexican _peon_. He found himself poorer than ever.

When, in 1920, Obregon raised his revolutionary standard, the Indian
turned against Carranza. Obregon proved the most capable president
since Diaz. He was adept at compromise. He quickly pacified the
country, hanging the smaller bandits, and conciliating the larger
bandits (like Villa) with the promise of forgiveness. He pleased the
Indian with agrarian reforms, splitting up the larger estates into
small land-holdings. He brought back the foreign capitalist with new
concessions. Mexico did not become the heaven which Obregon’s American
propaganda would have had us believe, but it gave much promise.

Its one dark cloud was a rising tide of Bolshevism. Obregon, with all
his compromise, still favored the Indian. And the Indian, sensing his
new strength, gloried in it. In Vera Cruz, where the new movement was
strongest, workmen were striking constantly on trivial excuse or no
excuse at all, tenants had formed a habit of hanging out red flags as a
sign that they were tired of paying rent, and stevedores were refusing
to unload steamers until the principal port of Mexico was so constantly
tied up as to depress seriously all Mexican business.

The native landholders and property owners--not to mention many of the
foreign promoters--were becoming seriously alarmed at the menace of
this Bolshevism. When it became evident that Obregon was favoring as
his successor at the 1924 elections a man who favored the Indian even
more stoutly than he himself--General Calles--the moneyed interests
promptly started a new revolution headed by Adolfo de la Huerta. The
significant point about this revolution is that the Indian--or a part
of the Indian population--promptly rose to follow the De la Huerta
standard, deserting his own shibboleths to die for principles which
throughout all earlier Mexican history he had striven to overthrow.

Among the fifteen million people of Mexico, only one million are of
pure white ancestry. Six million are full-blooded Indians. Among the
other eight million _mestizos_ aboriginal strains predominate. With
employment and fair treatment the natives are peaceable. But like
their Aztec ancestors they are potential fighters. When discontent
awakens the old spirit of rebellion first aroused by the Spaniard, they
rise blindly to follow some new leader, believing that at last they
have discovered a friend, when they have merely discovered another
self-seeking politician bent upon their exploitation. When they do find
a friend, they are too ignorant to appreciate the fact. They are the
ready dupes of ambitious generals.


V

In Tapachula, the insurrection was marked principally by much blowing
of bugles on the part of the Obregon garrison.

The civilian population remained unperturbed.

The soldiery hailed the affair as another good excuse for drinking.
Possibly their officers had paid them as a first step toward insuring
their loyalty in the campaign to follow. They promptly filled the local
bar-rooms, and swaggered about the streets with the air of increased
importance which comes to a military man in time of war.

As always in Mexico, the martial spirit brought to the surface the
anti-foreign sentiment. The _peon_, whatever his opinion of _gringos_,
is usually polite, but inspired by thoughts of battle--and a few swigs
of rum--he occasionally tells the foreigner what he thinks of him. A
fat sergeant, careening wildly by on a little burro, so drunk that he
threatened at every lurch to overturn his diminutive mount, reviled
my ancestry as he galloped past. A group of soldiers, making merry in
a saloon near the _plaza_, set down their bottle of _mescal_ to damn
all Americans. One of them staggered out with the evident intention of
picking a quarrel, but his attention was distracted at the sight of a
Tehuana girl lingering at the curb. Seizing her arm, he grinned in an
effort at blandishment. She broke loose with an angry, “_Vaya!_ Run
along! _Andale!_” and hurried down the street, while a policeman on the
corner chuckled and twirled his own moustachios. The soldier turned to
me again, muttering something about tearing a _gringo’s_ heart from
the breast. He started toward me, wavered unsteadily, collided with a
house-wall and collapsed in the gutter.

For a day the soldiery swaggered all over town, but the next morning
their generals--now in business-like khaki--rounded them up and marched
them to the railway station, where all passenger traffic had ceased and
all cars had been commandeered for transport.

They passed beneath my hotel balcony--a motley crew of
evil-visaged little fellows, with cartridges glistening from many
bandoleers--cheering and singing. Behind them came a nondescript mob
of slatternly women, old and young and middle-aged--the _soldaderas_,
or camp-followers, who transport the baggage, cook the food, perform
whatever other services a soldier may require, and sometimes assist
in the actual fighting, occasionally with a rifle, but usually with
sticks or stones, wherewith they engage in combat the _soldaderas_ of
the enemy. Barefoot, bedraggled, unwashed, they were bent under loads
of fruit-baskets, blankets, saddle-bags, water-jars, and even live
chickens.

A few of the marchers glanced up at my balcony to hurl a last curse at
the _gringo_. Then they vanished around the corner, bound northward to
the scene of battle. Tapachula resumed its atmosphere of peace, quite
as though Mexico were untroubled by one of its chronic insurrections.


VI

One must not assume that a Mexican revolution is a comic opera affair.
The least conspicuous uprising sows something of death, destruction,
and a loss of feminine virtue in its wake. But Mexico is large and
sparsely populated, and can stage a dozen revolutions at once without
disturbance of its general calm.

The De la Huerta revolt raged principally in central Mexico. For a
few months the republic was aflame from Vera Cruz to Manzanillo.
But Obregon had the best generals. The United States, taking the
quickest means to bring about order, allowed him to buy arms denied
the revolutionists. The Huertistas, beaten and dispersed, fled
southward into the jungles of Tehuantepec, fighting sporadically
along the railway I had just traversed, until completely disbanded.
American newspaper readers settled back in their easy chairs with the
self-congratulatory comment, “There’s another revolution over! Those
Mexicans must be a cut-throat lot!”


VII

When one travels through Mexico one is amazed to discover that the
Mexicans do not appear a cut-throat lot.

The great masses of Indian and semi-Indian population appear quiet,
simple, peaceable folk. Now and then, after the _tequila_ has flowed
freely, some of them may beat their wives or cut their neighbors’
throats, but this is not their regular pastime. In fact, most
Old-Timers in the country deny that crime is any more frequent there
than at home.

Why then, the traveler always asks himself, can these people not elect
a president without bloodshed?

One finds the answer by observing their politeness.

This politeness is extremely personal. The man who talked for half
an hour to the ticket agent, keeping forty other persons waiting
while he asked after all the members of the other man’s family, is a
case in point. So are the two acquaintances--familiar to every one
who has lived in Mexico--who meet upon a narrow sidewalk, embrace
demonstratively, and stand there for another half hour, enjoying one
another’s professions of love and admiration to such an extent that
they force all other pedestrians to step out into the gutter.

It is a personal politeness which must be rigidly observed, no matter
how much inconvenience it may cause the general public. One finds it
everywhere in Mexican life--and this discussion might be extended to
apply to the life of the neighboring countries given to revolution.
It permeates business, where salesmanship follows the methods--now
comparatively obsolete at home--of concentrating upon favorably
impressing the buyer rather than demonstrating the superior merits of
one’s goods. And when applied to politics, it becomes the good old
principle of “What’s the constitution among friends?”

Mexican loyalty is an extremely personal loyalty. The Mexican may love
his home, and the immediate land upon which he resides, but he has no
conception of patriotism. He uses the phrase for oratorical purposes,
but the idea is vague. He would rally to his country’s flag to fight a
foreign invader, but beyond that, he has no devotion to his republic,
or to the ideals and principles--whatever they may be--for which
Mexico stands. He knows only loyalty to certain leaders. His political
parties do not go by the name of Liberal or Conservative, Republican or
Democrat, but by the name of the candidate. The Mexican is always an
_Obregonista_, or a _Villista_ or a _Carranzista_ or a _Huertista_.

Once in office, the successful politician practices the spoils
system, which is not unknown in our own republic, but which reaches
a far higher point of efficiency in Mexico. Into office come all his
personal friends. They have spent their money to elect him. Now
they must reimburse themselves. Graft, fairly common in other lands,
is an art in these countries. Scarcely a sum of money ever changes
hands in the course of government operations without shrinking at
least slightly. Political office is the quick, sure road to financial
success. No one knows how soon a term may end, wherefore every one
makes hay while the sun shines, for to-morrow it may rain bullets.
Should one administration reach the end of its term--and Mexico’s
latest constitution limits a president to one term--the old principle
of personal courtesy to a friend continues. The retiring president
names his own successor, whose election--since his troops control the
polls--he can definitely guarantee.

The Mexican believes in this loyalty to friends. He expects the
successful politician to give all the plums to his supporters,
regardless of their abilities for the several posts. Not placing a
high value upon honesty, except verbally, he takes it for granted that
most of them will rob the people. He understands that they are loath
to relinquish office. And in his heart, he would condemn the president
as disloyal if he did not stuff the ballot boxes in favor of a chosen
successor. His indignation is not aroused at such proceedings. He would
do the same things himself if he were in power. But if he happens to
be a rival politician, without power, and with no prospect of gaining
it except by forcibly dislodging the other fellow, he affects great
indignation. He whispers to the _peon_ his horror at the prevailing
misgovernment. “These villains,” he says, “are robbing you!” And
he rises in arms, followed by the _peon_, to save Mexico from its
unpatriotic despoilers.

As a matter of fact, it is only a comparatively small part of the
population that follows. The great bulk of the Mexican people _are_
peaceable; they are tired of revolution; they have lost faith in new
leaders; they prefer to remain neutral, and to cheer diplomatically for
whoever proves the victor. The revolutionary army is recruited like the
federal army from the unemployed, from those who have tired of working
and hope to obtain political office themselves, from young boys who are
thrilled by the prospect of carrying a gun, and from a certain lawless
element that welcomes the possibility of loot and rape.

Should the revolution prove abortive, the Government generals
quickly suppress it. A few of its leaders are hanged, a few soldiers
executed; the rest of the rebels slip away quietly, hide their
weapons, and return innocently to their work. Should the revolution
prove successful, the Government generals forget their loyalty to the
President; they jump quickly to the other side, taking with them their
ignorant troops--who are never quite sure whom they are fighting,
anyway--and fight valiantly, as always, to save Mexico. The President
flees. The revolutionists hold a banquet at the Palace, where they
make flowery speeches about their patriotism. They conduct an election,
make one of their number president, and accept his appointments to
office. And there they remain, until another revolution throws them
out, or until a squabble starts among themselves as to which shall next
succeed to the presidency.

The American reading public always condemns the revolutionist. It can
not seem to grasp the fact that elections are never honest in Mexico;
that whoever controls the polls is the man elected; that Mexico has
never had a constitutional president who did not first capture the
Palace by force of arms; that revolution consequently is the only
course whereby there can be a change of parties. Usually the revolution
is justifiable. But invariably it brings to office another man who,
like the man at the ticket window, is more considerate of his personal
friends than of the general public.

The Mexicans are not a cut-throat lot. They are merely too courteous.


VIII

Yet Mexico always weathers her storms.

Even in revolution, unless one chances to be caught at the particular
scene of the disturbance, this land is supremely tranquil.

In Tapachula the only evidence of the turmoil was an ever-lengthening
line of brown-faced prisoners sitting crossed-legged on the street
before the _commandancia_, picking with their machetes at the rank
weeds that grew up among the cobblestones.

As in Hermosillo a moon smiled down over the low flat roofs. The
lilting song of the _marimba_ echoed hauntingly through the dim
streets. And the plaintive notes of a _gendarme’s_ whistle assured the
world that all was well.



CHAPTER XII

UP AND DOWN GUATEMALA


I

From Tapachula to the Guatemalan border, there was a train every two or
three days, provided traffic warranted so much service.

It took me through a bamboo forest, and dropped me at Suchiate, a
straggling village of thatched huts beside a muddy river, where I had
my first experience with the formalities attendant upon the crossing of
a Central-American frontier.

First one had to secure permission from the Mexican authorities to
leave their country. In a whitewashed shed three leisurely gentlemen in
their shirt sleeves were viséing passports. Before they would proceed,
one had to obtain stamps, procurable only at another shack, located as
always in these countries at the opposite end of town, and reached by
trudging through deep sand beneath a broiling sun. And when, after half
an hour or more, one returned with the stamps, there were questions:

Why were we leaving Mexico? When? Where were we going? Why? What had
we done in Mexico? Why the devil had we come there, anyhow? What was
our profession? Married or single? How many children? Why? Where were
they? And how?

And when one had convinced the officials of his respectability,
there was another long hike across an endless sunny grass-plain, to
a palm-thatched shelter at the river bank, where other officials
ransacked the baggage. A boatman poled the few emigrants across the
swirling waters to Guatemala. And the entire proceeding recommenced on
the other side.

The Guatemalan officials had no office. They stood in the shade of a
pepper tree, flanked on one side by a squad of barefooted soldiers,
on the other by an ox-cart, and backed by the town’s juvenile
population. They pretended very solemnly to read every word in the
passports--although one traveler’s was in Russian and another’s in
Syrian. They paused now and then to shake their heads doubtfully
and exchange suspicious glances. But at length, when every one had
proved his solvency by displaying thirty-five dollars in American
currency--Guatemalan bills not being considered sufficient proof of
solvency--they passed us all. Baggage was loaded upon the ox-cart, and
we started for the custom-house, led by the soldiers, and followed by
the juvenile population.

There was another wait of more than an hour while the custom inspector
finished his lunch, took his _siesta_, and smoked his cigarette. At
last, however, he made his appearance, scribbled in chalk all over the
outside of trunks and suit-cases, filled out several printed reports,
and collected from each of us ten Guatemalan dollars--or fourteen cents
in American money--and the formalities were concluded.

We were officially admitted to the Republic of Guatemala.


II

From Ayutla, the Guatemalan frontier station, to Guatemala City was
another day’s ride.

The railway coaches, if possible, were just a trifle more dilapidated
than those of Mexico, but the train made better time. The way led
through a continuation of the bamboo forests, but it soon rose to the
cooler highlands, where volcanic cones towered into the clouds. One or
two of the craters were smoking, filling the sky with dense masses of
white vapor, and sprinkling the earth with a fine lava dust.

To all Central America, these volcanoes are blessings. Occasionally
the attendant earthquakes may shake down a city, but the lava dust
enriches the soil, and a good coffee crop provides the wherewithal
for reconstruction. The Pacific slopes of Guatemala are exceedingly
fertile. Coming from Mexico, where revolution had brought a cessation
of work, one noticed the air of prosperity in this little Central
American country. The hills everywhere were red with coffee berries,
the plantations were neatly kept, and the _peons_ all seemed busy.

[Illustration: THE ABUNDANT CENTRAL-AMERICAN VOLCANOES FERTILIZE THE
COFFEE FINCAS WITH LAVA DUST]

They were very small, these Guatemalan Indians, so small that they
suggested Lilliputians, but remarkably sturdy. They appeared to earn
their living principally by carrying bundles. Every woman on the road
was galloping along with swift, flat-footed stride, swinging her arms
as though paddling her way, balancing on her head a basket of produce
or a great cluster of earthenware jars. Every man had a load upon his
back, sometimes so much larger than himself that he resembled a tiny
ant struggling beneath a huge beetle. He supported his burden with
straps over his shoulders, and with a band about his forehead, so that
by inclining his neck forward or back, he could shift the weight. These
people showed no bulging muscle; theirs was the smooth modeling of the
Indian physique that concealed tremendous strength. They seemed never
to pause for rest, but trotted untiringly, serving as pack-animals
in the more remote regions for fourteen cents a day, and carrying a
hundred and fifty pounds for twelve hours or more.

They were the most colorful types to be seen south of Tehuantepec. Each
village had its own distinctive costume, particularly among the women.
At one station they were wearing short purple jackets that disclosed
six inches of bronze stomach. At another they were clad in tight
blue skirts, a waist of print cloth, and a wide sash of blazing
scarlet wrapped tightly about the hips. At another they were draped in
_serapes_ with a design picturing such confusion as might occur if a
bolt of lightning were to become entangled in a rainbow.

Guatemala is essentially an Indian republic. Among its 2,250,000
people--who incidentally comprise forty per cent. of the total
population of Central America--there are a million of pure aboriginal
ancestry. The whites are comparatively scarce. Yet this is the least
democratic of the local nations, and the whites dominate it completely.
The greater part of the country belongs to a few wealthy landlords,
either native or German, and the _peon_, although not mistreated,
has little to say about his government. But the _peon_ always has
employment. And Guatemala is prosperous.

[Illustration: GUATEMALA’S POPULATION INCLUDES A MILLION PURE-BLOODED
ABORIGINES]

One noticed that the train did not stop long for Indians who wished
to board it, as did trains in Mexico. If a wealthy _hacendado_ were
seen advancing down the road, the conductor waited for him. If two
dozen barefoot passengers were at the station, the engineer tooted
his whistle peremptorily, paused only for a moment, allowed them to
scramble aboard as best they could, and was off again.

After Mexico, this speed was startling. Considering the size of
Central-American republics, one feared lest the train overrun the
boundary lines and trespass upon the sovereignty of Salvator or
Honduras. But it stayed within its own domain, turning eastward, and
climbing out of the coffee-covered Pacific slopes to the pine-clad
heights of central Guatemala, landing us in the evening at Guatemala
City, 4870 feet above the sea.


III

To the American at home, all Central America is a heat-stricken jungle.
He invariably greets the returned traveler with, “I’ll bet you’re
glad to get back to God’s country!” As a matter of fact, Guatemala
City--like Tegucigalpa, in Honduras, and San José in Costa Rica, and
some several other cities in all these countries--has a climate which
no city in the United States can equal. It is pleasantly warm at
mid-day, and delightfully cool at night. The traveler in these parts
always pities the American at home, who freezes for six months, and
sweats for six months. He never can understand why the poor fellow
doesn’t let the farm go to seed, and move down to a decent climate.


IV

The Guatemalan capital is a pleasant city, but not handsome.

Built low and massively, it gives one the impression that it is
patiently awaiting another earthquake. In its past it has been moved
about from time to time in the hope that it might find a resting place
free from nature’s assaults, but another tremor always finds it and
shakes it to pieces. It was destroyed in 1917 and again in 1918. A
writer never dares use the phrase, “The last earthquake,” since another
is apt to occur before his book reaches print.

At the time of my visit, in 1924, its builders had apparently become
discouraged. Many of the buildings were still but a heap of crumbled
ruins. The streets were rough, paved with cobbles partially dislodged,
and marked with crazy trails which traffic had worn out in years of
zigzagging from curb to curb in an effort to find passage. The drivers
of the little old cabs worked their way along these streets like
sailors tacking through a tortuous channel, and only large automobiles
were in evidence, for the smaller variety so popular in Mexico would
have shaken passengers to death.

At the main _plaza_, the Cathedral was surrounded by piles of débris.
Since Guatemala keeps the church in the same restraint as does
Mexico, the Bishop could not afford to rebuild every year or two.
The edifice now stood with columns seamed and cracked, with dome and
towers completely gone, and with its greenish silver bells protected
by improvised board shelters. The interior also presented a patched
effect, and a ruined altar was replaced by a less ornate substitute,
but business was proceeding as usual.

[Illustration: OCCASIONALLY THE RESULTANT EARTHQUAKES KNOCK DOWN A CITY
OR DESTROY THE GUATEMALAN CATHEDRAL]

Guatemala, however, is the largest city in Central America. Its
population--estimated as accurately as anything is estimated in these
parts--numbers something between a hundred and two hundred thousand.
If a trifle crumbled, it is the most complete city hereabouts. There
are many shops, several banks, a number of theaters, and a host of
excellent hotels. There is local color in abundance, for Indians
in picturesque garb walk the streets, lounge in the _plaza_, and
congregate in the native market behind the cathedral, quite as
primitive as in the rural districts. There is electric light, a system
of mail boxes set into the house-walls at every corner, and even a café
with an orchestra at every half block for those who crave modernity.

These cafés are really a distinguishing feature of Guatemala City.
Elsewhere in Central America waitresses are usually waiters. Here the
waiters are usually waitresses--rather coquettish little _señoritas_,
whose smiles are served gratis with every order. The coffee-kings
gather there nightly to keep their wealth in circulation, and to bask
in the smiles. They drink somewhat immoderately, as in Mexico, and
wait patiently to the closing hour, only to learn that the girls’ own
parents call to take them straight home. But the coffee-kings are ever
hopeful. They come back night after night. And the cafés possess a
gayety that adds to the city’s attractiveness.

Neither revolution, nor earthquake, nor disappointment in love can
dampen the good humor of these countries.


V

By chance, on my first evening in Guatemala City, I was held up by a
highwayman.

I was rambling about unaccustomed streets, when a polite little brown
gentleman stepped out of a doorway, poked a revolver into my ribs, and
said courteously:

“Pardon, _señor_. Please to raise both the hands above the head, and to
tell me in which pocket I shall find your watch and your money.”

My watch was one of those cheap things which the traveler always
carries for such an emergency. My money formed a large wad, but it
was all in Guatemalan currency, and I had my doubts as to whether my
assailant would accept it. Back in Tapachula the Guatemalan Consul,
having viséd my passport, had refused the moth-eaten bills of his own
country, demanding American greenbacks, but finally compromising upon
Mexican gold. The highwayman, however, was too polite to refuse.

“I thank you greatly, _señor_,” he said. “Again I beg your pardon, and
bid you _adios_.”

Covering me with the revolver, he backed around a corner. When I looked
to see where he had gone, he was running furiously down the dark
street. He had taken a hundred and fourteen Guatemalan dollars, or
about ninety cents in American coinage.


VI

In any Central-American republic, one notices a “homey” quality lacking
in the larger territory of Mexico.

In these smaller nations, every one of any prominence knows every
one else. The capital is something of a Latinized Main Street. This
is more true of the little countries to the south, but Guatemala
is not completely an exception. Its provincialism manifests itself
particularly in the newspaper, which savors always of the local country
weekly, although a flowery verbosity gives it a unique distinction.

In Mexico City, one finds a press quite the equal of the American, with
a several-page daily edition that shows an appreciation of news values,
and a Sunday edition complete even to rotogravure picture section and
comic supplement. In Guatemala City one finds a little four-page sheet,
published apparently by some gentleman who desires an organ for the
glorification of his friends and the vilification of his enemies.

On its first page is the feature story of a party given last night
by the editor’s brother-in-law, Don Guilliermo Pan y Queso Escobar,
whose palatial mansion was graced by a felicitous gathering of our
most illustrious men and our most charming women, truly representative
of the very cream of our distinguished society, and so on with an
ever-swelling multitude of flattering adjectives. Beside it is an
account of the Commencement Exercises of the local stenographic
college--of which the editor’s uncle is the principal--an event which
seems to have been a complete success, for it was celebrated with an
éclat both artistic and educational unsurpassed in the history of our
city, and every number of the delightful and uplifting program was
greeted by rapturous applause, the audience sitting spellbound as the
estimable, virtuous, and pulchritudinous _señoritas_ of the student
body demonstrated their efficiency by taking down in shorthand, almost
word for word, the speech of the director, our sympathetic and greatly
admired fellow-countryman, Don Ricardo Cantando y Bailando Chavez, to
whom great credit is due for the distinction and finesse with which
the entire entertainment, and thus and thus, until the article closes
with a list of the persons present, the illustrious and distinguished
everybody in the audience who wore shoes.

On the last inside page, hidden among the advertisements, are the brief
cablegrams from the rest of the world, announcing the death of Lenine,
the invasion by France of the German Ruhr, and such other unimportant
events as the destruction of Tokio by earthquake, the election of a
new American president, or a war in Europe.


VII

Guatemala contained a large colony of foreigners. There were many
Germans engaged in the coffee business on the Pacific slopes, many
Americans from the banana plantations of the Caribbean Coast, a few
exiled European noblemen who had come with the remnants of their former
fortunes to live as long as possible without working in a country where
living was cheap, and several Old-Timers, all with the rank of General,
who had fought in the various past revolutions of Central America, and
were now resting upon their laurels.

These countries have long been the happy hunting ground of the soldier
of fortune, of whom the greatest since William Walker was General Lee
Christmas, who died at New Orleans while I was at the scene of his
exploits.

Christmas came to Central America as a locomotive engineer. It had
been his profession in Mississippi until a wreck, followed by an
investigation, brought out the fact that he was color-blind and could
not distinguish signals. Central America was less strict about such
things in those days. In fact, most of the old-time engineers are said
to have driven their trains with a whiskey-flask handy, and with few
worries about such things as signals. Christmas found employment, but
he became accidentally entangled in an insurrection, and formed the
habit. On one occasion, when he was driving an engine in Guatemala,
he is said to have received news of an outbreak in Honduras, and to
have left his train with all its freight and passengers standing on
the track while he hopped out of the cab-window and hiked overland
through the jungles to join the fray. His greatest exploit was that
of repulsing an entire army with a machine-gun, assisted only by one
other _gringo_, a Colonel Guy Maloney, now Superintendent of Police in
New Orleans. He drifted from one country to another, wherever a fight
seemed most promising, followed by troops that varied in number from
two men to fourteen thousand.

“He was a good scout, too,” agreed most of the Old-Timers in Guatemala
City. “He’d give you his last cent, if you needed it. He’d have been a
millionaire, if he’d saved half the money he got from the governments
he helped, but he blew it all in on parties. He’d get drunk with you,
or he’d go down the line with you, or he’d fight you--anything to
please his friends. He was pretty square, usually, when he held office.
When he was Chief of Police up in Tegucigalpa, if his best pals raised
the devil, he’d stick them right in jail. And when their term was over,
he’d give them a whale of a good party.”

His revolutionary habits finally became so annoying to Washington
that his citizenship was canceled. Broken-hearted about it, he came
home, assisted the secret service throughout the European War, and was
reinstated. When he fell ill from old wounds and fevers contracted in
Central-American jungles, many Old-Timers cabled offers of assistance,
and his old lieutenant, Colonel Guy Maloney, gave him a blood
transfusion, but it was too late. When the news of his death reached
Central America, more than one president probably heaved a sigh of
relief.

Guatemala City was filled with other ex-adventurers, all a little
jealous of Christmas’ fame, and all inclined to belittle one another.
They sat about the hotel lobbies, spinning yarns about “that little
affair down in Nicaragua,” or “that little scrap up in Honduras,” and
if I mentioned to one the story of some other, he would snort loudly
with derision.

“Don’t you believe it! He’s a damned wind-bag! Next time he mentions
getting that sword stuck through his lung, you just ask him if he
remembers the mule that got him up against the corral wall and kicked
hell out of him!”


VIII

Guatemala has had its revolutions from time to time, yet its
history--as compared with that of its immediate neighbors--has been
fairly peaceful.

If it has not had a succession of _good_ rulers, it has at least had a
succession of _strong_ rulers. Its Indians are a docile race, a race
much more easily conquered by the Spaniards than were the Indians
of Mexico, and much more easily dominated by the white landlords of
to-day. And the army, if not impressive when on dress parade, is one of
the most dependable armies in Central America.

In recruiting its soldiers, the government resorts to the selective
draft. The _Jefe Politico_--the all-powerful local official--visits
each coffee planter, and secures a list of the pickers who have picked
the least coffee during the past year. These, provided his soldiers
can catch them, are enlisted in the army. Once enrolled, the little
_peons_ are equipped with uniform, not very elaborately or neatly, but
sufficiently to distinguish them from civilians. In the Capital, they
are also equipped with shoes, not for efficiency but for the sake of
appearances. Unaccustomed to footwear, they have to be trained to its
use, and nothing is more amusing than the sight of a new battalion
thus shod and stumbling awkwardly over the rough streets. They look
uncomfortable and self-conscious, and at each halt will pick up their
feet and glare at the shoes much as milady’s poodle glares at a pink
ribbon tied around its tail.

Yet these little Indians, stupid and illiterate, make better soldiers
than the more intelligent _mestizos_, or mixed-bloods. They are more
susceptible to discipline. In most of these countries, virtue goes
with ignorance, to such an extent that the mixed-bloods are called
_ladinos_ in Guatemala--a word that originally meant “tricksters.” The
little Indians are far more loyal to the president in office than are
the _mestizo_ soldiers of the neighboring republics, and are less apt
to desert the existing government when an insurrection threatens.

Guatemala’s several Dictators, also, have been artists at the business
of discouraging opposition.

Of them all, Estrada Cabrera stands out head and shoulders above other
despots not only of Guatemala but of all Latin America. Until a very
few years ago he reigned for term after term, proclaiming himself
re-elected when necessary, and quietly murdering any politician who
gave the slightest indication of opposing him.

Why he clung to the presidency is a mystery. He was so fearful of
assassination that he scarcely ever showed himself outside the palace.
He slept usually in a house across the street, reached by a secret
passageway. He ate nothing except what his own mother prepared for him.
He would have a dozen beds made up each night, and only one or two of
his most trusted guardians knew which one he occupied. He seriously
handicapped the country’s mining interests by placing a ban on the
importation of blasting powder, lest it be used to blow him up. On the
one occasion when he attended a public ceremony, a bomb killed his
carriage-driver and the horses, barely missing the Dictator himself.
Since it was exploded by an electrical device, he thereafter placed
a ban on all electric contrivances, and visitors to the country were
relieved even of such things as pocket flashlights.

But from his isolation within the palace, he manipulated all the
strings of government, and all Guatemala felt his power. He personally
blue-penciled every foreign news dispatch that left the country, and
sometimes even the personal cablegrams. He maintained an elaborate spy
system, with one agent watching another agent, until every man in the
republic was under survey. He permitted no public gatherings where
people might discuss politics. He forbade the organization of any kind
of society, and once suppressed a chess club.

Quite possibly, he believed that these measures were justified. It is
affirmed by many that Guatemala made more progress under his rule than
at any period of brief presidencies. Certainly he did not follow the
course of enriching himself sufficiently in one term to spend the rest
of his life in Paris--a course extremely popular among Central-American
executives. And many an Old-Timer will say, “The old devil was never so
bad as they pictured him.”

But those who opposed his will used to die quite silently and
suddenly, and his enemies affirm that Cabrera used poison. One hears
strange stories about his political methods:

He is said on one occasion to have decreed the death of an American
who had incurred his enmity. To avoid international complications he
dispatched a second American to do the dirty work. The second American
went to the first, warned him, and advised him to leave the country.
Then he returned to inform Cabrera that the other man had escaped.
He did not know that a native spy, having followed him, had already
reported the meeting. Cabrera smiled. “That is too bad! But you could
not help it, so have a cocktail with me, and forget all about it.”
Three hours later, the American did forget all about it. He dropped
dead.

One hesitates to believe all the stories, for Old-Timers love to shock
the itinerant journalist. But certain it is that he kept all Guatemala
in terror of his authority, until many of the more ignorant believed
him gifted with supernatural powers.

In his later days, as in the history of most despots, he lost his
grip upon the country. He had made too many enemies. Every one hated
him, yet hesitated through fear of spies to be the first to proclaim
opposition. But the inevitable revolution finally materialized, and
Cabrera fled the capital. He surrendered on condition that his life and
property be respected. It is to the credit of the Guatemalans that
they observed their agreement, although lynch-law might have been more
justifiable.

One Carlos Herrera, a wealthy landlord, took his place, but he did
not relish the job as did Cabrera. After a few months, when some one
else started a revolution, he made no objection. It was comparatively
bloodless. A few policemen were the only casualties. They had not
been informed that a revolution was scheduled, and when they saw the
mobs surging up the street, undertook to quell what they considered
a disorderly scene. One completely organized government went out
overnight, and another completely organized government came in.
Shooting was by way of celebration. An American who had an engagement
with Herrera the next day went to the palace, and inquired, “Is Herrera
in?” and received the answer, “Herrera’s out; Orellana’s in.” Only one
man was arrested. He landed in Puerto Barrios, the north coast port,
with a cheerful jag, and cabled Herrera, “On arriving in your beautiful
country, I hasten to salute you and to wish you a long life and a merry
one.” The new government arrested him for treason, but released him as
soon as he proved his ignorance that a revolution had transpired.

[Illustration: WHEN ORELLANA STARTED A REVOLUTION, PRESIDENT HERRERA
MADE NO STRENUOUS OBJECTION]

[Illustration: THE ONLY CASUALTIES WERE A FEW POLICEMEN WHO MISTOOK THE
REVOLUTION FOR A DISORDERLY DEMONSTRATION]

Orellana, who held office at the time of my visit, was a former
lieutenant of Cabrera’s. He had occupied the seat beside Cabrera when
the bomb blew up coachman and horses. There were rumors afloat that
Cabrera’s brain still directed the government, but they received little
credence. Another story, purely humorous, was that on the night when
Orellana overthrew Herrera, the ex-Dictator started to pile all his
furniture against the door of his room.

“But, sir,” protested a servant, “these are your own friends coming
back into power.”

“That’s why I’m doing this,” said Cabrera. “I know those fellows!”

Cabrera’s house was a fortress-like structure of unassuming exterior.
An old man now, he was still following his life-long policy of
retirement from the public gaze, and a guard of soldiers was present to
see that he remained in retirement. The family came and went freely,
but the ex-Dictator never showed his face. If he had done so, some one
might have taken a shot at it. He probably welcomed the guard for its
protection.

Orellana, despite his former connection with Cabrera, was proving a
more lenient president. Clubs were now thriving, and the people might
congregate where they pleased. Poison had been abolished as a function
of government. And men might discuss politics without being shot.
Few, however, publicly suggested a change of president. With all its
comparative liberality, the new régime was ruling with an iron hand
characteristic of Guatemalan governments. Shortly before my visit,
Orellana had chased home a party of Mexican bolshevik agitators
attempting to spread their propaganda among the Indians of his
republic. A few years earlier, when his railway employees threatened a
strike unless permitted to select their own officials and to discharge
all foreigners from the service, the American superintendent had
told them to go to Hades, and Orellana had sent them back to work by
threatening to draft them all into the army.

These countries always thrive best under a stern dictator. Even under
the tyrannical Cabrera, Guatemala enjoyed more prosperity than it
would have enjoyed under a rapidly-changing series of get-rich-quick
presidents. For a land of illiterate _peons_, a dictatorship, if
exercised with justice, is always the most satisfactory form of
government, except to politicians out of office.


IX

The two principal products of Central America are coffee and bananas.
The Central-American remains in the cool highlands of the Pacific
coast, and raises the coffee. To the invading foreigner he cedes the
lowlands of the Caribbean for the culture of the bananas.

In Guatemala, it was a day’s railway journey from coffee country to
banana country--first through a stretch of magnificent scenery, of
forested mountains, and of rugged gorges spanned by several of
the world’s highest railway bridges--then through a tedious expanse
of desert, where the woodland gave way to scraggly cactus, and the
mountains (although still majestic and piled one atop another until
they reached the clouds) were swept by a fitful wind that blew gustily,
transferring the sand from the landscape to the eye--and finally down
among the swampy, jungle-grown lowlands of the coastal plains, into the
empire of the United Fruit Company.

The stucco dwellings of moorish design gradually gave way to wooden
shanties, and Guatemalan natives to West Indian blacks. Years ago,
before sanitary engineering made the tropics liveable, the inhabitants
of this region had retired to the cooler highlands, where snakes and
fever were less abundant. To-day the greater part of the East Coast,
all the way from Guatemala to Panama, is in the hands of the United
Fruit Company or its several minor competitors. Except in Guatemala or
Costa Rica, which have rail connection from ocean to ocean, banana-land
is closer to New Orleans than to the capital of its own country.
It is peopled with a few American or English bosses, and a host of
imported negroes. Its prevailing language is English. And it bears more
resemblance to Africa than to the Central America of which it is a part.

A young English superintendent met me at Quiriguá, one of the
United Fruit Company’s plantations, and conducted me to a cottage
with screened verandas, where one might have fancied himself in
the Americanized Canal Zone. The camp was neatly laid out, with
well-trimmed grass-plots and cement walks lined by rows of yellow
croton and red hibiscus and shaded by coco-palms or breadfruit trees.
Each superintendent had his own cottage; there was a large hotel for
the lesser _gringo_ employees; the local hospital was the largest
and best-appointed in Central America; everywhere one observed that
orderliness and modernity wherewith the Anglo-Saxon is constantly
abolishing the local color of all foreign lands.

On all sides of the camp the banana groves extended as far as the
eye could follow them, like a rank uncut lawn of brilliant green.
Narrow-gage tracks wandered out in all directions through the lanes of
trees, and many _gringo_ bosses--all clean-cut young fellows, neatly
dressed in khaki, who did their bit to destroy the fictional romance of
the tropics by shaving each morning and donning a white collar--were
spinning along the rails upon motor-cars on their way to work.

Many years ago, one Minor C. Keith, while building a railway in
Costa Rica, hit upon the idea of planting bananas along the line in
order to provide freight for his own road. When, during a financial
panic, he was unable to pay his laborers, he performed the miracle
of persuading them to work for nine months without salary. He and
his assistants drained swamps and practically eliminated malaria long
before our Canal Zone doctors learned to combat the fever-carrying
mosquito. He formed a partnership with one Andrew W. Preston, the first
man to transport bananas in any quantity to the United States, and
out of that combination grew the United Fruit Company, which to-day
has plantations in Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras,
Guatemala, and British Honduras, and controls the banana industry of
the world. It owns railways throughout Central America, and operates
its own line of ships. It is said to make and unmake governments,
although no one ever proves the accusation. It escapes prosecution
in American courts as a monopoly because its properties are mostly
located in foreign countries. But it has developed a large section of
jungle-land that once was considered worthless and uninhabitable; the
money it pays in taxes for its concessions is the mainstay of more than
one Central-American nation’s finances; and it supplies the world with
bananas on a policy of “small profits on a tremendous scale.”

Guatemala is one of its smallest production sources, and Quiriguá is
one of its smallest Guatemalan plantations, yet I spent an entire day
riding through the banana groves on a motor-car with a superintendent,
and saw but a small part of them.

“The banana’s the easiest thing on earth to grow,” explained my guide,
as the little car hummed over the endless tracks. “You just select the
right land--the silt of some river bottom--and burn off the jungle.
Then you plant them--using the suckers, or bulbs that spring up around
an old tree--set them out in rows. And there’s nothing more to do
except keep them clear of brush. In eight months you’ve got bananas.
The main problem is to pick them just green enough so they’ll ripen by
the time they reach the States--a little bit greener for England--and
get them there when the home fruits are not in season.”

From time to time we passed a row of laborers’ shacks. Some of the
Jamaicans had brought their own kinky-haired women with them. Others
had found Guatemalan girls. A host of picaninnies were tumbling about
each cottage. Now and then one heard the rattle of dice, and a snatch
of music from a mouth organ.

“Most of the men are working to-day,” said the superintendent. “We
pay them by the job, and not by the week. It brings more satisfactory
results in a warm climate. They like it, too, because they can work
when they please. But this is a boat day, and we’ve taught them to work
on boat days.”

[Illustration: A BANANA-BOAT LOADING ON THE EAST COAST]

Negroes with _machetes_ were cutting down the bananas. A banana tree
is only a soft, spongy thing, like the stem of a huge lily. A blow of
the _machete_ would half sever the trunk, and the tree would bend,
bringing the bunch of fruit within reach. The negroes would hack away
the leaves, and remove the banana stalk carefully.

“When you cut down the tree, a lot of new ones grow up around it. Most
people don’t know that. They tell about a new superintendent here that
got all excited because the men were chopping down the grove. And we
always kid new men by sending them for a ladder on their first boat
day.”

One bruised banana will rot, and contaminate an entire ship load,
wherefore they were handled with great care. They were piled along the
track on a prepared bed of leaves. When the pick-up train passed, other
negroes shouldered each bunch gently. They might toss it aboard, but
other negroes caught it by each stem, without touching the fruit, and
laid it upon another bed of leaves.

“We shipped out three and a half million bunches last year--and when
we say ‘bunch’ we mean the whole ‘bunch’ and not just a ‘hand’ with a
dozen bananas on it,” explained the superintendent. “No, that popular
song that everybody sang at home was never heard down here. We’d have
killed anybody that dared to sing it. You should have been here one day
last week, just to see how sore everybody was when the cook had the
nerve to offer us sliced bananas for breakfast. Nobody’d eat them.”


X

Every visitor to Guatemala makes the trip to Quiriguá, not to see
the plantation, but to observe the famous Maya ruins hidden in the
neighboring jungles.

Like most famous sights which every one travels far to see, they
prove extremely disappointing. Their only beauty is that one has
to ride horseback through a swamp to reach them, and that they
are so completely surrounded with tropical forest, which forms an
ideal setting. The ruins themselves, although interesting, are not
impressive. There are some four straight columns about thirty feet
high, covered with intricate carving somewhat obscured by mildew and
moss. Each visiting archeologist scrapes off the fungus in order
to obtain a clearer view of the carving, and with it scrapes off
part of the carving. Near the columns are a few other queer rocks,
fantastically cut to represent a frog or a turtle or some other
creature, whose significance no one has been able to explain.

These are the work of the Mayas, who peopled Yucatan and southern
Mexico while the Aztecs occupied the Mexican tableland. While the
earlier people of the north built pyramids, these people built
temples and monuments of lesser stature, but with more elaborate
ornamentation. They possessed a system of hieroglyphics which have
never been deciphered. Supposedly, the ruins of Quiriguá were erected
to commemorate events in local history, but they are small, as ruins
go, and lack imposing grandeur. Few ruins in the world can equal the
marvelously-carved Maya ruins of Yucatan, but these of Quiriguá fail to
astound the observer. Near them, however, has recently been unearthed
a fortress upon a hilltop, a very rude fortress of small stones,
and scientists believe that marvelous discoveries may yet be made
by excavation--possibly of a great Maya City buried long ago by the
rotting jungles.

Guatemala has only very recently taken an interest in her past. In the
capital I had met a Dr. T. T. Waterman, now the official archeologist
of the Guatemalan government, who had just brought to light on the
Pacific Coast some ancient carvings more impressive to me than those of
Quiriguá.

“I wouldn’t say I discovered them,” he explained, as he showed me
photographs of statuary wherein faces and figures were not the
fantastic work usually performed by primitive artists, but extremely
real and life-like--altogether quite the best sculpture that I had seen
in these countries.

“In fact, I didn’t discover them,” Dr. Waterman continued.
“Ex-president Herrera did. They were on his coffee finca at Pantaleon.
They happened to be on good farming land, so he dumped them all on his
rubbish heap. That’s where I found them.”

When the bosses at Quiriguá heard this story, they looked at their own
monuments--which tourists came miles to see--and shook their heads
sadly.

“Those damned things are on our best banana land, too.”


XI

On the train that carried me back from Quiriguá--through swamp, and
desert and mountain--from banana-land to coffee-country--I met an
Old-Timer. He had been so long in the tropics that the mosquitoes
refused to bite him. Like many another, he had the rank of General,
earned in some long-past revolution.

“These countries are changing,” he said regretfully. “I can remember
the time when there was nothing down here but thatched huts. All the
white men in those days were tropical tramps, drifting from one place
to another, but they’ve mostly disappeared. This Fruit Company won’t
give you a job these days unless you come down on contract, with a
white collar around your neck, and a testimonial from your clergyman.

“The tramp’s gone south. And now the soldier of fortune is passing. You
no sooner get a revolution started than the United States sends down a
gunboat to protect American property. Things are getting so civilized
around here, I sometimes think of going home and joining the Ku Klux
Klan for a little excitement.”



CHAPTER XIII

IN SUNNY SALVADOR


I

A mule trail leads overland from Guatemala to Salvador--a rugged,
bowlder-strewn path that curls along mountain sides, and fords rivers,
and scales precipitous cliffs--a road such as only a mule could travel
with security and comfort.

I crossed it in an automobile.

The chauffeur--evidently a revolutionist keeping in practice at risking
his life--drove out of Guatemala City with myself and another _gringo_
passenger, at four in the morning, and raced through the black night
with the shrieking claxon characteristic of all Latin-American motor
traffic, past the sleeping suburbs and up the heights to the first
narrow ledge.

There, while the car still raced at full speed above a sheer drop of
several hundred feet, he removed both hands from the wheel to light a
cigarette.

This was merely the beginning. A protest from his American passengers
would have delighted him, and furnished bar-room anecdotes for the next
ten years. Wherefore Shields--a lean lank Yankee salesman from the
Middle West--smiled cheerfully as though he were having the time of his
life, and I followed his example.

The trail was not merely narrow, but it squirmed and twisted, following
the scalloped contour of the mountainside. The driver took the curves
without use of brake. As a matter of fact, he explained later, the
brakes did not work. So we sped unchecked around and around the many
bends, until, making a particularly abrupt turn, we collided with an
ox-cart.

This stopped us with a crash. The ox-cart overturned. A load of melons,
bound for the Guatemalan market, rolled down the slopes, starting a
small landslide. The oxen, bumped off the road, pawed frantically for
a foothold on the brush-grown decline. The _peon_ marketer glowered in
sullen resentment. Our chauffeur lighted another cigarette, climbed out
to survey his twisted fender and his awry lamps, produced a flask of
cognac and took a comforting swig, climbed back again to discover that
his car would still run, and drove away as fast as before.

The road grew steadily worse. Our seat-springs were in the same
condition as the brakes. This scarcely mattered, since we so seldom
touched them, but spent most of the journey somewhere midway between
the seat and the awning, contriving as a rule to miss the steel
framework of the top, but clinging to the sides lest we puncture the
canvas above us.

Our most difficult task was to maintain a cheerful, dignified
expression of countenance for the benefit of observers along the
road. Dawn brought the entire population out to see us. Barefooted
_peons_--men, women, and children--came racing across the fields
at the shriek of our claxon, to obtain a closer view. It was now
three years since the first automobile had crossed this trail--an
achievement hailed at the time by marveling editorials in the local
Central-American press--and motor traffic was becoming a fairly regular
thing, but not so regular that the novelty had diminished. In fact,
the chickens of the region had not yet learned to jump across the road
in front of the car. The other species of livestock were more apt,
however, in acquiring the customs of civilization. The dogs chased
us with outraged yelps. The cows, always lying in the center of the
road, lurched to their feet directly in our path. Horses and donkeys,
convinced that we were after them and were as apt to catch them in
the woods as on the trail, stuck to the trail, and galloped ahead of
us for mile after mile without turning aside, while their indignant
owners trotted behind us, hurling imprecations, and describing us as
cattle-rustlers.

Boys, and occasionally grown men, took delight in standing loutishly
in the center of the street at each village, making faces at us to
amuse their admiring friends, and leaping aside at our approach. If
we stopped at one of the infrequent towns, as we usually did--in order
that the chauffeur might again produce his cognac flask--the whole
population surrounded us to stare. On such occasions Shields would
reach out and remove five-cent pieces from the ears of the natives
within reach of his arm--a diversion practiced with much amusement
by Richard Harding Davis on his travels in Central America--with the
result that the local police were frequently called upon for the return
of the money discovered in local ears.

These policemen took our names at each stopping-place--a custom in
vogue throughout both Guatemala and Salvador whenever strangers make
their appearance--but they allowed us to inscribe our own nomenclature,
wherefore, should any list of distinguished tourists ever be published
in these countries, the public will be amazed at the many world-famous
notables who have made the overland journey. The policemen, unable
to read, always bowed profoundly, and if we inquired of them where
gasoline might be purchased, they would hop upon the running-board, and
show us the way, bowing again for a two-cent tip.

The road, having scaled the first mountain range, crossed a wide
plateau. This was a cattle country. From time to time a cloud of
dust appeared before us, indicating another drove of steers, and the
chauffeur headed always for the exact center of it, sometimes plowing
through without missing a steer, but usually dispersing the herd in all
directions, whereupon native cowpunchers waved their arms and screamed
curses and rode frantically away to round up their galloping protégés.

Having crossed the plateau, we came upon the worst roads of all. The
chauffeur gave his wheel a twist, and we started up a river-bed, where
a frothing stream tumbled down over a succession of huge bowlders. No
one but a Latin-American, fortified with cognac, could have driven a
car up those rapids. The water sprinkled us, and blinded us. But up we
went, the auto climbing from rock to rock, much as a man might pull
himself hand over hand up a steep embankment. One wheel would catch;
down would jolt the other three wheels; the motor would roar; another
wheel would catch; another roar; a lurch that made the teeth chatter;
another roar; a few feet of progress; a few feet of sliding backward--

Somehow, we made it. Leaving Guatemala behind, we raced through
Salvador, around another series of cliffs where the chauffeur kept
looking backward to see whether we flinched, and at last down into the
valleys of another fertile coffee country, just as night descended, and
the askewness of our damaged lamps made driving still more difficult.
Long trains of ox-carts, returning from the Salvadorean markets, loomed
out of the blackness before us. But still we charged ahead, missing
most of them, and arrived at eight o’clock--still breathing, though
very much bruised--in Santa Ana, the second city of the republic.


II

Salvador is the smallest nation in Central America, but with the
exception of Costa Rica the most progressive.

The railway train which carried me to the capital the next day was
neat and clean, and the coaches freshly painted by an artist who had
covered the interior with bright colors, and had traced designs of
lilies and tulips wherever there was sufficient woodwork to permit of
ornamentation.

As in Guatemala, the way led through a land of volcanoes, wherewith
Salvador is so abundantly supplied that for some years she did not
bother to construct lighthouses on her coast. At a distance, from the
railway train, one could count several of them, some in mild eruption.
For miles we rode through a congealed river of metal, a great stream
that traced its way downward through the green of Mount San Salvador--a
tumbled river of black rock that had hardened into fantastic shapes
while still foaming and boiling. But already it had decomposed in
places, and islands of green jungle were appearing along its surface.

Salvador, like Guatemala, is mainly a coffee country. It is not,
however, a country of large estates, but of small holdings. Patches
of farm-land cover every available space. This is the most thickly
populated republic not only in Central America but in the entire
hemisphere. Into its 7,225 square miles were packed some 1,500,000
people. As everywhere, over-crowding, by intensifying the struggle for
existence, had developed among the Salvadoreans an energy and industry
greater than that of their neighbors. Hillsides that would have gone
to waste in Guatemala were plowed here to the very summit. Villages,
ruined by the last volcanic eruption, were springing up in all the
valleys.

One looked upon the heavily populated landscape and wondered why some
of the natives did not gravitate over into the next republic. But the
people of all these nations are like those of the Balkans in their
hatred of one another. When I mentioned the subject to a Salvadorean
who shared my seat, he muttered:

“Go to Guatemala? Never! People there are scoundrels!”

Which reminded me that Guatemalans had already warned me against
the Salvadoreans, all of whom were said to be cut-throats and
purse-snatchers. It is this spirit of mutual distrust that has kept
Central America divided into five diminutive states. There has been
talk of union ever since they first gained independence from Spain and
Mexico back in 1821 and 1823, but it has resulted only in a series
of temporary combinations of two or three republics, opposed by the
other three or two, and brought to an end through internal bickerings.
Politicians in all the countries favor the present multiplicity of
offices. Wherefore each little nation staggers under the burden of
supporting a president, and a congress, and a complete diplomatic
corps, although the whole five could be lost in Texas.

Salvador, the smallest, is so tiny that from its center one could
sometimes look westward to the Pacific Ocean, and eastward to the
mountains of Honduras.


III

If Salvador sometimes indulges in what the people of larger nations
describe as “comic opera,” it is normally peaceful.

It appeared so tranquil at the time of my visit that I was surprised to
learn of its being under martial law.

“Oh, that’s easily explained,” said the gentleman who shared my seat.
“Our president, Alfonso Quiñonez Molina, is a very excellent man, but
he has his enemies. Under martial law, he can draft any one into the
army. As soon as an opponent criticizes him, he makes him a General.
Thus the critic becomes susceptible to military discipline, and
ventures no further criticism.”


IV

A few hours of leisurely travel brought me to San Salvador, the capital
of El Salvador.

It was a warm, sunny capital, only a trifle over two thousand feet in
altitude, extremely low for a Central-American city. Its population
numbered only some fifty or sixty thousand. Its people, being of
_mestizo_ composition, did not affect the barbaric raiment of the
Guatemalan Indians. The half-breed maidens wrapped themselves in
filmy shawls of pink or blue, but after the blazing _serapes_ of the
previous country these garments seemed colorless. The city itself was
somewhat drab. A few of its structures were of the heavy masonry found
elsewhere in Central America, and its Governmental Palace was imposing
in its wealth of marble columns, yet the city as a whole--being another
favorite objective of the local earthquakes--was constructed mainly
of wood and corrugated iron, even to the cathedral, which, although
painted to suggest stone, was convincing only at a distance.

But it was a decidedly pleasant city, with many parks and tinkling
fountains. Pretty _señoritas_ were abundant. Priests in black
robes--unrestricted by law in this country--were to be seen everywhere.
Men walked through the market-places ringing dinner bells, and carrying
little boxes containing a tiny image of the Virgin, to Whom one might
bow for a penny. Horse cars rattled through the streets with much
crackling of the drivers’ whips. There was music each night in the
_plaza_, and flirtation beneath the palm trees. The tropic air was
balmy and soothing. About the whole city there was an atmosphere of
contentment--and a touch of that fictional romance which the traveler
craves.


V

Deciding to stay for a while, I took lodgings at a cheap hotel opposite
the Presidential Palace.

In all of these countries the homes of the wealthy and influential
citizens--even of the president--are quite apt to be located between
business offices, or stores, or even among slums. Because of the local
habit which wealth frequently manifests of shrinking into concealment
behind a plain exterior, the magnificent homes are apt to be no more
striking in outward appearance than their inglorious surroundings.
The palace, a plain one-story building, was recognizable as such only
from the large guard of colonels and generals who lined its sidewalk,
and from the presence just across the way of the principal military
barracks, with protruding towers from which machine-guns could sweep
the surrounding streets in case of insurrection.

My room had doors opening directly upon the avenue. If I chanced to
open them in the evening, I caught a flash of eyes from one feminine
stroller after another, for this region despite its distinction was
a favorite haunt of street-walkers, somewhat numerous in Salvador as
a result of a preponderance of females, a tropical climate, and the
difficulty of earning a living which always accompanies an excess of
population. From the opposite sidewalk, the colonels and generals would
smile and twirl their moustachios, and the policeman on the corner
would offer advice:

“That’s a good one! I know her myself!”

For variety, there was an occasional religious procession--the _pase
de la virgin_. At certain times in the year, the priests at the many
churches would send out the image of the Virgin to make a tour of the
city, spending a night at the home of each parishioner who chose to
receive Her. Every evening a long parade of women would pass my hotel,
marching very slowly, each holding aloft a lighted candle, and chanting
in a shrill strained voice.

One night, out of curiosity, I followed them. It was strangely
impressive--the winding procession of solemn women, intent upon the
image before them, singing a weird hymn that rose and fell and echoed
through the silent streets--the candles flaming aloft, as though this
were all a great stream of fire creeping very slowly through the heart
of the city. The family that was to receive the image came to meet us,
also bearing candles, and led us to the house, where in one corner of
the parlor a great stage had been constructed and decked with palms.
The head of the family, seeing a foreigner in the crowd, hastened to
welcome me.

“You honor my household, _señor_. Come early to-morrow night, and I
shall let _you_ carry the Virgin.”

They bore Her reverently into the house, and placed Her upon the
improvised Altar. For several minutes, they stood before Her, and the
chant reverberated through the room, vastly impressive. Then, as though
to shatter the whole effect, some woman shrieked in a loud voice:

“Who’s the cause of such great joy and happiness?”

From the crowd the answer came in a mighty roar, profanely like a
college yell:

“The Virgin Mary!”

They trooped noisily into the street. All was over. The solemnity was
gone. As I came out, several of the girls, so intent before upon their
hymn, favored me with a flash of eyes. I recognized them as those who
regularly passed my hotel door.


VI

The Central-American, like the Mexican, is both an idealist and a
materialist. He sees no inconsistency in being both devoutly religious
and frankly immoral.

He is quite apt to use the name of his favorite saint as a fitting
title for his gin mill. He employs it as a harmless ejaculation. He
may even resort to it for emphasis, as in the case of an advertisement
I recall, which endorsed a Charlie Chaplin moving picture with the
phrases: “Is it funny? Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!” And, among the lower
classes, he is quite apt to regard any religious holiday as a fitting
excuse for over-indulgence in liquor.

It is frequently charged throughout these countries that the great
waves of illegitimacy follow the principal church processionals, which
fact is not a reflection upon the church, but upon the inability of the
_peons_ to associate the ideas of religion and personal behavior. In
fact, the common people see nothing essentially wrong, or even unusual,
in illegitimacy itself. In Nicaragua, the newspapers in publishing a
list of births, distinguish each new citizen with the candid “legitimo”
or “ilegitimo,” and the latter outnumber the former by two or three to
one, a ratio which holds good for all these countries.

It must not be assumed from these statements, however, that all Central
America is a hotbed of immorality. In discussing any moral question, a
writer must indicate which social class he has in mind. In any of these
countries there is a distinct division between the aristocrat and the
_peon_.

In aristocratic circles, a man has every privilege, and a woman none.
It is assumed, in Latin fashion, that boys will be boys. Lest girls be
girls, their virtue is assured by a close chaperonage. A man of wealth
may keep several establishments in town beside his regular home, if
bound upon a journey, he may take with him some other lady in order
that his wife may be spared the discomforts of travel. The wife remains
a model of propriety. Here prevails the double standard.

In _peon_ circles, both sexes share something more of equality. They
mate usually without the formality of marriage. Should they prefer to
change partners from time to time, they do it casually, yet this is the
exception rather than the rule. In some cases, a woman objects to any
ceremony, preferring to remain free of ties, so that in case her new
spouse proves a drunkard or a wife-beater, she can leave him, for there
is no divorce in most of these countries. In some cases, they would
prefer the marriage ritual, but can not afford it. And in most cases,
although free to change partners, they remain faithful throughout life.
Women in this class, so long as they have a consort, are apt to be
as loyal as the women of the upper classes. Illegitimate children,
consequently, are more a result of these informal unions than of a
general promiscuity.

Yet promiscuity is not unknown. The _peon_ girl without a partner is
the daughter of a rather sensuous race, and of a race that is not
inclined to work when an easier living is to be obtained. In this land
of tolerance, little stigma attaches itself to her or to her children
if she takes up prostitution as a career. In most Latin-American
countries, she is restricted to a certain segregated district, but
she is recognized by the police as a legal and useful member of the
community. The _gente decente_, or decent people, as the aristocrats
describe themselves, may not invite her to their homes, but the
gentlemen may sometimes call at hers.

If, in San Salvador, she chooses to ply her trade before the
presidential palace, what matters it? She does not molest the
president. And if she chooses also to join a religious procession, and
return immediately to her profession, the Central-American sees nothing
inconsistent therein. What has religion to do with one’s personal
affairs?


VII

These people, of whatever class, are naturally tolerant toward one
another.

A man may be strictly moral, and many of them are, even in
aristocratic circles, yet he never takes it upon himself to enforce
a similar morality on his neighbor. There are no organizations in
Mexico or Central America for minding other people’s business. The
only society engaged in uplifting the fellow of different viewpoint in
these parts is one with offices at Albany, New York, which sends out
propaganda to combat the evil of bull-fighting.

Whether one wishes to raise the devil or not, one has a comfortable
sense of liberty here which is lacking in Anglo-Saxon lands. If one
chooses to drink, and to become disgracefully drunk, to such an extent
that we at home would remark the next day, “You certainly were a
mess last night!”, there is no such comment forthcoming from a Latin
American. Like the little General at Culiacán, the native of any of
these countries will say, “You were very lively last evening.”

Perhaps the wife of his hotel proprietor will even compliment him.
“After sixteen _copitas_ of Scotch whiskey, you did not molest a single
one of my servant-girls,” she will say. “You have a remarkably fine
character, _señor_!”

And he sobers up, feeling that he has been a paragon of virtue.


VIII

If these people seldom criticize harshly, however, they are very fond
of gossip. The women especially have few interests to discuss, and
infinite leisure for the discussion.

There were some fifteen _señoras_ and _señoritas_ at my hotel in San
Salvador, the wives or daughters of guests, all of them built to resist
earthquake, who spent the entire day sitting in a chair upon the
_patio_ veranda, without amusement or occupation. Anglo-Saxon girls,
with nothing to do except to wait for a husband to come home from work,
would have gone insane, but these of Salvador were passively content.
None of them ever read anything; in fact only a very few people of
either sex ever seem to read anything in these countries; few of them
ever sewed or knitted; all of them were quite satisfied with their
peaceful existence.

During the absence of their husbands, they were extremely circumspect.
When spouses were present, they might greet me with a pleasant,
“Good morning.” When alone, they affected not to see me. Since the
Latin-American gentleman, unless patently snubbed, fancies always that
a lady must be encouraging amorous advances, they had learned to be
extremely cautious.

But they all had a great curiosity about the United States--which
newspapers had taught them to regard as a country whose population
spent most of its time in a divorce court--and they were eager to ask
me questions. Wherefore they would gather in a body, and reassured by
the security of numbers, would occasionally surround me for purposes
of conversation.

Since the feminine mind runs mainly to romance, their questions were
rather personal. The women here always wish to know whether the man
they meet is married or single, and if single, whether he has a
sweetheart. On the theory that the lack of a sweetheart would interest
them most, I had always answered questions in the negative, but in San
Salvador I discovered that by inventing one I merely interested them
the more. The news spread rapidly, and within two minutes every woman
in the hotel was present to ask further questions about her.

“Is she beautiful?”

“No, she’s about as ugly as they make them.”

That provoked much discussion. These strange _gringos_ did not care for
beauty! Had one not seen many an American bringing with him a wife that
no Latin would have wed?

“But what does she look like? Six feet tall! _Dios!_ And wears number
ten shoes! _Ay, carramba!_ Do you really love her?”

Night after night they asked questions about her, until I regretted
her invention. If friends or relatives came to see my inquisitors, the
entire story had to be repeated again. I finally decided to let her
marry another. But this merely invited further inquiries.

“Are you not disconsolate? No! Ay, what unfeeling creatures are the
Americans! And she married a man of ninety years for his millions! How
commercial the _gringos_!”

Sympathy and comfort were offered in abundance. Each of the ladies
seemed to have a friend or relative who was suggested as a substitute.
I was forced to decline the suggestions.

“We are merely waiting, my sweetheart and I, until the old millionaire
dies. Then we shall inherit his wealth, and live happily ever after.”

There was a moment of shocked silence. Some one suggested that I
was joking, but was immediately overruled by the others. This, they
insisted, was a common practice in the United States. Anything was
possible among Americans! And was I not even jealous that I must wait
while my beloved lived with another?

“Not at all. I’ve cabled a second girl, and she’ll be my wife until the
first one is free. We do that regularly.”

My love affairs became the sensation of the community. And the story
did not reach the breaking point until the first girl, in the furor of
her love for me, announced in an imaginary cable that she had poisoned
her husband, and that the millions were ours. Even then, there were
several doubtful inquiries as to whether I really meant it. And when
I confessed that the whole story was fictitious, they were vastly
disappointed. It was all so in keeping with their visions of the
United States that they wished to believe it.


IX

In all of these women one observed a strangely child-like quality.

When better conversational subjects were exhausted, several of them
requested that I guess their ages. Oddly enough, in this land where
frankness is seldom encountered, women make no effort to hide the
number of their years. Perhaps it is because their personal vanity, so
very manifest in younger girls, practically ceases after marriage has
been achieved.

One of them I judged to be fifty. To please her I guessed forty. She
proved in reality to be thirty-two. They grow old so quickly here.
Yet in their manner they retain toward men that air of a child toward
a parent. Should a husband see fit to discuss with them any serious
subject, they listen in awed admiration to his opinions, exclaiming
occasionally, “I see! Ah, I understand!”

It would probably offend the average Latin-American to discover that
his spouse knew as much about anything as he did himself. He likes the
rôle of the patient mentor. He prefers that his wife be a gentle pet
rather than a comrade. I dined one day with a Salvadorean gentleman and
his wife; the lady, who came from one of the leading families, had
been educated abroad and had traveled extensively; yet the gentleman,
although he conversed quite brilliantly with the men at the table,
chattered only playful nonsense to his wife. In consideration of his
pride, she artfully concealed the fact that she was his intellectual
equal.

Now and then one reads in our newspapers or magazines about the equal
suffrage movement in Mexico or the organization of a new women’s club
in Chile. But such innovations have yet to gain an extensive following.
With the same conflict of idealism and materialism that distinguishes
Latin-American men, the women may verbally deplore their lack of
liberty but are in reality quite satisfied with it. They are of a
race which is inclined to follow the easiest course, and the easiest
course is to attach themselves to some convenient man and allow him to
worry about life’s problems. In these pleasant tropical countries no
girl of the lower classes escapes maternity; most girls of the middle
classes, not being over-critical about whom they marry, can land some
one; even in the more particular aristocratic circles the spinster is
a rarity. The wife usually has her own way when questions arise about
the household or the children. Beyond that she is quite content with
complete male dominance. And she is passively happy.

[Illustration: IN THESE PLEASANT TROPICAL COUNTRIES NO PEON GIRL
ESCAPES MATERNITY]

So accustomed are the Latin-Americans to the timid, gently-shrinking
type of woman that they usually misunderstand the visiting American
girl. When the native gentlemen observe her chatting with masculine
acquaintances upon the street in her frankly carefree manner, they leap
immediately to the conclusion that she is of the _demi-monde_. And when
a _gringo_ informs them that her smiles mean nothing, they shake their
heads in wonderment.

“_Ay!_” they exclaim. “Your Anglo-Saxon females are so cold! So
unsentimental! Altogether sexless!”

They shake their heads again, in pity, reflecting that the poor girl is
missing all the most delicious of life’s sensations. But since they are
ever hopeful, they linger awhile, to make sure that the _gringo_ did
not err in stating that her smiles meant nothing.


X

Salvador has the smallest foreign colony of any Central-American
country. Since it is entirely a coffee country, and since
Central-Americans are essentially coffee planters, it has little need
for outsiders.

It judges the _gringo_ largely by the occasional deluges of tourists
who make the brief automobile journey up from the port of La Libertad
during their “Go-from-New-York-to-Frisco-through-the-Panama-Canal”
trip. As this is the only capital hereabouts that can be reached
within a couple of hours from the seacoast, they all rush up the
mountains to laugh at “one of those ridiculous little countries that O.
Henry used to write about!”

One group came up during my sojourn.

They came in five automobiles, pausing at the central _plaza_ to
exclaim, “So this is Paris!” They looked at the leading hotel--an
unimpressive but comfortable establishment--and roared, “There’s the
Ritz!” They stopped for dinner, and demanded _frijoles_, having learned
the name of that dish from Latin-American fiction, and being anxious to
tell their friends at home about a real native dinner. They waited with
much trepidation, having heard that all native dishes were peppery. And
when the waiter brought _frijoles_, they screamed with laughter.

“We tried in every way to explain to that little brown fellow that we
wanted a native dinner,” each would later tell the people at home, “and
what do you think he brought us? Beans! Just think of it! Beans!”

After lunch they rode about town again. The monument in the central
_plaza_ interested them. The suspender-manufacturer from Buffalo
called it “Napoleon crossing the Delaware.” Great applause greeted the
sally. Thereafter, pleased with his success, the wit rode through town
standing up in the front seat, and shouting through megaphoned hands
his descriptions of the other sights.

Old-Timers damned him, as they always damn the tourist.

“He’s the sort,” they said, “that brings us all into disrepute.”

But the natives merely smiled. They were accustomed to this
oft-repeated phenomenon. When asked their opinion of the tourists, they
merely replied, “All of them seemed very jolly, _señor_.”


XI

The sort of American who brings us all into disrepute is, in reality, a
much over-damned specimen. He is a comparative rarity. Most travelers,
and most permanent residents in Latin America, go out of their way to
show themselves congenial and sympathetic to the natives.

We travel-writers love to picture the gruff, impolite American
because he shows the reading public by contrast that we are cultured,
considerate persons, with an international breadth of mind that enables
us to appreciate foreign countries and foreign customs.

But the offensive fellow-countryman does exist.

“It is not so much that he is a low-class American,” explained a
Salvadorean gentleman with unusual frankness. “Usually he is one
who behaves very decently at home. Here he feels at liberty, in his
disrespect for a small country, to do as he pleases. One of your
diplomatic representatives a few years ago was expelled from the social
club at Tegucigalpa, because when drunk he would go out upon the
balcony to whoop and cheer and cast things at the pedestrians below.”

Our diplomatic and consular corps has sobered up since the days of O.
Henry, and the typical representative of our State Department no longer
sits in his hammock with a gin bottle, throwing banana peelings at the
parrot. But this incident I was able later to verify. And there was one
incident more.

“Not long ago, _señor_, two Americans came over the trail from
Guatemala in an automobile, and when asked for their names by our
police, they inscribed everything from the Prince of Wales to Jack
Johnson. The authorities are tracing them now, and if we catch them,
they shall learn what it means to show such insult to El Salvador!”

Salvador was a very pleasant place, but I decided to drift along.
Anyhow, news had just arrived that a revolution was threatening in
Honduras, the next republic on my itinerary. So I started in haste for
Honduras.



CHAPTER XIV

THE REVOLUTION IN HONDURAS


I

I started in haste for Honduras, but haste achieved nothing in these
lands.

One of the eccentricities of the average Central-American republic is
that the traveler has little difficulty in entering the country, yet
having entered, finds his departure balked by countless formalities.
Apparently the government is eager to welcome any one, but if it can
discover that the visitor is a rapscallion, is determined to add him to
the permanent population.

Slipping into Salvador through the back yard, I was not required even
to display a passport. On the day preceding my intended departure from
the Capital, I learned that I must call upon the Secretary of Foreign
Relations, and convince His Excellency of my respectability before I
should be permitted to leave.

A pretty _señorita_ in the outer office of the State Department ceased
powdering her nose to listen to my plea.

“_Cómo no?_ Why not, _señor_? If you will kindly return the day after
to-morrow--”

She smiled sweetly in dismissal, and having settled the matter in the
favorite Latin-American fashion, reopened her vanity case, upon the
mirror of which was pasted the photograph of her sweetheart, who seemed
even more important than this affair of State. Gringo-like, I persisted.

“How about to-day?”

“Impossible, _señor_. The Secretary is in conference. And the
Sub-secretary has gone home.”

“Where does he live?”

“_Quién sabe?_ Who knows, _señor_?”

Evidently annoyed at my insistence, she finally discovered a clerk who
professed that he did know. He wrote out the address for me: “_Numero
--, Calle 10 Poniente_.” It was only the middle of the morning, but it
was already fairly hot in San Salvador. I hiked through sun-blanched
streets, only a few of which were numbered. At length I asked a
policeman for directions. He glanced at my perspiring forehead, and
assured me that I was now at the Tenth Street _Poniente_.

So I knocked at the proper number, and inquired of a servant whether
His Excellency were at home. I learned that he was. A colored gentleman
in pajamas rose from a hammock in the _patio_, and shook hands very
cordially. Not to be outdone in politeness, I made an elaborate speech,
emphasizing my regret at having to leave his delightful country, and
begging that he would do me the favor to grant permission.

“The permission is yours, _señor_!”

“Do I not require your visé on my passport?”

“Not mine, _señor_, but that of the Sub-Secretary of Foreign Relations.
I am only an humble employee of the street-cleaning department. But
_muchas gracias_ for your visit. Always my house is yours, at Numero
--, _Seventh_ Street _Poniente_.”

When I did reach the _Tenth_ Street _Poniente_, it was to discover that
the address given me at the State Department was wrong. His Excellency
lived somewhere else. But at last, after four hours of a house-to-house
canvass, I found him. Having obtained the necessary visé, I caught the
first train to La Unión, on the Gulf of Fonseca, from which one could
look across a strip of blue water and see the hills of Honduras itself.

“How soon can I catch a boat?” I inquired.

The citizens of La Unión shrugged their shoulders.

“Perhaps the day after to-morrow, _señor_, or the day after that.
But _quién sabe_? In the meantime you had better visit the local
_commandante_ to secure permission.”


II

As a matter of fact, the boat did not leave for several days.

La Unión was the usual type of Central-American port town--a colorless,
uninteresting little city, with numerous buzzards hopping about its
mud-flats, as hot as blazes, and devoid of entertainment.

I was welcomed at a small hotel with an inquiry as to whether I
possessed a watch. No one knew the time. But since it was growing dark,
the proprietor assumed that it was nearing the hour for supper. A
slatternly maid brought out some tableware that had barely survived the
last earthquake, and served the usual Central-American meal of beans,
rice, beans, chicken, beans, coffee, and more beans.

On the hotel wall a notice proclaimed that this establishment was
preferred not only by tourists, but by people of good taste. Its
principal attraction seemed to be Berta, its beautiful bar-maid. Berta,
although a rather dark-complexioned young person, had a pleasant smile
that revealed the whitest of teeth. She took great care of those teeth.
At five-minute intervals, she rinsed them with a glass of water, and
expectorated upon the bar-room floor. The town bachelors spent most of
their idle hours--about sixteen each day--whispering sweet nothings to
Berta, to which she smiled roguishly but shook her head. Such was her
popularity that she had never learned to open a beer bottle. Whenever
a patron wished a drink, Berta had only to glance toward the group of
idlers, and some energetic young man would step forward to open the
bottle by chewing off the top.

Berta was studying English. She would sit on the counter, with a book
before her, reciting: “Wan, too, tree, fo-ur, fivvy, sixxy, ay-it,
tenny.” The proprietor’s wife sat beside her in a large armchair,
examining my photographs with untiring interest. She was rather stout,
and inclined either to head-ache or stomach-ache or both. She fanned
herself with a palm-leaf fan, and groaned, and exclaimed from time
to time, “Ay! What heat it is making to-day!” She would hold up each
photograph, and inquire, “What is this?” The inscription was written
on the back of each, but the _Señora_ did not read Spanish, much less
English. Berta always interpreted for her, with fantastic results:
“A tee-pee-cal stritty sinny een Gua-te-ma-la.” Then she would smile
again, and the scowls of the local swain would suggest that if the boat
did not sail pretty soon for Honduras, the village buzzards would have
a change of diet.


III

When the launch did leave for Honduras, there was further formality.
It was scheduled to depart _a las nueve en punto_--at nine o’clock
sharp--with much verbal emphasis on the _sharp_. A squad of Salvadorean
soldiers manned the dock, and halted me at my approach. My baggage
was placed in the office, and the door locked, and I was motioned to
a bench. Stevedores were loading the diminutive vessel with a set of
dilapidated furniture, which did not appear worth transporting from one
place to another, but which was being appraised by a pompous official,
and duly taxed, while its owner waved his hands and proclaimed that
he was being robbed. Official and owner finally adjourned to the
governor’s residence to settle the dispute, and did not reappear until
nearly noon.

Meanwhile the passengers waited. Cargo difficulties having been
adjusted, the pompous official called each of us to the office in
turn, collected a small fee, and took our names and histories. He then
compiled a list, and sent it away to be typewritten for presentation
to the _commandante_ of police. After another hour or two, the list
reappeared, covered with huge red seals, and flowing signatures. There
followed next a minute inspection of baggage, which, in other lands,
occurs only when one enters the country. My notes aroused suspicion.
The inspector examined each page, pretending to read it. Was I carrying
away the country’s military secrets? The eight barefoot soldiers
gathered closer, and glared suspiciously. These secrets were important.

But at last we were permitted to embark, still with formality. The
soldiers lined up before the gangway. The official read our names from
the list, and we embarked one by one, surveyed by the accusing eyes
of authority. The captain of the launch took the wheel, and jangled a
bell as a signal to the engineer three feet behind him; the engineer
jangled another bell to let the captain know he had understood the
signal correctly. And we were off for Honduras, visible just across the
bay--at some hour of mid-afternoon _en punto_.


IV

It was a brief voyage, through island-dotted waters alive with pelicans
and seagulls, to Amapala, the one Honduranean port of entry on the
Pacific, situated upon a volcanic island.

Another official glanced idly at my passport, and waved aside my
baggage without examining it. Several weeks later, when I departed,
the same official was to raise as much rumpus as the Salvadorean
authorities had raised, but to-day he offered no difficulties. Within
a few minutes, we were all back in the launch, chugging toward the
mainland, to San Lorenzo, where commenced the automobile road to the
Honduran capital.

Arriving too late to catch the daily truck, we settled ourselves for
the night. San Lorenzo was merely a ramshackle village of thatched huts
in the jungle, a village in keeping with Honduras’ reputation as the
most backward country in Central America.

Two Chinamen, however, had opened a neat little hotel there, and
were ready for business. And there was entertainment in plenty,
for Hop On and Hop Off, co-proprietors of the establishment, were
engaged in discharging their native servant. The Honduranean, a big,
niggerish-looking fellow with murder in his eye--in both eyes, to be
accurate--was objecting to being discharged. He kept slouching from
table to table, picking up dishes, and smashing them on the floor.
Hop On and Hop Off were going frantic with rage at each new act of
vandalism, but neither of them was of heroic stature, wherefore they
resorted to strategy rather than force. They had taken shelter behind
two doors at opposite ends of the dining room, and would pop out from
concealment one at a time to shout curses at their erstwhile employee.
No sooner would the Honduranean rush at one with his knife, than the
door would slam shut in his face, while the other door opened and the
other Hop screamed curses from the opposite wall. Finally, tired with
the exertion, the big native accepted his discharge as final, and
strolled outside to tell his troubles to the rest of the village, which
had assembled to watch the excitement.

They were all ugly-visaged fellows. They lacked the gentle suavity of
the neighboring peoples. They might have been no taller than Size B
Irishmen, but after one had dwelt among the Lilliputians of Guatemala,
they looked like giants. A taint of negro blood was evident in their
features, for Honduras--which has a long strip of coast upon the
Caribbean--was in past years a favorite refuge for run-away slaves from
the West Indies, and its population to-day is the most heterogeneous in
Central America. Little tufts of goat-like whiskers on chin and cheek
did not add to their personal beauty. Altogether, this was the least
charming race I had yet discovered on my travels.

Having accepted his discharge as final, the servant picked up an ax,
and seated himself cross-legged on the ground before the hotel, hoping
apparently that the Chinamen might venture outside into the gathering
dusk. They continued, however, to revile him from the security of their
two heavy doors, until the audience tired and drifted away, whereupon
the quarrel seemed to die from lack of interest, and the Honduranean
himself, having tossed the ax away with a gesture of disgust, wandered
off down the street.

Supper was finally served on such tableware as remained unbroken. The
village prostitute, aged sixteen, then took the center of the stage,
and recited for our benefit the story of her life. While unfortunates
in most lands prefer not to air their sorrows publicly, those of Latin
America find a certain dramatic pleasure in so doing. For the next
two hours the assembled guests heard the tale of her marriage to the
handsome Sebastiano, of Sebastiano’s sudden death in an earthquake,
and of the long succession of gentlemen who had consoled her for
Sebastiano’s demise. Then some one bought her a drink, and she vanished
into the night.

Later, the Honduranean returned, this time with a shot-gun. Thereupon
the Chinamen bolted their doors, and everybody retired to bed.


V

I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a great pounding upon my door.

Bill, a husky American truck-driver, was going up to Tegucigalpa, the
Honduran capital, and desired company. The business-like Chinese were
already on the job with breakfast. We ate it in grouchy early-morning
silence, and drove off toward the mountains through an inky-black fog.

“I know every inch of the way,” consoled Bill. “There’ll be no trouble
unless somebody takes a shot at us, or blows up a bridge. They haven’t
started yet, but they’re likely to, any minute. Somebody cut the
telegraph wires last night.”

From time to time, as we raced through the darkness, stern voices
called upon us to halt. From the road ahead a group of hard-faced
natives would emerge into the glare of our searchlights, covering us
with rifles. They were the federal soldiers, barefoot and tattered,
with nothing to distinguish them from revolutionists. They examined
my passport, ransacked the cargo in search of arms or ammunition, and
finally permitted us to continue.

Eventually the sun made its appearance, revealing the most broken of
landscapes. The name “Honduras” means depths, and the land is well
named. A forty-five degree slope was considered fairly level here. On
such grades, the peasants had built their patches of cornfield. Even
these patches were infrequent, for the whole tumbled country seemed to
go straight up or down. The road itself scaled precipitous heights, and
twisted around narrow cliffs, where the least mistake of a chauffeur
might send a car tumbling over and over into infinity. It was all
ruggedly beautiful, particularly as we climbed into the coolness of six
thousand feet above the sea, where the hills were covered with pines,
but it was a cruel country--such a country as discourages agriculture
and effectually prevents the transportation that might open up its
vast store of mineral wealth--a country suited only for warfare and
revolution. And from the time of the conquest revolution has been its
principal product.

Bill, however, who had lived here for something over a decade, loved
both the country and its people.

“They’re all right, if you know how to handle ’em. Take that boy of
mine up there on the cargo. Mighty good boy. I got ’im tied up with
rope just now. Came in drunk and kinder ugly last night. But he’s
comin’ out of it. I’ll buy him a bracer at the next stop, and he’ll be
all right. Best boy on the road.”

Bill spoke always with conviction. He finished off each sentence with
ejaculations suitable only to the pulpit. Then he spat.

“I wouldn’t go home for a million dollars. Can’t stand the damned
sissies back there. Give me roughnecks! I ain’t got much use for them
society fellows. I’ve got a brother in Minneapolis. He was a regular
guy when we was kids. Could lick anybody in school. But he made a lot
of money and married one of them fiddle-ly-diddle-lies, and went all to
pieces. I came home to see him two years ago. He met me at the station
with a big car, all dressed up in a fur overcoat, and he says, ‘Bill,
you’re just in time for luncheon.’ I _looked_ at him. I says, ‘I guess
you mean lunch, don’t you?’ He took me to a regular mansion. Out came
the fiddle-ly-diddle-ly. He says, ‘Mable, may I present my long-lost
brother from Honduras?’ Christ! Why couldn’t he say, ‘Bill, meet the
old woman’? She holds out her hand, way up in the air, like they do in
the movies, and says, ‘Charmed, I’m sure.’ God!”

He gave the wheel a violent twist, and we shot around a mountain cliff.
He drove along a narrow precipice with one wheel almost hanging over
the rugged gulch below.

“They took me down to ‘luncheon.’ One of them big English stiffs in
a boiled shirt came out and gave us each a little cup of soup and
a cracker. I just looked at my brother. ‘Joe,’ I says, ‘ain’t this
lime-juicer goin’ to give us nothin’ to eat?’ He says, ‘We’ll have
dinner in the evening; you’ll soon get accustomed to it.’ ‘Accustomed
hell!’ I says; ‘to-night I’ll be down in a restaurant, gettin’ a
regular feed. I’ll be eatin’ corn-beef and cabbage, same as you used to
eat. I ain’t sore at you, Joe, I’m disappointed. You was a regular guy
before you got them society ideas. But you don’t make a sissy out of
me. I’m goin’ straight back to Honduras.’”

He drove along the precipice with savage relish. Presently, as we
passed a little native farm in a rugged valley, he called my attention
to it.

“That’s where _my_ wife comes from. No fiddle-ly-diddle-ly for me.
She’s an Indian--pure-blooded Indian--but she’s white--whiter’n you
are--and a damned good wife, too. We don’t take luncheon in our house.
We eat lunch. _Luncheon!_ Christ!”


VI

No one having shot at us from the hills or blown up a bridge, we raced
into Tegucigalpa in the early afternoon.

Every one in the Capital was awaiting the revolution, but the city
remained unperturbed.

It was an old, weatherbeaten town. A river wandered through it,
bordered by high cement walls, and spanned by an aged stone bridge of
many arches. The streets were hilly. Sidewalks might be level, but
after one had followed them for a certain distance, one was apt to
find himself ten feet above the driveway, sometimes able to descend
by a flight of steps, but usually forced to jump or retrace his way.
The houses were aged and bullet-scarred. If any of them had been
constructed within the past forty years, the climate had quickly given
it an appearance of venerability.

The central _plaza_ was unattractive. There were a few palms and much
purple bougainvillea, but they were surrounded by a rickety railing
green with mildew, and interspersed with unattractive monuments. The
buildings facing the _plaza_ were of nondescript architecture. On
one side was a yellowed cathedral, with several varieties of weeds
sprouting in niches originally intended for images of the saints. On
another was a row of arched _portales_, of flimsy wooden structure,
housing several courtrooms, a barber shop, a fashionable club, and a
number of cheap saloons. On the other two sides were stores.

The most imposing edifice in the city was the Presidential Palace. It
stood upon the river bank, towering above massive ramparts like an
ancient feudal castle. From its loop-holed walls machine-guns could
sweep the old Spanish bridge. And from its windows the president could
maintain a watchful eye upon the National Treasury across the street--a
dilapidated old building whose contents at the moment consisted
principally of a national debt.

[Illustration: FROM HIS PALACE THE PRESIDENT COULD WATCH THE TREASURY
TO SEE THAT NO ONE STOLE THE NATIONAL DEBT]

Why any one should fight for possession of this city, with its depleted
finances, was a mystery later explained.

“The government took in eight million _pesos_ last year,” said a
well-posted American resident, “and only spent five million, yet it
describes itself as penniless, and pays only the soldiers and police,
keeping such employees as the school teachers waiting six months for
their salaries. Three million _pesos_, almost half the country’s
receipts, have disappeared. That’s why everybody is constantly
squabbling for the presidency of the republic. That’s why Tegucigalpa
remains the most ramshackle capital in Central America.”


VII

The current political controversy was but a typical incident in the
history of Honduras.

The term of President Rafael López Gutiérres had come to an end. During
his two and a half years of office, he had weathered thirty-three
insurrections. He was ready to retire. But his fellow politicians,
although they had already prospered to the extent of three million
pesos, demanded that he follow the Central-American custom of turning
over his office to one of their own group, in order that their
prosperity might continue. And the President gave his support to his
personal friend, Bonilla.

At the elections recently held, there had arisen two other candidates,
Carías and Árias. Through some oversight, the President had allowed
a few of their supporters to help in the counting of the ballots. As
a result, Carías led with fifty thousand votes, Árias following with
thirty-five thousand, and Bonilla (the presidential favorite) bringing
up the rear with only twenty thousand. And although Carías led, he
failed to receive the absolute majority required by the Constitution
to insure his election. It therefore devolved upon Congress to choose
one of the three. And Congress favored Árias. To sum up the situation,
the people preferred one candidate, Congress another, and the President
another.

A revolution appeared inevitable. The President had declared martial
law. Soldiers were everywhere. One could distinguish them from
civilians because they carried rifles, and because when there were
two or more of them they marched one behind the other in the center
of the street, sometimes in cadence. A few had blue uniforms, a few
had khaki; most of them wore whatever garments they happened to be
wearing when drafted. Many were soldiers of fortune from neighboring
countries--professional scrappers called in by a President who
knew that his people were against him. They would stop me on the
street occasionally to ask that I lend them a _peseta_--twenty-five
cents--until pay-day, but they impressed me as a doubtful risk.

The city was ablaze with election slogans, scribbled with chalk upon
every doorway--“Viva Árias!”--“Viva Carrías!”--“Muerto Bonilla!”
Translated into “Live Árias,” “Live Carrías,” and “Death to Bonilla,”
they seemed indicative of the earnest nature of Central-American
political campaigns. All three candidates were now in the city. Each
had a troop of his followers living at his residence for protection.
One, who was stopping at the principal hotel, was surrounded by twenty
armed gunmen, who sat about the bar-room and the lobby, scanning
everybody who entered, and ready to take a precautionary shot at a
member of another party. Each had spies watching the others, to see
that they did not slip out of town to some assembly-point in the
mountains. Some day, one of them would do it. In the meanwhile, the
President in office kept a close eye on all three. From time to time a
detachment of soldiers would come marching through town, bringing to
prison a party of conspirators caught hatching insurrections in the
neighboring villages.

The American Minister, Franklin Morales, was holding daily conferences
at the Legation, bringing the candidates together in an effort to
reach an agreement. Each took turns making speeches about his love of
Honduras, his aversion to bloodshed, and his earnest hope that the
muddle might be solved peacefully. When asked for a specific suggestion
as to the solution, each seemed to think that it could be most
satisfactorily achieved by the withdrawal of the other two candidates.

Meanwhile, every one in Tegucigalpa ripped up the boards of his floor,
brought out the rifle and ammunition secreted for such an emergency,
and waited for the fireworks. And the time-scarred old Capital seemed
to be saying to itself: “Another revolution can’t do me any harm.”

But when I inquired as to just when the fireworks would start, it
developed that a revolution was as undependable as transportation
facilities had been.

“Who knows, _señor_? Perhaps the day after to-morrow, perhaps the day
after that. _Quién sabe?_”


VIII

I settled at a small hotel, where one enjoyed the advantage of intimate
association with a native family.

There were only two other guests, but the family was multitudinous.
A young man had fallen in love with the landlady’s daughter, and
married her, and had brought so many relatives of his own to live at
his mother-in-law’s expense, that they filled all the rooms, until
there was space only for three boarders. Just how they all managed to
exist on the trifling income of the establishment was an unfathomable
mystery, but they contrived somehow not only to feed and clothe
themselves, but also to keep a servant.

She was an anemic little girl in a tattered linen dress. She was always
smiling as she raced from one room to another to answer a summons.
Everybody seemed to take fiendish delight in calling for her. The cry
of, “Petrona! Petrona!” echoed across the _patio_ from morning until
night. Even the parrot had adopted the slogan, and throughout his
waking hours would screech, “Petrona!” And Petrona, always cheerful,
obeyed each call.

One of the other guests was a married lady, whose husband had sent
her to Tegucigalpa to keep her out of the way of an expected battle
elsewhere. With the extreme faithfulness of Latin-American wives,
she locked herself in her room, to which Petrona brought her meals.
She emerged only to wash baby clothes at the hotel pump, or to
scream instructions to her numerous progeny in the _patio_--a noisy
little brood of future revolutionists who paid no heed to her many
injunctions.

The other guest was a Spaniard, who had just come up from Nicaragua to
bring twenty-four prize game-cocks for Sunday’s rooster fight. He was
a tall, horse-faced, loquacious individual, who talked continuously
at the table, mostly in subtle smut. He was an artist at the use
of _double entente_, and had raised vulgarity above the level of
pure nastiness, so that it was now quite suitable for dinner-table
conversation in the presence of ladies. He was a jovial person,
predisposed toward the singing of love songs, to which he could wave
time with his knife and never spill a bean. If his game-cocks won on
Sunday, he was planning to hire an airplane and fly home to Nicaragua.
He intended to load it with beautiful women, and sail as close as
possible to the romantic tropical moon.

His roosters were tied to stanchions in the _patio_. They were
continually glaring at one another, flapping their wings, crowing
challenges, and straining at the cords that held each of them by the
foot. Whenever the Spaniard ceased his vigilance, one of the married
lady’s children was certain to unloose a bird, and watch him peck a
neighbor to death. But on Saturday the survivors were sent to the
arena, packed into individual compartments in a large wooden box,
and thereafter the hotel was peaceful. The box disappeared down the
street on the shoulders of a _peon_, accidentally inverted, so that the
game-cocks stood on their heads--an indignity which should have made
them scrapping mad for the morrow.

The revolution not having materialized, I went to the cock-fight. It
was held in a back yard, where a rude board shack had been improvised.
There was a dirt-floored ring, surrounded by a four-foot wall, and
overlooked by a rickety grand-stand and a still more rickety bleachers.

The ring was already thronged with natives, each holding a rooster
in his arms, and shoving it at another fellow’s rooster in order to
provoke the martial spirit. The birds were fluttering, blinking beady
eyes at other birds, and clucking loudly to express their irritation.
Back against the adobe rampart of the establishment were some forty
other prospective contestants, each in an individual cage, crowing
noisily as though he would proclaim himself the father of the largest
egg ever laid in Honduras.

There was much delay. It seems that the gentlemen in the ring were
trying to match their birds, but each desired to pair off his own with
one that could be easily licked. There was much argument, much waving
of hands, much indignant protest. At length it was settled. A little
fat man beside me commenced sawing off the spurs from a rooster’s legs,
and fitting thereon two sharp curved blades of steel. At the money
counter--a rough wooden board presided over by a tall stony-faced man
with heavy black eyebrows and the general air of the professional
gambler--there was great excitement. Men crowded about it, shouting,
“Two pesos on the red one!” “One peso on the _gallina_!”

The umpire--a well-dressed, impressive-looking individual who had once
held office in the Honduran cabinet--inspected the steel gaffs, and the
fight commenced. The two owners released their birds, and withdrew. For
a moment both cocks eyed one another. Then, in apparent indifference,
they turned away, and pecked unconcernedly at the ground, strolling
around the ring as though neither saw the other. They walked clumsily,
bothered by the long blades they carried. Occasionally they stopped,
raised their heads, and crowed. Then they resumed their pecking at the
earth, hunting imaginary worms. This, however, was all bluff, designed
to throw the adversary off his guard. Quick as a flash one turned and
flew at the other. They met in mid-air with a great flurry of feathers.
Back they drew, crouching. Then they were at it again, clawing and
pecking until the world became saturated with flying rooster.

The spectators went frantic with joy. They screamed applause. They
shouted advice at the contestants.

Again the cocks drew back, crouching. A wild yell went up from the
stands. I could observe nothing, but these fellows were experts, and
they saw the end before it came. For suddenly, without warning, one of
the cocks toppled upon its side, gushing blood from its trembling beak.
In a flash the other was upon it, pecking triumphantly at its head. And
the crowd poured into the ring.

There were other combats. The intermissions were long, and marked
always with much bickering. The fight might end in a minute; the
intermission was always at least a half hour. After the roosters were
paired there was delay for the fixing of the gaffs, delay for the
betting, delay while each owner brought in another cock to peck his
fighter into the proper rage. But these people could tolerate any
delay, especially if it were in the interests of the national sport.
When two cocks did not appear eager to slaughter themselves to make a
Honduran holiday, the wrathful spectators hurled abuse at them.

“Cowards! You are worse than hens! _Carramba!_”

But there was only one such pair. The others were game. They might
strut about interminably in their effort to secure an advantage,
but once they clashed, they fought to the death. Sometimes it came
unexpectedly, with one quick blow of the knife. Usually one of the
birds sank weakly on a severed leg, yet wriggled valiantly toward the
other, only to be pecked again and again until the whole back of its
neck was a ghastly wound. And two of the contestants--big strong birds,
with glorious plumage of many shades, and equipped with long, powerful
legs--hurled themselves at each other the moment they were released.
They met with a crash, and tumbled over and over, clawing and biting,
and rolling the length of the arena in an indistinguishable mess of
feathered warrior. The crowd was upon its feet. Men screamed with joy.
And after it was all over they hugged one another.

The little fat man turned to me:

“How do you like it? _Muy bonita, verdad?_ Very nice, what?”

“Awfully nice.”

“There will be others. We shall fight until dark.” But I strolled back
to the comparative quiet of the hotel. The Spaniard’s birds had all
been defeated, wherefore he was going home by the usual means of travel.


IX

A week passed, and nothing happened.

Rumors flew thick and fast, however. Every one discussed the
forthcoming revolution as a certainty. Now and then a _peon_ would
drop casually into the hotel to inquire in whispers whether the guests
had any ammunition to sell. He never used the word “ammunition,” but
resorted to harmless-sounding synonyms unintelligible except to the
born conspirator.

One noticed that the men of the upper classes were more democratic
than usual. Men of distinguished appearance would stop in the _plaza_
to chat with the barefoot rabble whom they ordinarily passed without
recognition. Politicians were now cultivating good will. They would
soon need this rabble as cannon fodder.

It was said that Carías would start _his_ insurrection on Christmas
Eve. The government, as a precaution against the assembling of a crowd,
forbade the holding of the usual midnight mass at the Cathedral. When
I spoke English over the telephone the day before, in conversation
with a member of the American colony, I was interrupted by the frantic
voice of a censor, clamoring that I confine myself to Spanish, and
shortly thereafter a police official waited upon me and put me through
a courteous third degree.

A later report stated that the government had taken five hundred
prisoners, and that the revolution was postponed. But an air of
expectancy still hung over the Capital. Christmas Eve--_La Noche
Buena_--was gloomy. A drizzle of rain fell intermittently. The street
lamps, never very bright in Tegucigalpa, seemed unusually dim. The
sidewalks were deserted save for patrols of soldiers, who stopped me at
each corner to search for weapons.

[Illustration: SOLDIERS STOPPED A PEDESTRIAN AT EVERY CORNER TO SEARCH
FOR WEAPONS]

On the night before, all had been gayety. Over in Camyaguela, the
suburb across the river, there had been a religious festival--_la
fiesta de la Concepción la Purísima_--the festival of the Purest
Conception. The Cathedral had been surrounded by improvised board
shacks where booze was sold. At tables in the open, lighted by flaring
torches, there had been roulette wheels and other gambling devices.
There had been music in the _plaza_, and the belles of the town--all
with white faces, but with tell-tale arms and necks varying in color
from a creamy tint to a deep chocolate brown--had paraded around and
around the park, while the young dandies fairly impaled themselves on
the fence-pickets to watch them.

But to-night gayety stayed indoors. Through the open windows I could
see an occasional tinsel-decked tree, but more frequently a _navidad_,
the old Spanish Christmas decoration--a triangular stage in one corner
of the parlor, covered with artificial grass, with a little cave at
the rear, wherein reposed replicas of Mary and Jesus. Other figures
filled the foreground, according to the family’s resources. There were
the three wise men, mounted on toy burros. There were tin soldiers and
paper soldiers, cardboard houses, cardboard trees, toy animals, toy
railway trains--everything imaginable--until the humble manger was
surrounded by all the creatures of the zoo and all the inventions of
modern civilization. The whole display was decked with pine-boughs and
thatches of banana leaf. Each family was very proud of its _navidad_,
and if I paused to indulge a traveler’s curiosity by staring through
the window--an impulse quite irresistible in these countries, where
windows open directly upon the street, and are left unshuttered by a
people whose greatest joy in life is to be looked at--the family would
invite me inside, that I might examine the display at close range.

They were quietly happy, these people, yet they seemed listening always
for the first boom of the cannon. Nothing happened, however. Nothing
ever did happen in Latin America while I was present. From day to day
I had heard what sounded like the rattle of musketry, and had rushed
out to see the fighting, only to learn that the rattle came from the
ungreased wheels of an ox-cart lumbering over the rough cobbles.

At the Consul’s Christmas dinner, attended by a dozen of the leading
Americans in town, every one had had the same experience.

“There was a crowd gathering on the hill to-day,” some one remarked.
“The police came up in a body and dispersed it.”

“Did you hear the shooting night before last?” another inquired. “There
were several pistol shots, and then the burst of a machine-gun. I
wonder how soon they will really start?”

But the American Minister, from the seat of honor at the right of the
host, merely smiled.

“There will be no revolution,” he predicted.

“Do you mean the United States will intervene?”

He merely smiled again. Still, I felt that there was hope. The ox-carts
were sounding more and more like musketry every day.


X

Christmas having provided no thrills, Tegucigalpa looked forward to
New Year’s. On that day Congress was to convene to choose a president.
Whoever was chosen would probably be obliged to fight the other two
candidates.

In the meantime, I hired a mule and rode out to see the American-owned
Rosario mines at San Juancito, forty kilometers from the capital.

The trail was rugged, but it led through magnificent scenery, among
pine-clad mountains, ascending a ridge seven thousand feet high, where
the clouds formed a heavy wet blanket yet opened occasionally to permit
a glimpse of wild tropical forest below.

Most mining properties are situated in barren, desolate regions. That
of the Rosario Company, the largest silver mine in Central America,
is situated in a glorious valley, and from its neat white buildings
one looks down upon a misty wilderness that stretches away through
countless lower valleys, with a silver ribbon of water curling through
them toward the sea. Despite its isolation, and the one rough
mule trail that connects the mine with the rest of the world, it roared
with industry. There was a reverberating chorus of giant crushers,
the rattle of cars on many miles of narrow-gauge track, the crash
of ore-bearing rock dumped into the stamp-mills, the hum of massive
machinery.

“We brought everything out in ox-cart or on muleback,” said the
young-appearing superintendent. “We now have seventy miles of tunnel,
and employ eight hundred men in Rosario--thirteen hundred indirectly.
And less than thirty _gringo_ bosses run the whole thing. We used
to have twice the force, but we’ve cut it down. There’s efficiency,
nowadays, even forty kilometers from a town in Honduras. We turned out
two million ounces of silver this year.”

The _gringo_ bosses were quiet, earnest young men, intent upon their
work. There were none of the roistering adventurers that one looks
for in the wilds of a Honduran jungle. They drank moderately--very
moderately, it seemed to one who had worked in an Andean mining
camp--and never carried revolvers, except when visiting the native town
in the gulch below, which averaged two murders every Sunday. They spent
most of their spare time in the club room--a comfortable room with a
big fireplace, pool tables, piano and victrola, and a complete library.

The camp was at an altitude of five thousand feet. The night was cold.
The blazing fire was agreeable.

“This is the tropics,” said one of them, “and I have to pay double life
insurance rates for living here, when it’s much more healthy than any
place in the United States.”

The superintendent drew me aside, and led me upstairs to hear his
radio. The blare of jazz was as clear as though one listened in from
New York.

“That’s Vincent Lopez, in the grill-room of the Pennsylvania. Wait a
minute ’til I get Schenectady, and we’ll have a bed-time story.”

Out here in the wilderness, forty kilometers from the nearest town, and
many hundred miles from a railway, _gringo_ energy had produced all
the comforts of home. And _gringo_ industry was furnishing much of the
wealth that flowed into the Honduran treasury.


XI

The real mainstay of the Honduran treasury is the East Coast, where
several American fruit companies own extensive banana plantations.

It has little connection with the rest of the country. A newly
instituted service by airplane now enables one to reach it from
Tegucigalpa in a couple of days, but unless one can afford this method
of travel, one must go by mule, and the journey takes about two weeks.

The several _gringo_ concerns have so developed the formerly
worthless, fever-stricken swamps of the Caribbean, that to-day
it contains almost half the population of Honduras, and produces
eighty-two per cent. of the country’s revenue, and both ratios are
increasing in favor of the Coast. Nearly all the revolutions start in
this region, partly because of its isolation from the Capital where the
government holds sway, and partly because in cutting off the revenue
the revolutionists can starve the government into surrender.

With every revolution--as in all these countries--come rumors that some
American company is back of it, financing a new régime as the cheapest
road to new concessions. The rumors are so recurrent that some of them
are probably true. But the Honduraneans as a whole are rather fond of
insurrection, whether started by foreigners or by their own countrymen.
Living in a country for the most part unfertile and unproductive, whose
resources can be developed only by much toil and trouble, they find it
easier to leave constructive work to the _gringo_, while they squabble
among themselves for control of the government.


XII

January first arrived, and Congress met.

I went to the Capitol with Mario Ribas, who was the Associated Press
Correspondent and the editor of Tegucigalpa’s leading magazine. He was
a Spaniard and a neutral in politics.

“If any one starts shooting,” he advised, “the quickest way out of the
building is that of sliding down the shed, running across the _patio_,
and climbing over the roof.”

The legislators met in a long, narrow room filled with plain wooden
benches. On the wall were the pictures of former presidents, almost
none of whom had been able to finish his term before succeeded by one
of the others. The chamber’s only real embellishments were the many
flags and draperies of blue and white that hung from the ceiling.

At the entrance was a company of boy soldiers from the military
school--none of them twenty years of age, but considered the most
dependable of the government troops. Their officers scanned every one
who entered the Capitol, but they knew Ribas, and passed us without
question.

The congressmen assembled gradually, each of them appearing a trifle
nervous. They wore high hats and Prince Albert coats, but a suspicious
bulge at the hip testified that each was ready for a possible
emergency, and when a coat swung accidentally open, one caught a
glimpse of a well-filled cartridge belt.

Still, the first day passed without disturbance. There was a slight
row when the august body voted down a motion to make some trifling
alteration to the minutes of the last meeting. The deputy whose motion
was defeated rose indignantly. With the amazing sensitiveness of the
Latin-American, he felt that he had been personally insulted. Furiously
he turned and stamped out of Congress, seizing his hat and cane from
the rack outside, and knocking down the hats of several other deputies
in his haste. They all rushed out, picked up their hats, wiped off the
dust, and hung them up again. Then the meeting resumed, interrupted by
other slight rows, as other men took offense because their suggestions
were not received enthusiastically, and followed the exit of the first.

Finally the remaining few sent a committee to inform the President
that they were ready to listen to his opening message. The cadets
formed a double line from the Palace to the Capitol, and the President
came in person, walking at the head of the cabinet and the diplomatic
corps. He was a worried-looking little man, and he walked with tired
step. Four bands cheered him with the National Anthem, all playing in
different tempo, a boom of cannon greeted him from the fortress, and
his boy soldiers presented arms at sixty different angles. The crowds
applauded, and I was reaching into my pocket for a handkerchief to wave
at him, when a firm hand closed upon my wrist, and I looked into the
hard face of a Honduran secret service man.

“Pardon, _señor_!” he said, as he saw that I had only a handkerchief.
“One can not be too careful these days.”

Then the President disappeared into the Capitol to read his message,
and the soldiers barred the gates to sight-seers.

“There’ll be nothing happening to-day,” said Ribas. “It takes them a
while to get started. Wait until they meet to-morrow.”


XIII

But nothing happened on the morrow, or the day after that. Congress was
still indulging in oratory. From time to time some one suggested a vote
on the presidential question, but whenever it appeared that Árias might
have enough supporters present to elect him, the adherents of Carías
and Bonilla hastily seized their high silk hats and rushed outside so
that there would be no quorum.

By this time most of the deputies were wearing two guns. Rumor stated
that one Congressman had also added to his equipment a _machete_, a
sword cane and a pair of brass knuckles. It began to look as though
_he_ might be able to settle the dispute. Then, by order of the
President, the military stopped each Congressman at the door and
disarmed him. And the indignant legislators were so incensed that they
refused to meet. The Hall of Congress stood empty.

Rumors flew thick and fast again. Carías had slipped out of the city
last night! He had gone to the east coast to organize his revolution!
No, _señor_, he had done nothing of the kind! He had gone to the west
coast. _Ay_, but he had just been seen at his dwelling in Tegucigalpa,
he was still in the city! Perhaps the revolution would start right here!

There came another night when the outbreak was expected.

“Do not go out this evening,” urged little Petrona, as she brought my
evening beans to the table. “You may be killed in the street if you are
not careful.”

But my experience in Latin America had taught me that it is always
some one else who is killed there. Having missed seeing so many
insurrections elsewhere, I felt it a duty to witness this one. And I
wandered through the dim streets, deserted as on Christmas Eve, and
gloomy again with drizzling rain. The soldiery were again on patrol,
searching me at every half block, even though they had seen me searched
by their cohorts just a few feet away.

No open windows gave me a view to-night of families gathered about a
Christmas tree. Doors and windows alike were shut and tightly barred.
Not a soul was to be met except the barefoot troops. Not a light was to
be seen except the flickering street lamp at each corner.

At the leading hotel the door was unlocked, and I pushed inside.
Instead of the usual swarm of native aristocrats, the only occupants
of the café were the bartender, a bootblack, and three _gringos_.
They were Doc, Sparks, and Pop. Doc had the little bootblack on his
knee, feeding him cheese, and teaching him to sing “The Star-Spangled
Banner.” Sparks was shaking dice with the bartender to determine
which should give the other his hat and go home bareheaded. Pop had
four bottles of whiskey before him, with which the party was about to
adjourn to his room, and he was covering the back of an envelope with
figures in his effort to determine how four bottles could be evenly
distributed among three men. Seeing me he threw the pencil in the air.

“Solved!” he cried.

And we adjourned to Pop’s quarters in the second story of the annex. I
had some qualms as to the advisability of joining, for I dreaded the
prospect of missing the revolution, but the other _gringos_ already had
reached the stage where refusal of such an invitation is considered
an affront. Arrived in Pop’s room, they listened to my protest, and
overruled it.

“You don’t need to see a revolution. We’ll tell you all about
everything that happened in the whole history of Honduras. What do you
want first?”

“How about the last revolution?”

Doc, elected raconteur for the three, assumed the attitude of a
high-school declaimer, and announced:

“The last revolution.” He cleared his throat, and commenced
dramatically. “I was standing in the doorway of the Young Men’s
Christian Association--”

“In the doorway of the Agurcia,” corrected Sparks.

“Of the Agurcia, when suddenly a machine-gun started banging down the
street, and the bar-room door went shut behind me, catapulting me into
the middle of the road. I picked myself up, and made a rush for the
W.C.T.U. across the way--

“For the what?”

“For the establishment across the way, and _they_ slammed the doors in
my face. I made a bee-line for the Epworth League meeting around the
corner, and the barkeeper there--”

He paused to pour another round and forgot to resume. He walked out
to the balcony with the empty bottle and returned with the sorrowful
comment, “Nobody to throw it at. What do you want to hear about next?”

“Tell him about the badger fight,” suggested Pop.

Pop had stripped off his clothing, and now sat naked on the bed, a
rather slender old gentleman, whose white hair still gave him something
of dignity. Young Sparks was crawling under the bureau after the
corkscrew. Doc, big and rotund, with cheerful ruddy face, again took
the floor.

“The badger fight. We got the Salvadorean minister to be the badger’s
second. He came direct from some diplomatic function, wearing his
top hat, and his long coat, and his striped pants, and his spats, and
patent leather shoes. We took him up to the hill, where we had the
badger-cage all padded with straw. The dog that was to fight the badger
was a big, ugly bloodhound. All the minister had to do was take hold of
the rope, and pull the badger out of the cage, we explained, only we
thought it best to put a stove-pipe over each of his legs, and cover
his chest with a baseball protector, and put a mask over his face, and
long gauntlets on his arms. You should have seen him in that get-up,
with a silk hat on top of it all. We gave him the end of the rope,
and said ‘Go!’ He was so scared, he forgot to let go of the rope, and
when we all started yelling down hill, he beat the whole gang, still
dragging behind him the old slop bucket that was in the badger-cage.
But he was game. He took us all back to town and bought the--”

Association of ideas brought Doc’s eye to another bottle, and he
emptied it into the glasses, shampooing Pop’s white hair with the dregs
of it.

“At-a-boy, shampoo it!” chuckled Pop.

And Doc shampooed industriously. “Gimme the scissors,” he commanded.
“Don’t cut it off!” protested Sparks. But Pop was game. “Cut it all
off!” he cried recklessly. The party was getting rough. Sparks seized
an armful of bottles and commenced hurling them from the balcony. They
crashed noisily upon the silent street. Pop seized a paper bag, blew it
up, and smote it with a loud, “Bang!”

If I were ever going to see the revolution, it was time to make my
exit. I ducked out quietly, strolled downstairs and around the corner,
and reached the avenue just in time to hear the excitement. A volley of
musketry sounded from the barracks a few blocks away. Policemen were
blowing their whistles, and running up and down. I chased after one.

“Where is it?” I demanded.

He was too busy blowing his whistle to answer me. More policemen joined
us, and we ran toward the _plaza_, colliding with another patrol
running from the opposite direction. Here or there a scattering shot
resounded, but one could not judge its source. We raced around corners,
up and down the street, asking other parties where the trouble was to
be found, but no one knew. At length the shooting subsided, and I went
home to bed.

The next morning I made inquiries.

“There was no revolution, _señor_! Only a couple of drunken
_Americanos_ blowing up paper bags and smashing bottles!”


XIV

Tegucigalpa was quiet again.

The American Minister drove past my hotel in a big automobile filled
with American naval officers in gold braid and cocked hats. The warship
_Rochester_, flag-ship of the Panama squadron, was now anchored off
Amapala. Admiral Dayton had come up to the Capital with his staff on
what was described officially as “nothing more than a courtesy visit.”
But it was reported that American gunboats were now lying off the
east coast ports, ready to protect American property at the banana
plantations. And it was humorously said in Tegucigalpa that the Admiral
was about to reconvene Congress and preside over it himself.

[Illustration: THE WARSHIP ROCHESTER HAD ANCHORED AT AMAPALA ON WHAT
WAS DESCRIBED AS A COURTESY VISIT]

“There will be much speculation regarding this visit,” suggested an
American at the Legation.

The Minister smiled.

“I think there will be no speculation at all.”

Honduras apparently had taken the hint. Just how the election
difficulties were to be solved, no one knew, but every one agreed that
they would be solved peacefully. Wherefore I caught the daily passenger
truck down to Amapala to continue my journey to Nicaragua.

But, as always in these countries, the unexpected happened. The
American warship, as soon as peace had settled upon Honduras,
steamed away. And a few days later the whole Republic was in flames.
Cable dispatches informed the world that Carías had slipped out of
Tegucigalpa, joined forces awaiting him near the Nicaraguan border,
and started back to the capital, that President Gutierrez had fled to
Amapala and died there from nervous strain, that the other candidates
were leading troops in other sections of the country, that machine-guns
were sweeping the streets of the cities, that American citizens were
taking refuge in the Legation, that the Rosario mines were calling
for protection, and that American marines were landing at the banana
plantations of the East Coast.

Such is life in Honduras!



CHAPTER XV

WHERE MARINES MAKE PRESIDENTS


I

To journey from one Central-American republic to another, the traveler
should equip himself with a private yacht.

Having neglected this precaution, he must resort to patience. There is
a steamship service along the Pacific Coast which advertises regular
sailing dates. But since its vessels are quite apt to be ahead of their
schedules, one usually repairs to the seaport a day or two in advance.
And since they are far more apt to be behind their schedules, one
usually waits there for a period varying from one to three weeks, at a
shabby hotel in a blazing hot town whose inhabitants earn their living
by overcharging such travelers as fate has thus thrown into their grasp.


II

Not possessing the private yacht, I left Tegucigalpa for Amapala one
day in advance.

Bill, the hard-boiled, took me down the mountain road to San Lorenzo,
where a launch was already waiting. There a member of the crew
undertook to facilitate my voyage. He greeted me with a smile as I
reached the end of the wharf.

“I’m the man who carried your suit-case, _señor_.”

“I carried it myself.”

“Did you really? Then I’ll put it on board for you.”

Since a squad of Honduran soldiers held all passengers on the wharf
until the baggage was aboard, I surrendered it to him, and he placed it
on the extreme edge of the stern, precariously balanced on the small
end, tying it fast with the rest of the cargo, but with a flimsy piece
of cord which threatened at any moment to break and spill the entire
load into the Gulf of Fonseca.

“It’s all right,” he assured me. “I have my eye on it!”

Then, as the soldiers finally permitted us to embark--after an official
had ascertained that my passport was properly viséd by the Honduran
Minister of Foreign Relations--the officious _mozo_ climbed upon the
thwarts to offer me an unnecessary hand. “When we arrived at Amapala,
_señor_, I’ll show you to the hotel.”

“I already know one hotel there.”

“Then I’ll show you to the other one.”

I had frequently encountered his type in nearly every port of the
world. He believed all traveling Yankees to be simpletons with the one
redeeming virtue of lavishness in bestowing tips for useless services.
Throughout the four-hour ride across the Gulf, he sat opposite me,
smiling sweetly whenever he could catch my attention. And when we drew
up beside the wharf at Amapala, he untied my suit-case first. But
having untied it, he left it while he assisted the rest of the crew in
dragging eight heavy trunks up a slippery flight of wooden steps.

According to local custom, another squad of soldiers herded all
passengers ashore to answer another questionnaire, and from the dock
I looked down to see my suit-case dancing and rocking unsteadily with
each swell that rolled in from the misnamed Pacific. From the opposite
end of the launch, the _mozo_ held up his palm in the Latin-American
gesture that signifies, “Patience.”

“_No hay cuidado, señor._ I’m watching it.”

But it was already toppling. And the shadowy figure of a shark,
cruising about the murky waters below, suggested the impracticability
of recovering it later by diving. Avoiding the guard, I landed back on
the launch, and caught the suit-case just as it started to fall. Four
ragged urchins, waiting on the dock to carry baggage, leaped after me
to struggle for its possession. The _mozo_ joined the fray. We surged
back and forth across the deck, while the shark waited below, until our
battle was interrupted by a policeman with drawn revolver.

“You are arrested!” he screamed at me.

And he marched me to the _commandancia_, where a pompous official
lectured me, politely but firmly, upon the insult I had paid the
government of Honduras. It was a small country, he said, but it
possessed high ideals. The authority of its army was a thing to be
respected. Considering that I was a foreigner and not acquainted with
local customs, I would be forgiven. But in the future, he hoped I
should never jump off a dock onto a boat until all cargo was unloaded.

As I walked out of the office, still clinging to my suit-case, the
_mozo_ came up to demand his tip for keeping an eye on it. I waited
a moment to see how much the policeman would expect for his services
in arresting me, but he collected only the customary fee which all
passengers paid for the use of the wharf in disembarking.

So I turned toward the steamship office, to learn when I might proceed
to Nicaragua.

“_Quién sabe?_ We expected two passenger vessels. But the one, last
night at La Unión, went back to La Libertad for six more sacks of
coffee. And the other, having filled with coffee at San José de
Guatemala, has canceled its schedule entirely.”


III

I stopped at the leading hotel, operated--like most hotels on this
coast--by a Chinaman.

It was the usual type of seaport hostelry, less comfortable and more
expensive than those of the interior cities, but well stocked with
fleas, bugs, liquor, and flirtatious servant maids.

“What does one do in this town for amusement?” I asked a native.

“Amusement?” He seemed a little surprised. “Why, _señor_, there are
_plenty_ of women.”

For occupation, the male population carried the baggage of passing
travelers. The female population took in washing. Rather dark, and
not distinguished for beauty, the younger ones called at the hotel
for the laundry; the older ones did the work. They took the clothes
to the waterfront, laid the garments on flat rocks, and pounded the
buttons off with a stout club. Then they left them to bleach, spreading
them out on scrubby little bushes whose berries stained them with
yellow spots, while they themselves--already stripped to the waist for
comfort--retired to the shallow water to immerse themselves through the
hot mid-day. In the evening they collected the garments, carried them
home, and ripped them into shreds with rusty irons. Finally, having
wrapped them into a neat bundle with the least-ruined articles on top,
the younger girls brought them back with smiling countenances, and the
inquiry:

“Is that all, _señor_?”

As a town, Amapala was not unpicturesque. Its whitewashed houses,
beneath red-tiled roofs, were set amid palms and bougainvillea. If at
noon it seemed to wither under the dry white heat of a tropic sun,
there was usually a breeze in the evening, with a tang of salt from the
ocean. Across the Gulf of Fonseca, if one looked beyond the fleet of
scows and lighters in the foreground, one could see myriad islands and
the cones of several Salvadorean volcanoes. There was a play of red and
gold at sunset, then the purple and silver of twilight, and finally a
glorious night with stars twinkling above and fireflies below, and the
glare of the volcanoes tracing a crimson path through the waters of the
bay.

Its only point of interest, however, was the cliff where occurred a
bloody incident in a long-past war between Nicaragua and Honduras. Some
many years ago Nicaragua, having confiscated a smuggling schooner, had
armed it with a cannon, and feeling rather cocky in its possession of
a navy, had dispatched it to fight Honduras. It came up to Amapala
and fired one shot. The bloody incident occurred when a Honduranean,
standing on the cliff, craned his neck to see where the shot landed,
and fell into the Gulf of Fonseca.

From the cone of the extinct volcano that rose above Amapala, one
could see Honduras, Salvador, and Nicaragua. Each was but a few hours’
distance from the other, yet the traveler might wait indefinitely for a
boat. Shields, my companion on the auto trip from Guatemala to Santa
Ana, was now in Amapala, also bound for Nicaragua, and had already been
waiting over a week.

He spent most of his time on the hotel veranda, scanning the horizon
with a telescope. This operation afforded much entertainment for
the village idiot. Each Central-American port seems to contain one
weak-minded or defective youth, who sits all day at the hotel to watch
the every movement of a visiting foreigner. In Amapala it was “The
Dummy.”

He was a harmless, pleasant little brown fellow in ragged breeches and
an undershirt salvaged from the rubbish pile. How he lived, no one
seemed able to explain. Some one apparently fed him. No one apparently
washed him. Occasionally he earned a few pennies by performing tricks
for tourists. His chief accomplishment was that of resting his bare toe
upon a lighted cigarette. He was always cheerful, and affable, and he
would chat with us by the hour in parrot-like squawks made intelligible
by a marvelous art of mimicry. He could describe any one in Amapala
by a single gesture. For the _Commandante_ he twisted an imaginary
mustache. For the Chinaman, he pulled down his cheeks to give his eyes
an oblique slant. He became our constant associate and entertainer,
guide, counselor and friend.

From time to time, as an alternative amusement, Shields wrote
passionate love letters to the daughters of the _Commandante_--the
only two white girls in town--to which missives, I later learned, he
usually signed my name. The Dummy would serve as emissary, and upon his
return would enact the giggling of the _señoritas_, and the wrathful
explosions of their parents.

Toward evening, the two girls sometimes made their appearance to
stroll in the _plaza_, accompanied by a male relative with a rifle.
Occasionally they would stop at the hotel for a glass of lemonade,
and would subject Shields and myself to the careful scrutiny to
which _señoritas_ invariably subject a strange youth, while their
companion sat beside them with the rifle over his knees. Still later
the _Commandante_ himself would join them, favoring us with a stern
military glance of warning.

The Dummy always sidled away at his approach, for the _Commandante_
had arrested him not long ago. He often told us the story in his own
crude language. The trouble had been about a woman. From his ecstatic
expression, she must have been beautiful. He would point at his face,
then at his black trousers, to suggest her complexion, and a twist of
his fingers would indicate kinky hair. He showed us in pantomime the
evil intentions of a rival. He seized a rock and planted it with much
zest against the villain’s imaginary skull. He whistled shrilly. That
was a policeman! He slumped into a heap as the imaginary club descended
upon his head. He placed his wrists together. Handcuffed! He held up
ten fingers. The _Commandante_ had sentenced him to ten days! Then
he gave a series of unintelligible parrot-squawks, and pointed toward
La Unión. During his imprisonment, the girl had fled with the rival!
He shook his head sadly, and ran a hand across his throat. Was he
meditating suicide? Or was he planning revenge? His story always ended
in the harsh, mirthless laughter of an imbecile, and he sidled away,
for the _Commandante_, having partaken of his cocktail, was leading his
family home.

In the evening the Consular Agent, fat and jovial, would drop in for a
glass of beer. His only official duty at present was looking after a
Panamanian sailor who had fallen down the hold of the last vessel in
port and broken a shoulder bone.

“It might have killed a white man, but you can’t hurt these natives.
Down in Nicaragua, I saw one fellow sink a pen-knife two inches into
another fellow’s skull. We just pulled it out, and the man went on
working.”

And many other yarns would follow, the locale varying from Chile, where
they use those little curved blades with an upward thrust, to the
Philippines, where the Moros take your head off with one deft swing of
a bolo. We would all collaborate, the stories growing more and more
astounding until we reached the incident of the Mexican who swam two
miles after a shark had bitten off his stomach.

“I believe it,” the Consular Agent would nod. “Down in Costa Rica a
shark bit one of my pearl-divers, and took out a chunk as big as a
watermelon. We clapped it back on, plastered the edges with a little
mud--”

Then we would have another beer, and the Consular Agent would stroll
homeward. The street lamps flickered. Five ragged soldiers--the night
patrol--glided past us like phantoms through the dark street. A _peon_
girl hurried along the sidewalk, and the Dummy, bidding us good-night,
ran after her with shrill parrot-like squawks. Within the hotel the
Chinaman sat imperturbable as a Buddha, waiting to close up his
establishment, while the town’s three German merchants drowsed at a
table.

Shields and I would rise and yawn.

“To-morrow there may be a boat.”


IV

The one break in the day’s monotony came at mid-afternoon.

Then a shore-party from the _Rochester_, still lingering far out in the
harbor, would shoot past the waterfront in a trim white launch, and
come rolling up the long wharf to see the sights of town.

Whenever the Chinaman saw them coming, he would shout for all his
servants to man the bar.

The sailors, seeming to know the local geography instinctively,
headed straight for the hotel. While their Ship’s Police scattered
out through town with swinging clubs, the tars all trooped into the
establishment.

“Hello there, buddy! Say, kin you talk this spig language? Tell that
Chink we want liquor!”

And presently they were all over the city, bargaining in every shop,
contriving somehow despite their ignorance of Spanish to obtain
whatever they desired. They purchased native rope bags, and filled
them with fresh eggs, live turtles, earthenware jars, Spanish daggers,
goat-skulls, fruits, vegetables, and snake skins. They stood on street
corners, frowning over handfuls of unfamiliar coins received in
exchange, wondering to what extent they had been cheated.

“Hey there, feller. You’re a Yank, ain’t you? Tell me how much I’ve got
here in _real_ money.”

One husky tar, with a sailor’s knack of getting acquainted, rolled
up the street with a native girl on his arm, amid the cheers of his
friends. He had a sandwich in one hand, and a flask in the other. She
was a chubby little brown creature, in a tight-fitting red dress, and
her short fat legs bulged above the tops of high, tightly-laced boots
that appeared newly purchased.

“Wait a minute, sister. We’re goin’ in here an’ get you a hat. You’ll
be some swell skoit when I get finished wit’ you.”

They vanished into a shop. When they emerged, the lady wore a green
and yellow bonnet trimmed with purple and blue. She was leading her
hero toward the village photographer’s to immortalize in tin-type this
thrilling event. They came out with the photographer’s parrot. The
sailor had purchased it, and was teaching it to say:

“To hell wit’ the marines!”

Gradually, as the hour of departure drew near, all would gravitate
toward the saloon at the wharf, where they purchased more flasks of
whiskey for the journey to their ship. The little native bartender,
overwhelmed at the many orders shouted at him in a strange tongue,
became completely paralyzed, whereupon every one helped himself, and
tossed greenbacks across the bar. At last the S.P.’s commenced to herd
the crowd toward their launch. A delinquent always came running from
town at the last moment, his bag of eggs bouncing against his uniform
and creating golden havoc. The little native bartender came to life to
scream that two flasks had not been paid for. The escort of the lady in
the red dress had a fight at the end of the wharf with several of his
cronies who considered it their privilege to kiss her farewell.

“Act like gentlemen, you ---- ---- ----, or I’ll poke you one in the
snout!”

Then, packed into their trim white craft, they were gone, leaving
Amapala flooded with crisp new American greenbacks.


V

Our steamer finally came.

After our two weeks of waiting, it picked us up and landed us within
eight hours at the Nicaraguan port of Corinto.

For years Nicaragua had been the especial protégé of the United States
government, financed by American bankers, and policed by American
marines. Having traveled for several months in republics not blessed
with such attentions, a _gringo_ naturally looked forward to the
progressiveness and modernity of Nicaragua.

No difference was evident.

We landed at a fairly good dock, and sat there for three hours while
the American-supervised customs officials finished their _siesta_.
Then we passed into such a town as might have formed the locale of O.
Henry’s “Cabbages and Kings.”

The unpaved streets were grown with grass, neatly cropped by grazing
herds of livestock. The buildings were mostly flimsy wooden structures
sadly in need of paint. There was nothing to distinguish Corinto--the
principal seaport of Nicaragua--from any other port along the
Central-American coast.

A railway--one of the American-managed institutions--carried me inland
through a scraggly jungle. The country was comparatively level;
occasional volcanic peaks, rising abruptly from the plain, had
rendered it fertile with their lava dust; frequent lakes indicated a
plentiful water supply. Yet one observed few of the rich plantations
that covered such land in the other Central-American republics;
occasionally there was a field of pineapples or sugar-cane; as a rule,
the road led through wilderness.

León, the second city of Nicaragua, lay thick in dust. Its streets were
unpaved. Its houses, of brilliant green or yellow, with trimmings of
blue and red, were resplendent in the blinding tropic sunlight, but
upon close inspection, they proved somewhat dilapidated. Its cathedral
towers, rising at every corner, were cracked and ridden from earthquake
and revolution. The whole town seemed very old and very sleepy, and
drowsing in the memories of a past. The American occupation had brought
an end to civil strife on a large scale, but it evidently had not
brought the prosperity to mend its ravages.

[Illustration: THE AMERICAN INTERVENTION HAD BROUGHT PEACE, BUT
MANAGUA’S DUSTY STREETS SUGGESTED NO PROSPERITY]

Managua, the capital, was in no better repair. It was situated at
an altitude of only 140 feet--by far the lowest altitude of any
Central-American capital. It sweltered in heat, relieved somewhat by
the breezes from its lakefront, but like Corinto and León it was a
city of sand, and the breezes filled the streets with swirling dust.
Each lumbering ox-cart left a cloud in its wake. It lay two inches
deep on the main avenues. It covered the grassless _plaza_, and the
barren expanse of desert before the old cathedral, where vegetation
was sprouting from a fallen spire. It settled upon the low roofs of
the drab shops and dwellings. It seeped inside through door or window,
and formed a coating upon the tiled floor of the hotel. Now and then
a civic employee would turn a hose upon some portion of the Sahara,
to convert it momentarily to mud, but no sooner did he cease than the
blazing sun reconverted it to sand, and the breezes sent it whirling
again.

Nicaragua was a country of many natural advantages. Its people appeared
to be of better caliber than those of Honduras. Its area--49,200 square
miles--was the greatest in Central America. Its land was all suitable
for cultivation. Its potential wealth--in mahogany and hardwoods, in
gold and silver and other metals--is estimated by many authorities to
exceed that of any of its neighbors. Yet the imports and exports of
this largest republic were far below those of Salvador, the smallest.
Its cities--although upon closer inspection, they proved to contain
better shops and hotels--were outwardly less imposing than those of
Honduras. And when I offered a merchant a ten-dollar bill, he threw up
his hands with the exclamation:

“You must change your large money at the bank!”

I turned to an Old-Timer, himself an American.

“Hasn’t our country done anything to make this a regular republic?”

“Son,” he said, “this _was_ a regular republic before our country
stepped in.”


VI

The story of the American coöperation--which the Nicaraguans themselves
describe by a less pleasant word--dates back to 1909.

At that time Nicaragua had a Dictator. José Santos Zelaya had been
reëlecting himself president for seventeen years. He had commenced
his reign, stern though it was, with fairness and justice toward
his countrymen and friendliness toward foreigners. In his later
years, overwhelmed with conceit at his success, he came to regard
his Dictatorship as a right that carried with it the privilege to
amuse himself as he saw fit. If he needed money, he horsewhipped the
wealthier merchants until they offered a “voluntary” contribution.
If he saw a woman he desired, he sent for her to come to the palace.
Presently he commenced to meddle in his neighbor’s affairs, fomenting
revolutions in the adjoining countries, and thumbing his nose at the
United States.

In 1909 a revolution started in his own country, over at the isolated
port of Bluefields on the Caribbean coast. There are rumors that it
had the backing of American capitalists. These rumors arise from the
fact that Adolfo Diaz, then the treasurer of the revolution--and later
the leading actor in the drama--was an humble employee of an American
concern. Diaz denies these rumors. “Every penny,” he told me in
Managua, “was contributed by Nicaraguans.” But certain it is that the
revolution had the sympathy of the United States government.

President Taft, at the time, frankly described Zelaya in a message to
Congress as “an international nuisance.” And when, during the fighting,
the Zelayistas executed two American soldiers of fortune caught
red-handed attempting to dynamite troopships on the San Juan River, the
American government made this trivial incident the pretext for hinting
broadly that it was time for Zelaya to resign. Zelaya did resign,
leaving the presidency in the hands of an excellent man backed by all
the old lieutenants of the _Zelayista_ party. The United States was not
satisfied. And when the _Zelayistas_, having licked the revolutionists
to a frazzle, were about to take their stronghold at Bluefields, an
American gunboat intervened on the ground that further fighting might
destroy American property.

From some mysterious source--which all Latin America believes to be the
United States--the revolutionists obtained new ammunition. They sallied
out from Bluefields again, thrashed the _Zelayistas_, and overturned
the government. One General Estrada, the leader of the insurrection,
became president, but he soon gave way to Adolfo Diaz. Now enters upon
the scene the American banker.

President Diaz found the country bankrupt. There is much controversy
as to how the debt originated, each party blaming it on the other. The
truth is that Zelaya had left several millions in the treasury because
he had just negotiated a loan with British bankers and had not had
time to spend it. He also left a long list of claims because of his
high-handed confiscation of property. The revolutionists had doubled
the bill by their own destruction of property during the warfare.
Wherefore blame is divided. The important fact is that Don Adolfo found
his country in debt to the extent of over thirty-two million dollars, a
staggering sum to a small republic. He called upon a firm of New York
bankers for a loan of fifteen million.

This transaction was arranged through the American State Department
by a treaty which the Senate--newly turned democratic when Wilson
replaced Taft--refused to ratify. Nicaragua, however, regarded it
as an agreement. As security for the loan, the bankers took over
the collection of the customs, and arranged to look after the whole
business of the national debt. They never advanced the loan. They did
advance a million and a half, followed by comparatively trifling sums,
to stabilize the currency and reorganize the national bank, but they
also took over the bank. Later, when another million was advanced,
they took over the operation of the Nicaraguan railway.

President Diaz, now retired to civil life, assumes full responsibility
for these transactions. He is a pleasant little gentleman with graying
hair and a frank, boyish smile.

“I asked the bankers to do it. I was taking the only means I had to
bring my country out of financial chaos. But I became, as a result, the
most hated man in Nicaragua.”

In fact, all Nicaragua called him a traitor, accused him of selling the
republic to the American capitalists, and rose to overthrow him. For
three days, in 1912, the rest of the country poured cannon balls into
Managua, until President Diaz asked the United States for protection.
Two thousand American marines were promptly landed. Having suppressed
the revolution, they left a “legation guard” in Managua as an
intimation that the United States stood ready to suppress any further
uprisings.

Indirectly these marines make presidents to-day.

Elections in Nicaragua are as much a farce as in Mexico. Whoever
controls the polls wins the verdict. Wherefore the Conservative party,
which first invited the American bankers, has remained steadily in
power. It can be defeated only by revolution, which the marines prevent.

“You ought to be here at election time,” said an old American resident,
“and see them run their voters from one booth to another by the
truckload. They number about one-tenth of the population, but they
always win.”

If the marines were withdrawn--even the Conservatives themselves
admitted to me--the present government would be overthrown within
twenty-four hours. Nicaragua, as a whole, never endorsed the invitation
to the American capitalists. When the Conservatives invited them, the
entire country turned Liberal. If Zelaya were to come to life and
return to Managua, he would find the republic waiting with open arms.
But while the marines are present, the Liberals are helpless.

[Illustration: IF THE AMERICAN MARINES WERE WITHDRAWN FROM NICARAGUA A
REVOLUTION WOULD TRANSPIRE OVER-NIGHT]

At the time of my visit another election campaign was starting.
Realizing their dependence upon Washington, the Liberals had affected
a change of heart, announcing that they would support the bankers as
ardently as the Conservatives, and asking for a new election law which
would keep their opponents from stuffing the ballot boxes. A new law
had been drafted by a New York lawyer. The Liberals were hopeful, but
uncertain.

“Who will be your candidate?” I asked one of their leaders.

“We do not know yet,” he said. “We have not heard who will be most
acceptable to Washington.”

During my several weeks in Managua, I talked with most of the actors
who had played leading rôles in the international drama. I do not
believe that the United States was guilty of a deep-laid plot to
gain possession of the little republic. I believe that the American
government acted for the best interests of the Nicaraguans. But when
one reviews the train of events since 1909, one sees at a glance that
they can very easily be misinterpreted until they look decidedly nasty.
First came a revolution, assisted by an American gunboat, which doubled
the already-overwhelming national debt. Then came American bankers,
taking charge of the national debt, and exacting as security everything
of value in the republic. Then came the American marines, keeping in
power the minority party that invited the bankers, against the will of
Nicaragua itself. And all Latin America chooses to regard these events
as part of a deep-laid program of intrigue.


VII

There are always two sides to a question.

Nicaragua, under American supervision, has made progress, but it is a
progress which, both to the permanent resident and the casual tourist,
is altogether invisible.

Outwardly, since the coming of the bankers, the republic has marked
time. No large industries have been introduced. No railways have
been built. The greater part of the country is without means of
communication or development. The cities are in worse repair
than those of Honduras. And, although the bankers deny it, every
Nicaraguan--and nearly every foreign resident--proclaims that the
country is far less prosperous to-day than in the worst days of Zelaya.

This is largely due to the fact that the bankers administering
Nicaragua’s finances are devoting all their attention to clearing up
the old national debt.

Colonel Clifford D. Ham, the American collector of customs, has
reduced this debt from over thirty-two million dollars to less than
nine million. There is no country in the world, except the United
States, whose finances are to-day in such flourishing condition as
those of Nicaragua. But this means nothing to the average native.
No Latin-American is ever roused individually to a high pitch of
enthusiasm over the prospect of paying what he owes. Collectively he
finds the idea quite objectionable, particularly when the indebtedness
was contracted a long time ago. And so he says, “These Americans turn
aside at our very gates every penny that would otherwise flow into the
country; they are draining the very life-blood from the nation!” He
points to the fact that when the American government, a few years ago,
purchased the rights to build a Nicaraguan Canal at some time in the
future, and paid therefor three million dollars, the money never left
New York, but was applied immediately upon that infernal debt.

The national bank has stabilized the currency, so that the Nicaraguan
_cordoba_ is on a par with the American dollar. According to the
bankers there is more money in circulation to-day in Nicaragua than
ever before. But the Nicaraguan insists that prices have risen so that
he now can buy only half as much as in the days of Zelaya, forgetting
that prices have risen throughout the world. “All the money is in
the bank, and I can not obtain credit without giving security!” The
Latin is not a hard, cold business man; he resents these business-like
methods; he curses the commerciality of the _gringo_.

The railway, when the Americans took it over, was a total wreck. The
employees had not been paid for two weeks, since there was just $2.49
in the cash-drawer. The names of thirty-five dead men were found still
on the payroll. Some of the locomotive engineers were barefoot. Most of
the workers had to draw their salary in the form of an I.O.U., which
could be cashed at a twenty per cent. discount at the office of a local
pawnbroker. Every one of any political prominence expected a pass; the
more influential were accustomed to private cars, or to the courtesy
of having the regular passenger train stop to wait several hours for
them while they paid visits along the line. To-day the road is in
good shape; it operates systematically as railways should operate;
it operates also at a profit instead of a deficit, and is earning
money which is steadily rebuying itself back into the hands of the
Nicaraguan government. But the Nicaraguan is suspicious. Whenever the
American manager buys a new locomotive, the newspapers proclaim that he
has done so to run up the bills in order that Nicaragua can not regain
control of the road.

Some day in the near future the American capitalist will retire,
leaving Nicaragua in excellent shape for progress.

Since the Latin-American lives completely in the present, the
Nicaraguan can not appreciate work that builds for future prosperity.
He sees no visible result of the American coöperation. He knows only
that his country has been at a standstill since the Americans came. He
loudly damns the _gringo_. And all Latin America echoes his accusations
against the scheming Colossus of the North. So, unfortunately, does
many an American resident in Nicaragua.


VIII

Nicaragua is a lowland of tropical heat. It has the least invigorating
climate in Central America. The natives are not particularly blessed
with energy or industry, and are consequently rather eager to blame
their lack of initiative to the stifling effect of their subserviency
to the United States.

Individually they are quite ready to be friendly to any American.
Collectively they love to damn the _gringos_. And the newspapers of
Managua and León cater regularly to their taste by soaking every Yankee
who attains prominence in the republic.

These papers, like the dailies of Guatemala, are mostly four-sheet
publications with the flavor of rural journalism. They are printed,
usually at a loss, by gentlemen of political aspirations who desire an
organ for self-expression. The reporters, inspired by the same vanity,
editorialize in every news report. In mentioning the arrival of an
actress, they felicitate her and wish her success. In describing the
arrest of some petty criminal, they express the hope that he may be
convicted and hanged and dealt with not too leniently in purgatory.
In attacking Americans, however, they reach their highest flights of
eloquence. No article on politics or finance is complete without an
allusion to “the oppressive hand of the American banker.” And when the
banker has been exhausted as a source of indignant outpourings, they
give their attention to the other American residents.

On one occasion they flamed out against young René Wallace, the son of
a Yankee merchant, because he had organized a league of basket-ball
clubs among the young ladies of Nicaraguan society. They proclaimed
indignantly that he was trying to deprive the local _señoritas_ of all
modesty and gentleness by arraying them in bloomers and teaching
them the hoydenish games wherein no self-respecting woman could indulge.

On another occasion they flamed out against Dr. Daniel M. Molloy,
of the Rockefeller Foundation, because the name of Rockefeller
suggested to them another capitalistic invasion. This Foundation has
been active throughout Central America, particularly in combating
hook-worm, wherewith nearly all the barefoot inhabitants are infected.
It suppressed a yellow fever epidemic which swept throughout these
countries in 1918. It has built hospitals, improved water supplies,
taught hygiene, and worked in many other ways for the betterment of
the various republics. The ignorant _peons_, indifferent to hygiene,
had always regarded sickness and disease as something inevitable, to
be accepted with fatalistic patience. In infant mortality, Mexico
surpasses all the world’s civilized communities, while its total
death-rate is thrice that of the United States, and it is safe
to assume that the Central-American republics--in the absence of
statistics--keep pace with Mexico. The educated classes have never
made much effort to relieve this situation. In Tegucigalpa a recently
appointed director of a government hospital had to begin his work by
removing forty-two cans of garbage left in the hospital _patio_ by the
last director. The Rockefeller Foundation there, in employing a new
native physician of high standing in the community, discovered that
he had never studied bacteriology and had but a vague idea that any
diseases were caused by germs. In lands where such conditions prevail,
the Foundation should have been hailed as a God-send, especially since
it came largely at its own expense. But a newspaper in León published
daily editorials attacking Dr. Molloy, and insisting that Rockefeller
would presently be demanding oil concessions. When no such demands were
forthcoming, the editor found another argument in the fact that Dr.
Molloy was advocating new methods in sewerage disposal.

“Aha!” he shouted on his front page. “We see the nigger in the
woodpile. This _gringo_ is a secret representative of a manufacturing
firm that hopes to sell us American plumbing devices!”


IX

At the time of my sojourn in Managua, there was a temporary lull in
such attacks, for the city was indulging in its semi-annual outburst of
culture.

The aristocrats of Central America are very fond of theatrical
entertainment, and some of the republics have built national theaters,
but such is the expense of bringing _artistes_ from Europe that
performances are rare, and usually subsidized by the government.

Frijolita, who had danced before all the crowned heads of Europe, had
recently been performing in Tegucigalpa. The Honduran government,
having paid her expenses to the country, had allowed her to get out as
best she could, wherefore she was now about to dance in the neighboring
capitals. All Nicaragua felt honored. Every poet in the country tuned
his lyre, and prepared to sing her praises.

In Central America nearly every one who can write is a poet. The
composition of verses is a universal indoor sport among the young men.
On Sunday each newspaper devotes a page to the unremunerated labors of
the local bards. Guests at the hotels, seeing me scribbling in a note
book, always inquired whether I were writing verses. Every one who can
afford the luxury, prints privately his musings, which no one else ever
seems to read. When it became known that Frijolita would dance, the
editors themselves took a crack at versification, and published their
outpourings neatly boxed on the first sheet.

I shared my hotel room with Bosco, the tenor, and Maestro, the
orchestra conductor. Frijolita, stopping at the most expensive
hotel, had dispatched them to the sort of hostelry where itinerant
travel-writers were forced to stay, and they were much incensed. But to
our room came the minor devotees of art from the Nicaraguan population
to bask in their glory, and both Bosco and Maestro entertained them
with stories of Frijolita’s absurd temperament, and with sly comments
upon her age, suggesting that she had not really danced before a
crowned head since Napoleon Bonaparte went into exile.

Bosco was a cheerful person. He was small and rotund, but he sang
divinely, and was not stingy with his accomplishment. In the early
morning he poked a bleary countenance from his mosquito-net and greeted
the Indian servant-maid with an aria. Then he would stroll out into
the _patio_ in his pajamas, carrying his guitar, to serenade the other
ladies of the establishment.

Maestro was a withered, elderly person, once famous but fallen into
obscurity. He was taciturn and unsociable. His one love was his fiddle.
He would stroll away by himself to the back regions of the hotel, where
he found inspiration in the banana trees and the rubbish heap, and
there he would evoke weird squeals from his instrument in an effort to
perfect what he described as a new technique.

Frijolita remained at the more expensive hotel, giving out daily
interviews to the press about the many royal scions who had committed
suicide because she could not respond to their love. Her husband
sometimes came to call upon us. He was a dapper little fellow; his
hair was very long; his face was always neatly powdered; his smile
was endearing. He would greet us with a gentle wave of the hand or a
gesture of his cane; ask after our health; and withdraw gracefully,
a vision of dainty, silken-clad ankles, leaving a trail of haunting
perfume behind him.

A week elapsed. Maestro devoted it to informing his acquaintances that
Frijolita was treating him like a dog. Then came the much-awaited début.

The theater was a shabby structure of European design, its two
balconies consisting of boxes and loges, where sat the ladies of
society. The unattached men filled the pit, many with their hats on,
craning their necks to stare aloft. We waited an hour and a half for
the President. He finally arrived. Every one rose. The orchestra
played the national anthem. It was greeted with vast applause.
Little withered Maestro turned and bowed. Then the orchestra played
again--that piece about daybreak or springtime or something wherein the
trapdrummer usually toots upon a bird-whistle. Here the trapdrummer had
no bird-whistle. But the curtain went up just the same, revealing a
conventional backdrop, and a huddled mass of plumes in the foreground
which proved to be none other than Frijolita herself, apparently asleep.

More applause! Thunderous applause! It awakened Frijolita. Very slowly
she arose from the floor and commenced to undulate. At some time in the
distant past, one sensed that she had been a great dancer. Nowadays one
felt that she had reached the stage where she ought to interpret only
the classics. She was just a bit too heavy to do popular stuff. But
she was game. She undulated faster and faster. She flitted and romped
and turned somersaults. Applause became a roar of approval. The music
ceased. She bowed, leaped behind the curtain, emerged in a Spanish
shawl, unwound it and threw it away, leaped back behind the curtain,
emerged in another shawl--

There were fourteen shawls to be unwound, while the roar grew to a
tumult. Then she was gone. Bosco, who was not singing to-night, came
out of the wings, and hurried through the auditorium with a preoccupied
air to let the public know he was connected in some way with the
troupe, while Maestro acknowledged with grateful genuflections the
approval of the spectators. It was an exhibition such as might be seen
in any second-rate vaudeville house on Broadway as a curtain-raiser,
but it was an event in Managua. Most of the Nicaraguans recognized it
as an inferior performance, but outwardly they maintained an air of
joyous appreciation largely patriotic.

Frijolita had no supporting troupe. There was a brief intermission;
then she broke loose again. This time she displayed an elephantine
pair of bare legs, and the roar of approval increased. Again and again
she danced, interpreting thereby--according to the program--the latest
wiggles of every land from Egypt to Japan. She came finally to her
masterpiece, the genuine Hawaiian hula-hula. And then occurred the
unexpected climax. Maestro, either by accident or malicious design,
stopped his music too soon, leaving her with one foot in the air.

Frijolita flew into a rage. Her far-famed temperament burst all bounds.
Rushing to front-stage, she screamed revilement at the musician. All
Managua cheered her. Rising in his wrath, Maestro screamed revilement
at her. And all Managua cheered _him_. Frijolita was outraged. She
seized such pieces of scenery as were not nailed down, and commenced to
hurl them. The President, feeling that the whole affair was beneath his
dignity, took his departure. Frijolita’s husband came teetering forward
to mediate.

“_Qué pasa?_” he inquired pleasantly. “What’s the trouble?”

Frijolita glared at him.

“What sort of man are you? Why don’t you defend me?”

He fled before another shower of scenery, and Frijolita fled after him.
Managua carried the little Maestro out upon its shoulders, and treated
him to champagne, delighted at the unanticipated entertainment he had
offered.

But the next day the local papers did not mention the incident.
Perhaps the editors felt that they must maintain appearances, and that
Managua’s semi-annual outburst of culture should pass off--in the press
at least--with _éclat_. Or perhaps they had already composed their
poems, and could not deny themselves the satisfaction of publishing
them. For the verses appeared, neatly boxed on the first page,
eulogizing the performance of the incomparable _artiste_, Frijolita.


X

Managua, of late, has gone in for sports.

The marines have taught the natives to box and to play baseball. In the
latter game, the Nicaraguan boys invariably defeat their mentors. In
boxing, they still have much to learn, but they are promising.

The newspapers write up the events with a Latin-American flavor. In the
advertisement of a baseball match, the public is advised not to miss:

“A wonderful sporting event! Colossal stealing of bases!
Lightning-light flight of ball from pitcher to catcher! Formidable
blows of the bat! Thrilling to the emotions! Do not miss it! Do not
miss it! To the field on Sunday at the ten of the morning! To the
field!”

Baseball is firmly established. Boxing has long been opposed in Latin
America as a brutal amusement suitable only to _gringos_, but it has
gained much popularity since the advent of Firpo.

One Sunday afternoon I drifted out to the field to see the local
champions. There was a rickety grand-stand, but the ring stood far
away from it in the center of a bare pasture. If one wished a ringside
seat, one could take a camp-chair and move it wherever he pleased.
Every one started back in the shade of the stand, and edged his seat
forward as the shadows lengthened, finally reaching the ring in time
for the final bout.

The promoter acted as introducer and referee. He was a prominent local
politician--a large, stout gentleman in a big leather _sombrero_. He
commenced with two diminutive urchins, who knew nothing of boxing; they
fought so gamely that they were fagged before the end of the first
round, but they struggled through three of them, obtaining additional
rest while the promoter explained that they must not kick or bite, and
then returning to the fray to put both hands together and shove them
toward the adversary’s face.

Next came two older boys. Then two full-grown men, one barefoot, one
in shoes and silk shirt. The barefoot one, a wild-looking Indian with
dark face and long hair, had evidently learned his strategy by watching
game-cocks. He kept edging sidewise as though he did not see the other
fellow. He would start his swing by winding up like a baseball pitcher.
The other could always see it coming and leap aside, but it was an
unwieldy swing, and the other invariably jumped into it, until his
silk shirt was crimson. The spectators were delighted. They could not
appreciate science, but they recognized blood when they saw it, and
screamed their approval. The Indian won.

Then came the semi-finals and the finals. Here the participants were
trained to some extent, but they were handicapped by Latin vanity. They
were constantly posing before the crowd. Between the rounds, instead of
resting, they would turn to their admirers to make a speech. “He got
me by accident last time, but I’ll show you something when the bell
rings.” If one were knocked to the floor, instead of taking his count
of nine even when he sadly needed it, he would leap immediately to his
feet, determined to redeem himself in the eyes of his followers. Or one
of them, having backed the other against the ropes and pummeled him to
a pulp, would forgo his advantage to listen to the applause.

But these men were fighters. The old phrase, “the fistless Latin,” is
rapidly becoming obsolete. These scrappers never stalled or clinched to
save themselves or to gain time. They fought harder than any American
pugilist. And they had infinite courage. In the final bout one youth
was greatly outweighed; his opponent cut his eye in the very first
round so that he was almost blinded; even the Nicaraguan spectators,
much as they loved gore, suggested that the battle should stop, but the
little fellow insisted on continuing; he was beaten into a bloody mess,
knocked down again and again, pounded until it became a torture, but
he never wavered; the moment he regained his feet he rushed forward
courageously for additional punishment with a fortitude that no
Anglo-Saxon could surpass.

In many phases of life these people acquit themselves as poor
sportsmen, especially in their politics, but they are learning.
Sportsmanship, after all, is not a hereditary virtue, but one acquired
through experience. What American can not recall the many squabbles
that marked his earliest boyhood ventures into athletics? It is only by
training that one learns to abide by the decision of an umpire. I was
rather amazed to notice that not one of the Nicaraguan boxers contested
the decision of the referee.


XI

The one American resident that the Managua newspapers do not
occasionally attack is the Marine.

Some years ago one periodical published an editorial accusing the
Legation Guard of general misconduct, whereupon the soldiers promptly
wrecked its plant. No such accusations have been repeated.

There are about a hundred and fifty marines in Managua. They were the
cleanest-cut body of young men that I had ever seen anywhere. There was
no drunkenness among them, no rough-house, no swaggering or bullying
attitude toward the natives, no tendency to pick a fight with the local
police.

“The only difficulty we ever have,” said the American minister, John
E. Ramer, “is that now and then one of them falls in love with a
Nicaraguan _señorita_. The lad might be able to support her in her
accustomed luxury here, but he couldn’t do it at home. Consequently,
for the best interests of both parties, the officers--if they see it
coming--try to cheat Cupid by transferring the man to another post.”

The barracks are situated on the outskirts of town. The men are well
quartered--with drill-grounds, club, baseball diamond, moving picture
theater, and tennis courts--and so completely comfortable that a
Nicaraguan president, paying a visit to the camp, once threw up his
hands in astonishment with the exclamation:

“Your privates live like generals!”

Adjacent to their cantonment is that of the Nicaraguan soldiers. I
strolled over to the native barracks one day with Corporal Landy, the
Legation orderly.

“Hello, you bandits!” he greeted them, and all the Nicaraguans grinned.
“These devils,” he explained to me in Spanish, that they might hear,
“never have any drill or fatigue or anything else to do except to sit
around and watch us sweat.” And they all chuckled good-humoredly, as
though they liked it. Very casually he took the gun away from a native
sentry to show me the rust upon it. “And that cannon they have there,
if you were to fire it, would turn a somersault and land on its back.”

They talked together on friendly terms about the night last year when a
revolution was expected. Each had the other covered with machine-guns
in case of an emergency. They laugh about it now, and each assures the
other, “I was aiming straight at _you_ that night.”

I attended an inspection one Saturday morning. The _Rochester_,
previously at Amapala, had reached Corinto, and Admiral Dayton came up
to inspect the troops. There was a close-order drill, then extended
order, then fire call, and finally the call to arms wherein every man
took the post he would take in case of actual fighting in Managua.
The bugle rang out. There was a scurrying of machine-gunners to the
various emplacements about the barracks. Down by the front entrance the
sallying party formed to charge with fixed bayonets through the streets
of Managua.

Just across the line, the Nicaraguan troops sat cross-legged on the
ground, and grinned appreciatively, as though they felt that this was
an exhibition staged for their personal entertainment. They themselves
were never called upon to practice for such emergencies. When the
marines first did it, some years ago, the native soldiers had all
scurried back into the barracks to get their own guns, while an anxious
presidential voice came over the telephone wire to the American
Legation, demanding:

“What’s the matter in your camp? Your marines are running about like
madmen! Are they declaring war upon us?”

They soon assembled again, and marched back to the barracks, while the
band played “Dixie,” and the stars and stripes floated in the breeze.
This whole occupation, because of its aspect in foreign eyes, was a
thing that might be deplored, but what Yankee in a far-away land would
not be thrilled at the sight?


XII

It is natural that the Nicaraguan resents American intervention.

There exists in the Latin-American’s character a combination of
inefficiency and pride which induces the inferiority complex. His
inefficiency sometimes leads him into a muddle from which he is unable
to extricate himself. He invites the foreigner to help him out. Then
his pride asserts itself. He resents the fact that he has been obliged
to call upon the foreigner. He proceeds thereupon to damn him.

During my stay in Managua, the rumor circulated about--an ever
recurrent rumor there--that the marines were to be withdrawn. Inside
of an hour the American Legation was filled with diplomats from
foreign countries, and merchants who owned property in Nicaragua, all
anxious to know if the rumor were true, all fearful of the destructive
revolution that would follow overnight, all eager to protest against
the withdrawal of the much-abused _gringos_.

In the crowd were many Nicaraguans who had been loudest in their
condemnation of the United States.


XIII

Like most persons with the inferiority complex, the Latin-American is
extremely sensitive. He resents, even more than the humiliation of
_gringo_ assistance, the assumption of loftier worth which usually
characterizes the Anglo-Saxon.

This assumption, to us, is often quite unconscious. If we are aware
of our national self-satisfaction, most of us try to hide it when
traveling in the southern republics. Our diplomats and business men
seek valiantly to proclaim our great admiration of our neighbors. It
has become the fashion in our writing to promote an _entente cordiale_
by flattering the people of these countries. The charming woman writer
in particular--who makes a brief trip to the more modern cities of
Chile and the Argentine, meets only the aristocracy, and completes her
book as a bread-and-butter letter to the delightful people who fed her
tea and cakes--is inclined nowadays, in her impulse to jolt out of his
complacency the reader at home, to picture all the Latin-Americans as
infinitely superior to our own crude selves.

Yet all of us, even though we may have acquired a strong affection
for our friends of the southland, still consider ourselves their
peers. We know that every _gringo_ is not to be ranked above every
Latin-American. But we are confident that man for man--lawyer
for lawyer, doctor for doctor, soldier for soldier, farmer for
farmer--the Anglo-Saxon usually surpasses his counterpart in physique,
intelligence, education, ability and character, if not in refinement.
The Latin-American himself is aware of the contrast. He may, and
sometimes does, voluntarily admit it. But he is naturally a trifle
resentful when the _gringo_, by word or action, reminds him of it.

We remind him quite frequently. The most considerate traveler will
lapse unintentionally at times into an attitude of condescension. Our
kindly church-goers at home contribute their pennies to missionary
enterprises in order that he may be educated and uplifted. And as
though this were not the supreme height of international insult,
however much he may actually need education and uplift, we appoint
ourselves the policemen of the continent, take him under our paternal
wing, and threaten to spank him if he misbehaves.

We assume that he should appreciate our kindliness and love us as
the big brother we consider ourselves to be. On the contrary, he not
only dislikes us as a nation, but distrusts our motives. He looks upon
us--and frequently with good cause--as hypocrites who pat him upon the
back as a prelude to selling him American products. In our missionary
efforts he sees only a colossal national vanity. In the application
of our Monroe Doctrine he scents an ambition for the conquest of his
country.

To the average American this last statement may sound ridiculous. When
we promulgated that doctrine, we thought only of Europe. It was later,
when we realized that European nations might disregard it unless their
citizens or property were protected in Latin America that we undertook
to supervise the conduct of our neighbors’ wars and revolutions. Our
ambitions for conquest at present are purely commercial. But there are
several incidents in our past history which these little republics
remember with foreboding. They remember, for instance, that we fought
with Mexico about Texas, and emerged victorious with Arizona, Utah,
Nevada, and California. They feel that there is something a little
funny in the way Panama started its revolution against Colombia just
about the time we wished to build the Panama Canal. They question our
philanthropic motives in Nicaragua. They are always wondering where the
lightning may strike next.

So firmly convinced are most of our neighbors that we are what they
always describe as “the grasping Colossus of the North,” that when our
government exercises forbearance, they merely suspect us of cowardice.
When Woodrow Wilson for many years let Mexico literally get away with
murder, his idealism was misunderstood. For a time Latin America
looked upon the United States as a braggart that never executed its
repeated diplomatic threats. Carranza, the special protégé of our State
Department, posed before the neighboring presidents as a guardian of
Latin-American rights, and had envoys touring the southern continent in
an effort to align Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Chile, Argentina,
and other countries, in a secret _entente_ against the United States.

Personally I dislike our meddling in Latin-American affairs. It seems
to me that it should be any government’s privilege to run a revolution
in its own country if it so chooses. But there are many _gringos_
in all these republics, who came there in accordance with local
constitutional guarantees, and sometimes at the invitation of the
government itself, who must be protected. If we do not occasionally
step in, Europe will. Latin America--with the exception of the few
nations which conduct their elections in peace--expects it. The
Latin-American resents it, but he despises us when we abstain.

If we are to uphold our prestige, however, we must apply our foreign
policies--whatever they may be--to all republics consistently.

“We never know just what to expect from your government,” a Supreme
Court justice said to me in Honduras. “You tell us again and again,
for instance, that you will recognize only a constitutionally elected
president, who gains office without force. Yet to-day you have
recognized nine Latin-American presidents who did gain office by force.”

These were the presidents of Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua,
Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Santo Domingo, and Mexico.

“And you tell us also,” continued the Justice, “that at all times, we
must protect American property. If we of the little countries do not,
you immediately send down your gunboats. In Nicaragua, two American
filibusters, convicted of murder, are executed, and presently you take
over the entire country. In Mexico, during many revolutions, countless
Americans are slain, and much property damaged, and you content
yourselves with writing notes. To us of the little countries, it all
seems very unfair.”

As to the recognition of Latin-American presidents, Heaven help
the State Department to apply a consistent rule, when so few are
legitimately elected! But as to the protection of American property,
there can be but one right course. Either it is not worth protecting,
or it is, whether it be in Nicaragua or Mexico. Practically all Central
Americans to-day, although too polite to voice their opinion, look upon
us as something of a bully who picks on the weaker republics.


XIV

That they are so friendly, despite their fancied grievances, is a
tribute to the natural kindliness of these people.

Even in Nicaragua, although the press may attack the _gringo_, the
people as a whole are cordial to any individual American who will meet
them half-way.

“I went home last year,” said one of the Old-Timers. “I’d been here
for ten years, but no one in my own town seemed to make much of a fuss
over me. They just shook hands and remarked, ‘Let’s see; you’ve been
away, haven’t you?’ But when I came back and stepped off the train in
Managua, every porter and coachman on the platform recognized me. The
bootblacks grinned all over their dirty brown faces. And my neighbors
all came hurrying to my house to hug me, and slap me on the back, and
make those funny gurgling noises. That was my real homecoming.”



CHAPTER XVI

A LONG, LONG WAY TO COSTA RICA


I

I set out overland--through the Nicaraguan Canal--for Costa Rica.

From Managua the railway carried me to Granada, on the shores of the
largest lake between Michigan and Titicaca. At the end of a long wharf
the weekly steamer was balancing itself upon its prow and waving its
stern in the air, lashed by a gale that piled the combers one upon
another until the pond resembled a young ocean.

It was a squatty vessel, condemned back in the days of Zelaya, but
still running. It contained several bullet holes from the revolution
that overthrew the dictator. When attacked, it had been so crowded with
government troops that most of them could not fire upon the enemy,
wherefore they had relieved their emotions by shooting upward through
the decks.

Embarking passengers were looking forward to seasickness. The
Latin-Americans always enjoy this malady, even when the sea is calm.
Upon going aboard a ship, the womenfolk especially prepare for it
by hanging upon the cabin wall a picture of “Our Lady of Voyagings,”
reciting the rosary, sniffing the smelling salts, lying down upon the
berth, turning green, and suffering miserably long before the ship
leaves port. Such behavior seems to be regarded as essential to the
gentle feminine character, and I sometimes suspect that any lady who
failed to show the proper symptoms during a voyage would be regarded as
just a trifle masculine.

On this trip they all had excellent excuse. The boat rocked and
pitched frantically at its moorings. When we finally steamed off, our
course lay broadside to the waves, and the vessel dipped one gunwale
after the other, soaking the steerage passengers on the lower deck,
and sprinkling those above. They huddled together in a dejected,
uncomfortable mass of humanity, groaning “Ay! Ay! Ay!” and obtaining
therefrom about as much relief as Anglo-Saxons find in “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

Lake Nicaragua is a hundred miles long by forty wide. Since it was a
twenty-four hour journey, much agony was enjoyed by all.


II

I landed the next morning at San Carlos, at the mouth of the San Juan
River. There was nothing of interest here except an ancient Spanish
fortress and J. C. Kennedy.

“They built the fortress back in 1600-and-something, or maybe it was
1700-and-something,” explained the latter. “I know it was just before I
came here.”

Mr. Kennedy, a little white-haired Irish-American, who now owned a
shoe-shop and pegged away himself for exercise, had twice been chased
out of Nicaragua by the old tyrant, Zelaya.

“But I don’t know as I blame him so much,” he said. “I had a factory
making ammunition for the revolutionists.”


III

From San Carlos the San Juan River led eastward toward the Caribbean.
Once seriously considered by the American government as a possible
site for the canal finally constructed at Panama, it was at present so
shallow that only small launches could navigate it.

One was now waiting, with a scow lashed to its side.

I sailed with it at midnight, along with some forty other passengers,
mostly women and children, all of us tightly packed into whatever
spaces remained among the bags, boxes, and bales of a heavy cargo.
There was neither comfort nor privacy. The Latin-Americans, with
characteristic vanity, had all embarked in their very best clothes. Now
that they had parted from their friends, and wished to change into
garments better suited to a long voyage, they faced a disconcerting
problem.

The women cried out: “Gentlemen, please look the other way!”

A host of infants whined and fretted. Every one turned and twisted
about in an effort to find a position conducive to sleep, until the
launch suggested a cheese alive with squirming maggots.

I retired to the lighter, and discovering a sheltered nook among the
sacks of beans, rolled up in my blanket. There was a splendid moon
overhead. The black jungle, illumined now and then with patches of
misty gray, slid past in mysterious procession. At times I would awaken
as the motor stopped and the native boatmen climbed over me to guide
us with long poles through rippling shallows. Sometimes the claw-like
branches of a half-submerged tree came racing at us, as though shooting
upstream to seize us; there would be much frantic shouting, and furious
work with the guiding-poles as we dodged it; then I would settle back
to another nap, lulled by the music of swift waters, and pitying the
other passengers huddled in cramped discomfort aboard the launch.

[Illustration: FOR THREE DAYS THE BOATMEN POLED THE LAUNCH THROUGH
SHALLOWS FRAMED IN RANK GREEN JUNGLE]

But the pity was premature. Without warning the heavens opened up, and
poured down a perfect deluge of chilling rain, and I found myself the
only passenger not under a roof and with no space left under the
awning. I had not known that every season was rainy season on the San
Juan. And the deluge fell intermittently throughout the night. Drawing
the blanket over my head, I burrowed down between two bean-sacks, where
presently a boatman rushing across the scow with his pole gave a leap
and planted both bare feet in my face.

“Pardon, _señor_, but you looked like part of the cargo!”

In the morning we docked at Puerto Castillo, a string of aged wooden
shanties bordering the river, shrouded in an unceasing drizzle of mist.
There were some especially dangerous rapids here, and the women were
landed while the rest of us charged downstream through boiling foam.
Our launch bumped and grated over the rocks as we plunged through the
shallow falls, but the current swept us on, and we came finally into
deeper pools below, where the women, straggling along the shore-trail,
rejoined us, and crawled over one another as each sought to find her
own baggage among the mixture of sacks, bundles, baskets and boxes, and
to extract therefrom the ingredients for breakfast.

Each passenger foraged for himself. For three days we chugged
downstream through rank green jungle with bits of fog clinging to its
edges, through shallows and rapids, through drizzling showers. Every
one had taken the precaution to bring food, which we ate without
cooking. Now and then, if we stopped at a thatched hut, a native woman
could be persuaded to boil coffee, but it was seldom that we stopped
long enough. With both sexes packed tightly into an open launch for
many hours at a time, there was necessary a complete abandonment of
the modesties which civilized society regards as imperative. When
passengers complained, the captain agreed with them sympathetically,
in the fatalistic fashion of these people, as though he felt that the
discomfort were something to be deplored, but not to be remedied.

The captain was in reality a “Colonel” by title. Several of the men
passengers were “Generals.” Most Nicaraguans of any social standing
have a military title of some sort, earned in a long-past revolution.
Two or three of the women were the wives of government officials
stationed in Bluefields or other isolated east coast towns, and were
ladies of refinement. But contiguity was productive of democracy, and
both ladies and Generals joined the _peons_ in lamentation of common
misery.

The life of the party was a stout woman with a _machete_ in the bosom
of her voluminous soiled shirtwaist. Her seven children were constantly
tumbling about over the other passengers to the annoyance of every one,
and her admonitions that she would cut their throats if they did not
sit still, illustrated by a waving of the _machete_, had little effect
upon them. On the lake steamer, she had led the mournful chorus of
“Ay! Ay! Ay!” but she was now in good spirits and prepared at all times
to conduct the conversation.

Her favorite theme was her romances.

“The oldest boy--he of the curly hair--was the son of Juanito, the
blacksmith. And that one--the dark one--is the child of Pedro, the
little Indian at San Carlos.”

She had left the blacksmith, it seems, because he caught her at
flirtation, and failed to chastise the other man. He had simply taken
_her_ home, and beaten _her_. She had not minded this, for it was
justified. But he should have beaten the other man, too. Did we not
think so? And who could love such a coward?

We stopped on our third night at a little thatched farmhouse. While the
women remained aboard the launch, reciting their rosaries in unison,
as was their nightly custom throughout the voyage, the men adjourned
to a narrow sandspit, opened a jug of rum, and took turns riding a
young bull, which, despite its youth, contrived to toss most of them
into the river. Thereafter we gathered at the farmhouse, where some one
produced guitar and mandolin, and we all danced with the farmer’s three
daughters. There was some question in my mind as to whether a gentleman
about to dance with a barefoot partner should remove his own shoes. The
book of etiquette, as I recalled it, had not covered this point. But,
considering that the boards were full of splinters which might have
been painful to any but the calloused sole of a native, I decided to
forgo the courtesy. When the boatmen and passengers discovered that I
could play a few pieces of their own music on the mandolin, they hailed
me as “Paisano”--“fellow-countryman”--and thereafter called me by that
name. These Nicaraguans were prejudiced against _gringos_, but like
all Latin-Americans, were eager to be friendly with any individual who
showed an interest in themselves.

One of the Generals could speak English. His hobby was collecting the
pictures of short-skirted movie-actresses that came with each package
of the cigarettes I smoked.

“Those American girl are some nifty girl, eh? All the time I am
in the Nueva York I go always to the dance-hall to shake the--the
what-do-you-call-it?--the wicked hip. And so mooch I like the scenic
railway at the Coney Island--the one that go all the time through the
dark tunnel! Some classy burg, that Nueva York!”

When the rain ceased momentarily, the men would ascend to the roof
of the launch, among the crates of squawking chickens that formed
the bulk of the cargo, and from that point of vantage would shoot at
the alligators lying half-submerged along the mud-flats. The caymans
were sluggish creatures. On the Amazon and other rivers, I have seen
much larger monsters disappear with the crack of a rifle. Here they
merely lumbered with awkward dignity toward the water. The boatmen
showed no fear of them. When we struck a sandbar, as we did at two-hour
intervals, the crew would leap overboard to shove us loose, and
sometimes would plod all over the river to find the deeper channels.

If this were ever to become an interoceanic canal, it would require
infinite dredging. Yet, should traffic outgrow the Panama waterway,
this will be the site of another road. The mountain chain which soars
aloft throughout Central America subsides at this point. Lake Nicaragua
is only a hundred and ten feet above sea level, and from it another
river empties into the Pacific just as the San Juan empties into the
Caribbean. The principal disadvantage of a canal here would be its
length. Any surveyor or engineer, making the journey as I made it,
would swear that the San Juan was longer than the Mississippi.


IV

It was a relief when, after three days of it, we turned aside into
a narrow channel, and pushed our way through lily-pads to the
weather-stained city of San Juan del Norte, otherwise known as
Greytown, our Caribbean terminus.

It was merely the typical East coast town, however--low, swampy,
stinking, and generally unattractive--with black complexions
prevailing. The Nicaraguan _commandante_ was Spanish. All other
officials were negroes. A customs’ inspector of West Indian descent, as
immaculate in white linen uniform as only a colored official can be,
directed me to a lodging house, and I set out to find it, hiking along
a grass-grown embankment lined with rickety wooden shacks roofed with
discolored tin, each house set upon piles above a pool of filth, and
reached by a wobbly board-walk.

[Illustration: GREYTOWN WAS A TYPICAL EAST COAST PORT--LOW, SWAMPY AND
UNATTRACTIVE--WITH BLACK COMPLEXIONS PREVAILING]

Once upon a time--when this whole shore from Costa Rica to Guatemala
was a part of the British “Mosquito kingdom,” of which British
Honduras is the only remnant--this was a thriving city. Walker, the
Filibuster, made it his base of supplies. In the days of the gold rush
to California, Nicaragua was one of the favorite cross-continental
routes. In those times, as the residents of to-day expressed it,
“Greytown was Greytown.” Now it was only Greytown. Prosperity had fled.
The inhabitants lived, as tropical natives so frequently live, without
visible occupation. A visitor, especially a _gringo_, was a curiosity.
The entire population--descendants of Great Britain’s former negro
empire--rushed to the doorways to stare. Buxom wenches climbed upon
their window-sills with a mountainous display of anatomy to ask one
another in Jamaican English:

“Who the mon is? Who the mon is?”

I found the lodging house, but it was closed.

“Dey all go off for a lark,” advised a neighbor.

But eventually I found another hotel, kept by a Nicaraguan, who was
quite amazed at the sight of a prospective guest. He had one large
room, laden with canvas cots, and already occupied by a blind negro
with the stupid countenance of a half-wit, who proved upon further
acquaintance to be the town celebrity.

He was a musician. When some one led him downstairs and placed a
mandolin in his hands, he played it as I had never dreamed the
instrument could be played. He was a true genius. If his accompanist
gave the wrong chord upon the guitar, he would fly into a rage.
When, as a joke, some one told him that I played better than he, his
indignation knew no limit. His eyelids snapped open and shut, exposing
empty sockets, and he screamed like a maniac. He refused positively to
play another piece so long as I was present. Thereafter he seemed to
sense my return, even when I tiptoed into the room, and would cease
abruptly to demand in Spanish:

“Has that _gringo_ come back?”

But he warmed toward me when mediators informed him that I wished to
take his picture. All Greytown was eager to be photographed. Seeing
my camera, the blacks would call out, “Draw me portrait, sah?” There
were many old colored men here who could recall the days when Greytown
flourished. They were very dignified and formal, as befits a patriarch,
and with the peculiar vanity of the oldest living resident everywhere,
each was extremely proud that he hadn’t had sufficient ambition to
move out of one place for sixty or seventy years. They now spent most
of their time sitting about the rum shops, waiting for some one to buy
them a drink.

As I passed one such shop--and it seemed to be about the one kind of
shop in the city--a group of my former associates from the launch
journey greeted me with an overjoyed, “_Paisano!_” and called me
inside, assuring the colony of patriarchs, “This _gringo_ is a good
fellow! He’s our _paisano_! He’s one of us!” With that recommendation
the darkies accepted me as an equal. Theirs was the elaborate
phraseology of the Jamaican:

“When I first see he,” they said, “I presumption that he be American.”
And to me, “Am I not conclusive, sah, that you be a traveler, and that
you will embrace the primary opportunity to emigrate from this region?”

My former associates were rather tipsy with rum, and all were eager
to show me the sights of the city. The only point of interest they
could think of, however, was the chapel across the way. It had fallen
greatly into disrepair, since the Church of England is a more favored
institution on the East Coast, but it contained a well-molded image of
the Saviour. Some local artist evidently had done the work, for the
complexion of the image was a rich chocolate brown. The natives looked
upon Him with astonishment.

“_Carramba!_” exclaimed one. “He’s as dark as ourselves! He’s our
_paisano_!”


V

A motor-schooner was about to leave for Costa Rica.

Its skipper was a Cayman Islander--a hard-faced ruffian with a
whiskey-shaded mustache, who might have passed for a white man were
it not for his Jamaican speech. Its crew was composed of semi-naked
blacks. But all of them understood seamanship, which was fortunate, for
the passing of the Red Bar, at the mouth of the San Juan, is fraught
with danger.

We crept out through a winding channel. Giant combers, sweeping across
the low sandspit, caught us broadside, and turned the little craft
until the gunwale dipped water. Again and again they piled us against
the opposite bank, while great sheets of spray broke over us and
sizzled through the rigging.

The skipper, braced against the wheel, shouted orders that flew to
leeward with the screaming wind. The blacks, seemingly unmindful of
their peril, leaned their weight upon their poles as they struggled
to pry us loose, while a dozen sharks cruised hungrily below. Natives
affirm that the sea-tigers gather about each passing ship, and are
seldom disappointed. There were moments when it appeared that they
might enjoy their accustomed banquet. But at last we were safe, and
climbing up the mountainous waves toward the open sea, while the
boatmen raised lusty voices in a chantey of the old-time pirates. And
with a stiff breeze filling out sails, we scudded southward toward
Costa Rica, the most charming land in the world.


VI

Five years earlier I had visited Costa Rica--after my flight from
Mexico--and it was good to see it again.

We threaded our way among the reefs of Limón harbor, toward a sickle
of white beach fringed with graceful coco-palms. In the distance rose
lofty mountains, verdant with forest and jungle, towering up and up
toward the filmy white clouds. Over it all was the bluest of skies.
This was the land which admiring Spaniards, years ago, christened “Rich
Coast,” and no country has ever been more aptly named.

Limón itself was merely an average East Coast port--a city of
rickety wooden houses behind a large banana wharf, with a population
of Jamaican blacks imported by the Fruit Company, which owns this
Caribbean shore. But the railway--incidentally a Fruit Company
possession, and one of the three most famous scenic routes in Latin
America--carried me inland through an ever-changing panorama of cane
fields, banana plantation, thatched villages, and untrammeled jungle,
through forests of magnificent big trees festooned with moss and vine,
through rugged gulches beside a foaming river, up mountain sides where
the stream dropped to a mere white ribbon far below, along winding
cliffs that looked out upon endless vistas of waving palm tops, up
into the exhilarating coolness of the altitudes, among rolling hills
of luxuriant coffee plantation, past the red-tiled roofs of ancient
Cartago, and down again into a fertile valley dotted with little farms,
into San José, the most delightful capital in Central America--a city
of quaint Spanish architecture, yet with every modern comfort--a quiet,
peaceful city slumbering beneath a warm sun that never burns--a city
with the loveliest climate, the most attractive _plazas_, and the most
beautiful women in the world. Every town of any note in Latin America
claims these superlatives as its own. Every traveler I have met joins
me in awarding them to San José.

[Illustration: SAN JOSÉ CONTAINS THE MOST DELIGHTFUL PLAZAS, AND THE
MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN THE WORLD]

VII

Costa Rica is not only the most charming country in Central America,
but usually the best-behaved.

So stable is its government that land upon the Costa Rican side of the
San Juan River is far more valuable than the same sort of property on
the Nicaraguan side.

It is one of the few countries south of the Rio Grande which can elect
a new president without shooting the old one. Its leading families are
so interrelated that the chief executiveship is largely a household
affair. As a general rule, they take turns at it. Now and then, when
they do quarrel about it, each family separates, half of it taking one
side and half the other, so that everybody always wins. And whoever
gains the office rules ordinarily with consideration for the rest of
the populace.

In many recent years there has been but one period of rough-house in
its ordinarily tranquil history. It was my fortune, on my first visit
to the republic, to arrive just in time to witness its conclusion--the
conclusion of such a series of events as might have sprung from the
pages of a novel by Richard Harding Davis. I landed at Puerto Limón
just in time to see Ex-President Federico Tinoco, the last of the
Central-American tyrants, walk across the dock between two lines of
fixed bayonets, and embark for Europe, carrying with him the national
treasury.

The story of Tinoco would be much more typical of Honduras than of
Costa Rica.

As in Tegucigalpa there were three contestants for the presidency in
the elections of 1919. No one of them gained an absolute majority.
Congress, forced to decide, bickered as Congresses will. The president
in office, scenting possible trouble, undertook to smooth the path of
his own favorite by building up a stronger army. At the head of it was
Federico Tinoco, a man of prominent family, himself little known in
Costa Rica except as a devotee of pleasure who spent most of his time
in Paris.

When the army was well organized, Tinoco cleared the whole situation
by capturing the palace and declaring _himself_ president. Thereupon
he reorganized Congress with his own personal friends, and was
constitutionally elected. There were rumors--as always in these
countries--that an American concession hunter financed the whole
_coup_. It is more probable that Tinoco’s family influenced the move.

[Illustration: A MACHINE-GUN TOWER BUILT BY THE TYRANT TINOCO]

Federico, the Dictator, was himself a weak, timid, vacillating man. The
real power behind the throne was a younger brother, Joaquín, who became
the Secretary of War. Young, cultured, charming, the handsomest man in
a nation of handsome men, Joaquín was a striking figure everywhere.
Magnetic beyond description, he could, in a five-minute conversation,
bring his worst enemy to his own point of view. He had traveled
throughout the world, had been received in the most exclusive salons of
many European capitals, and spoke fluently several languages. He could
outride, outwrestle, outbox, outfence, and outswim any youth in the
Republic. At philandering he was supreme. Now and then some outraged
husband challenged him to a duel, but Joaquín could outshoot them all.
When there were murmurs against the high-handed methods by which the
Tinocos had attained office, he announced in Congress:

“If any citizen disapproves of it, he can meet me man to man with
revolvers.”

Secure in his power, Joaquín led the life of a young prince. He
designed strikingly beautiful uniforms for himself. He gave many
gay parties. He himself never drank, but there was always plenty of
champagne for his friends. He made costly presents to his women, and
not content with the local beauties, he imported occasional high-class
courtesans from overseas.

His extravagances proved a drain upon the national treasury. When
President Federico protested, Joaquín quickly overruled him. And
Federico, despite his desire to execute honestly the duties into
which family ambition had forced him, proceeded to tax the country
exorbitantly. When the _peons_ had no money left, he took their oxen.
He confiscated the beasts under pretense of using them for the army,
but sold them to cattlemen in the West Indies. The reserves in the
local banks he seized to pay the interest on the national debt. At
length, he commenced to sell some of the art treasures in the national
theater.

It was his one remaining hope to secure a foreign loan. Before
capitalists would listen to his pleas, however, he must secure the
recognition of the American government. In his efforts to win the
favor of Washington, he used every possible device. He extended every
courtesy to American citizens. He joined the United States in declaring
war on Germany. He offered our War Department the use of Costa Rican
territory in the fortification of the Canal Zone.

His stumbling block was Benjamin F. Chase, American Consul in San José.
In the absence of a Minister, Mr. Chase was reporting to Washington
the current political history of Costa Rica. Being a stubborn sort of
Yankee, he was reporting the truth, even though the Tinocos tried to
make a pet of him. Having failed to bribe the Consul, according to
rumors afloat at the time, the Dictator is said to have hired another
_gringo_ to shoot him. Several of the more loyal Americans formed
themselves into a guard at the Consulate, and the Consul continued to
send home unfavorable reports on the Tinoco régime.

All Costa Rica murmured its discontent at the increasing taxation.
Revolutions commenced to brew. In the suppression of the uprisings,
Joaquín introduced a reign of terror. His spies were everywhere.
Political opponents were thrown into old-fashioned wooden stocks and
exhibited in public. The prisons were filled. According to reports,
prisoners were frequently beaten with iron rods, and sometimes hung up
by the thumbs. Many of the stories have the exaggerated ring of the
yarns told about Cabrera in Guatemala. They include those of a man
burned in oil, of gold teeth being extracted and resold to dentists,
and of a private swimming pool where Joaquín, after depriving his
prisoners of water for forty-eight hours, would march them out to see
him diving and swimming in gallons of it.

The leading revolutionist, Don Julio Acosta, had a force of two hundred
men on the Nicaraguan border, but Joaquín’s army numbered about
ten thousand. The revolutionists had neither arms nor ammunition.
Washington, following its traditional policy of selling weapons only
to constitutionally elected presidents, whether they were crooks or
not, refused to sell to Don Julio, insisting that he work out his own
salvation.

Indirectly, it was Tinoco’s large army that caused his own destruction.
Knowing that all Costa Rica hated him, he had strengthened it with
soldiers of fortune from Nicaragua and Honduras, of the type who
gravitate wherever there is trouble. They must be paid. All other
government employees could wait. The school teachers, in protest, left
their schools, and marched through the streets with their pupils.
Emboldened by their example, the letter carriers and the street
cleaners followed. When the police sought to disperse them, the women
cried:

“We are your friends! We are protesting against the cutting of your
salaries to pay foreign soldiers!”

And the police stood back, while all San José surged through the
streets, shouting, “Down with the Tinocos!” Joaquín at the time was
absent from the city. Hearing of the disturbance, he hastened back,
and led his troops in person, riding fearlessly into the mob. Some of
the women and children were forced into the American Consulate, and
surged upstairs to the balcony. A young boy attempted a speech. Tinoco
soldiers drew their rifles and fired. The crowd fled back inside the
building, leaving Consul Chase alone on the balcony. Eleven bullet
holes dented the stucco behind him, but he was not harmed.

This was the beginning of the end. Joaquín quickly pacified the city,
for no one dared to face him. But--the Old-Timers suspect--a little
note came down from Washington. Federico, the nominal Dictator, made
plans for an exit. He handed his resignation to the Vice-President,
who appointed him “Ambassador-at-Large” to Europe, with a salary of
$100,000 a year, payable in advance. All of his cohorts received
similar appointments--by a procedure which, if unethical, was quite
proper according to international law--until their salaries exhausted
what little cash remained in the country.

Joaquín, the real Dictator, had no intention of fleeing with them.
Whatever might be said of him, he was no coward. He meant to fight to
the end. But the end came unexpectedly. He was strolling nonchalantly
down the street one evening when a man saluted him. Always military,
Joaquín snapped his own hand to his hat-brim. He did not observe
that the other man had saluted with the left hand, or that the right
concealed a revolver. As Joaquín’s fingers touched the hat-brim, the
man shot him. Then he turned and ran up the street, blazing into the
air, and shouting:

“Joaquín is dead! Costa Rica lives!”

The elder Tinoco was at home in the castle when the news reached him.
Seizing the telephone, he called up the prison.

“Shoot every political prisoner!” he ordered.

But with the death of Joaquín a change had come over the Republic. It
was Joaquín the people feared, and not Federico. The order was not
obeyed. Surrounded by foreign soldiers of fortune, the ex-Dictator
emerged from the castle only to attend his brother’s funeral. Then, in
a heavily-guarded train, he fled to Puerto Limón, and sailed for Europe.

As was my usual fortune in Latin-American travel, I arrived just in
time to hear the shouting. And all Costa Rica _was_ shouting. When I
drew any young man aside to ask who it was that shot Joaquín, he would
glance hastily about to see that he was not overheard. Then he would
whisper:

“Sh! Don’t tell any one! _I_ did it!”

But Joaquín had his mourners. Every day several young ladies would
visit his grave to deck it with flowers, each glaring jealously at the
others who loved his memory.


VIII

This story, it should be emphasized again, is not typical of Costa
Rica. Although the second smallest of the Central-American republics,
it is the most progressive.

Fortune favored it in the beginning by giving it few gold mines
to attract to its shores the swashbuckling adventurer whose blood
to-day keeps so many of the neighboring countries in turmoil. It is
essentially a country of coffee and bananas, and so fertile that wooden
railway ties and telegraph poles are popularly reputed to take root and
grow. It was settled not by _conquistadores_ bent upon enslaving the
Indian, but by Gallegos, the hardest-working farmers of Spain, who,
instead of mating with the aborigines, followed the example of our own
Puritan forefathers by exterminating them. To-day, when one passes
the black fringe of the Caribbean coast, one finds neither the Indian
population of Guatemala nor the mixed-breed population of the other
countries, but a race eighty per cent. Spanish, even among the lowly
_peons_.

Not being troubled by recurrent civil war, Costa Rica has made
progress. It is not an astounding country, for most of its 23,000
square miles of territory are still clad with jungle, and its
population of 400,000 people live mostly in one mountain district,
where the four principal cities are connected by a wagon road not
more than thirty miles in length. But its people, for the most part,
own their own farms, and are contented. Education is of a higher
standard than in the other countries. There is railway connection with
either coast. It is such a healthful land that Canal Zone doctors
always recommend it to convalescents. It has a national theater which
equals in its interior decoration any theater in the United States.
Yet it remains quaint, and picturesque, and Spanish--charming and
delightful--so thoroughly charming and delightful that the author,
after living there for a month on two different visits, discovers no
further observations in his notebook.

[Illustration: IN ITS INTERIOR DECORATION THE COSTA RICAN NATIONAL
THEATER EQUALS ANY THEATER IN THE UNITED STATES]

IX

To be fair to these countries, no story of revolution is altogether
typical of any of them.

Life even in Mexico or Honduras is normally tranquil. Bloodshed and
comic opera are not the rule, but the exception. If all of these
republics have their turbulent moments, they quickly recover.

After the flight of Tinoco, Costa Rica settled quickly into its
accustomed routine. Through the narrow Moorish streets the oxen plodded
slowly behind the driver’s goad-pole, their noses to the ground, their
massive shoulders swaying from side to side. In the coffee fields
outside the capital the _peons_ laughed and chatted as they filled
their baskets with red berries. In the _plaza_ the military band played
on Sunday evenings, while youths and maidens strolled beneath the
palm trees. And the same moon that smiled upon Mexico peeped over the
low flat roofs, while the plaintive notes of the _gendarme’s_ whistle
echoed through the quiet city with its benediction of “All’s well.”



CHAPTER XVII

ADIOS!


I

A fruit steamer carried me back to New Orleans.

After several months of travel in Mexico and Central America--travel
marked by many delays, by many postponements until _mañana_, by many
controversies with petty officials, and by many struggles with the
pompous formality of diminutive republics--one looked forward to
landing again in an Anglo-Saxon country.

The steamer docked at eight in the evening. The immigration inspector
had gone home. “How soon may we land?” the passengers inquired.
“To-morrow,” was the answer. We spent the next several hours filling
out an inventory of our personal baggage for the benefit of the
customs’ service. Foreigners answered a lengthy questionnaire
containing such queries as, “Are you an anarchist?”, “Are you a
polygamist?”, and “Do you believe in the overthrow of the United
States’ government by force?” The only officials that were on the job
were the prohibition agents. They came aboard in search of liquor. So
the captain took them to his cabin, and opened a bottle of Scotch.


II

On the Pullman that carried me northward to New York, a traveling man
engaged me in conversation.

“I see you’ve been to South America. I noticed the Nicaragua label on
your suit-case. How’s things down there? Pretty wild bunch, ain’t they?”

And he laid aside his newspaper, which contained accounts of one
lynching, one fist fight on the floor of Congress, four fashionable
divorce scandals, one Ku Klux Klan outrage, sixteen robberies,
two incendiary fires, seven murders, and the innumerable charges
and countercharges of bribery and corruption which distinguish a
presidential campaign.


III

Perhaps, since in my first chapter my destination was Panama, I ought
to mention it. I stopped there for several weeks after my first flight
from Mexico.

The Canal Zone, regarded as an example of what Anglo-Saxon efficiency
can do to the tropics, was quite astounding. The once fever-stricken
swamp had become a well-ordered garden of palm-shaded walks lined with
neat cottages. The screening which inclosed each dwelling was no
longer necessary. The malaria-bearing mosquito had departed. In the
big ditch steamers were handled with the regularity of clockwork. They
plowed into the huge locks; giant doors swung shut behind them; water
poured as though by magic into the artificial pool, raising the vessels
to the higher level of Gatun Lake; the doors opened; the ships steamed
away toward the Pacific. Everything in the Zone ran smoothly, with the
same mechanical precision that marked the operation of the Canal.

But nowhere in the Americanized territory did one find the quiet
contentment of the Latin Countries. Whenever the American employees
wished to enjoy life, they crossed the boundary into the Republic
of Panama, to the land of music, and tinkling fountains, martini
cocktails, and dark-eyed _señoritas_.


IV

Among the many letters awaiting me at home, there was one with a
Mexican postmark. It was from the long-lost Eustace. It said:

“I suppose you’ll wonder why I haven’t written you before. The fact
is, I’ve fallen into the swing of things down here, and keep putting
everything off until _mañana_.

“After I left you in Mexico City that day, ever so long ago, I
reached Manzanillo without difficulty. There was nothing thrilling
about my escape. I simply boarded a steamer and sailed away.

“For a couple of years after that I damned Mexico, and made fun of
it, and talked about its many faults. I told the story of our heroic
flight from Zamorra, and later from Carranza, until I was bored with it
myself. The funny thing is that I presently began to hanker to go back.
There’s something about Mexico. You can’t explain it. And as soon as
Carranza gave place to Obregon, I went back.

“I’m cashier now at a mine in Durango. It belongs to that chap Werner
we met in Mazatlán. Once in a while the _peons_ get drunk and shoot
each other up, but as a rule everything’s quiet. There’s an air of
peace and calm and ease and leisure that you don’t find at home. At
first it gets a _gringo’s_ goat. Then he accustoms himself to it, and
likes it. He doesn’t have to answer an alarm clock, or rush for a
subway train, or reach an office at a prescribed hour, or dash out for
a hasty bite of lunch between business engagements, or punch a time
clock, or take efficiency tests, or come home hanging to a trolley
strap. He can settle any troublesome question in the native fashion by
postponing it until _mañana_.

“I like these people, too. There’s nothing much that a _gringo_ can
say to their credit. But when you get into their ways, they’re mighty
likeable. And I’ve gotten completely into their ways. I’m married.
No, it wasn’t Lolita. When I reached Mazatlán I found that Werner had
married her. When he went around to break the news of our fictitious
death, he got acquainted, and stepped off with my old sweetheart. So
I’ve married Herminia. I’ve told her that our cablegram was sheer bunk,
and that you’re still alive, but the news no longer seems to thrill
her, although she would like to be remembered to you.

“It looks like I’m settled here for life. Whenever I suggest taking a
trip back to California, Herminia is frightened stiff. Every one down
here considers the old U. S. too dangerous a place to visit. Just as we
get mostly the bandit stories from Mexico, so they get all the train
robberies and lynching news from home. Just as our people regard all
Mexicans as chronic revolutionists, so the Mexicans look upon us as a
lot of bank-looters who, when not professionally occupied, take our
diversion in chasing colored people and stringing them to lamp-posts.

“I’ve just received word that our old friend Barlow is dead. Do you
remember how pessimistic he was about the dangers of Mexico? Always
carrying a gun, and warning everybody to take no chances? He went home
to the States last month, and died from drinking wood alcohol.

“Some time ago I met a former acquaintance of ours. It was that oily
little fellow that came to our room in Mexico City--Mario Sanchez,
aide to His Excellency, Venustiano Carranza. I lent him the price of
a square meal. He had lost his job when Carranza ducked out of the
capital with Obregon after him. We got rather chummy, and I asked him
whether he really had been planning to murder us. And what do you
think? Carranza himself believed that yarn about our being captured by
Zamorra. He merely wanted to give us each five hundred dollars to keep
quiet about it! And to think we both went scampering out of Mexico! And
wondered why no one stopped us!

“But I’m pretty well satisfied with the way things have turned out.
And this brings me to the main reason for coming out of my lethargy to
write a letter. I do so from sheer pride. I’ve become a parent. Very
much so. It’s twins. All of which goes to prove your old contention
that this is a country whose charm lies in its habit of providing the
unexpected.

“So good luck, and _Adios_!”



Transcriber’s Notes

Illustrations have been relocated to the most relevant section of the
text. The List of Illustrations has been updated to reflect this change.

“In Its Interior Decoration the Costa Rican National Theatre Equals Any
Play-House in the United States” changed to “In Its Interior Decoration
the Costa Rican National Theater Equals Any Theater in the United
States”

“most of them Pimas and _mestizos_., or mixed-breeds.” changed to “most
of them Pimas and _mestizos_, or mixed breeds.”

“By a process of self-hynotism, he convinces himself” changed to “By a
process of self-hypnotism, he convinces himself”

“distill thereform their _mescal_ and _tequila_” changed to “distill
therefrom their _mescal_ and _tequila_”

“on the count of three, you just accidently miss the other fellow’s
sword” changed to “on the count of three, you just accidentally miss
the other fellow’s sword”

“You will like Tohuantepec” changed to “You will like Tehuantepec”

“As in Guatemala, the way led through a land of volcanos,” changed to
“As in Guatemala, the way led through a land of volcanoes,”

“yet riggled valiantly toward the other,” changed to “yet wriggled
valiantly toward the other,”

““Cut it all off!” he cried wrecklessly.” changed to ““Cut it all off!”
he cried recklessly.”

“in a secret _entente_ against the United States” changed to “in a
secret _entente_ against the United States.”

“and failed to chastize the other man.” changed to “and failed to
chastise the other man.”

“Lake Nicaragua is only a hundred and ten feet above sealevel” changed
to “Lake Nicaragua is only a hundred and ten feet above sea level”

“If all of these republics have their turbulous moments” changed to “If
all of these republics have their turbulent moments”

“IN ITS INTERIOR DECORATION THE COSTA RICAN NATIONAL THEATRE EQUALS ANY
THEATRE IN THE UNITED STATES” changed to “IN ITS INTERIOR DECORATION
THE COSTA RICAN NATIONAL THEATER EQUALS ANY THEATER IN THE UNITED
STATES”

“so small that they suggested Liliputians,” changed to “so small that
they suggested Lilliputians,”

“As soon an an opponent criticizes him” changed to “As soon as an
opponent criticizes him”

“of forrested mountains,” changed to “of forested mountains,”

“perhaps the day after than” changed to “perhaps the day after that”

Inconsistent hyphenation of the same word has been adjusted to use the
more common form in the book; where equal, it has been changed to use
the form more common at the time of original printing.

Accents and spelling of Spanish words have been left as in the
original, even where they are incorrect.



*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Gringo in Mañana-Land" ***

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