Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/259

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nally opposite the zocalo in the centre of the Plaza, and facing the western wall of the cathedral, is the most beneficent institution in Mexico,—in the world,—the Monte de Piedad. It is a pawn-shop on a gigantic scale, erected for the benefit of poor people and worthy members of the shabby-genteel class, whose ancestors were once wealthy, and left them money which they have squandered and property they fain would realize upon. It was founded by the famous Count of Regla, who gave three hundred thousand dollars for the purpose, in order that the poor and needy might obtain advances upon personal property at a low rate of interest. This is deposited as security, the sum advanced upon it being fixed by two valuators, as near as possible to about three fourths its real value. Should the interest cease to be paid, the article is kept seven months longer, when a price is fixed, and it is exposed for sale; five months later, if not sold, it is offered at public auction, the sum it brings in excess of the advance upon it and the added interest being placed to the credit of its owner, and subject to his order, or that of his heirs, for one hundred years, after which it reverts to the bank.

The original capital of this charitable institution has more than doubled, and the amount of good that it has done in the century and more of its existence is incalculable. If Mexico had no other great charity than this, the fact of its existence, and that it has been allowed to carry on uninterrupted business through civil wars and changes of government, revolutions and counter revolutions, speaks volumes in favor of Mexican foresight and forbearance. The family gods of the country—rich garments, saddles, swords, gold ornaments, diamonds, pearls, and rubies—are collected here. Sometimes great bargains are secured at the sales and by private purchase, but not often, as the valuators are shrewd and careful men, who, it is said, have to make good any loss to the bank from undervaluation. But there are often deposited here gems that have an historic, added to their intrinsic value,—some say, many jewels that have flashed from the robes of royalty. The great building occupies the site of the palace of Cortes, built for him soon after the conquest; and one cannot go amiss in paying it a visit.