Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 18

if the Mexicans dropped this foolishness, as the French whipped them on the 4th and again on the 6th. Some little government-paid sheets came out in editorials as if mad as turkey gobblers at the sensible insinuation.

I for one am glad Lent and its eggs, red-pepper, and bad-smelling fish is gone. What cowards our stomachs make of us all. I really have begun to long for home, or rather home cooking. I have made out a list which I view every day, and see how much longer my stomach will have to endure this trash. Fifty-six more mornings to drink black coffee and long for even ham and eggs, with heavenly thoughts of hot cakes and butter. Fifty-six more noons to eat boiled cheese, meat stuffed with chili (red pepper), fish boiled in chili, with the fins, head, eyes, and tail still adhering, dolce (dessert) of fried pumpkin sprinkled with chili; fifty- six more suppers to eat the same bill of fare set up cold; fifty-six more evenings to wonder why pulgras and chinches were ever invented. By the way, if it were not for their musical names they would surely be unendurable. There is a great deal in a name, after all, and if I had to call them fleas and bedbugs I should take the next train for the States. Well, I have fifty-six more nights to spend in an iron-bottomed bed and then I shall cross the Rio Grande, and try once again the pests which inflict mortals there.

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

 

GUADALUPE AND ITS ROMANTIC LEGEND.

 

We went up to the Zocalo to take a car for Guadalupe. All the street cars start from this center, and on some lines trains of three to ten in number are made up, so that they may be able to resist the bandits who sometimes attack them at least, so the corporation claims. We determined to try a second-class car, in order to find out what they were like. Our party seated ourselves and watched the crowd as they came surging in. Two big fellows, dressed in buckskin suits and wearing broad sombreros, who sat opposite, never removed their gaze pretty little girl and an old man who sported from us. a hat about two inches high in the brim, deposited themselves on one side of us, and a black, dried-np old fellow occupied the other.

When the car was about filled, a woman with a baby in her arms, followed by her mother and husband, came in; the women sat down facing us, while the husband, who wore a linen suit—pretty dirty, too—and carried a large purple woolen,
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serape, of which he seemed very proud, wedged himself in between us and the piece of parchment on our left side. We were inclined to resent this close contact, and were beginning to regret we had not taken the other car where the people are a shade cleaner, when a lot of Indian women, with babies and bundles, crowded in, and, with a sudden rush which knocked the standing ones on to the laps of the others, we were off at a 2:40 gait. The women sat down on the floor of the car, except one who was dressed a little better than the others. She came up to the dirty Indian by my side and told him to get up. He was about to do so as an utterance of thanks escaped our lips, when his mother-in-law and wife commanded him to sit down again.

This he did in all humbleness, but the woman in black commanded him to rise, as he had no money to pay for his fare. His mother-in-law's ire was up, however, and she ordered him to display his wealth. He took out a handkerchief, untied the corner and displayed one silver dollar and some small change; then the old lady dived into the bosom of her dress, and untying a similar handkerchief, displayed her worldly all. The woman in black was convinced she had struck the wrong man, so she sat down on the floor and related her side of the story to the people in her end of the car, while the mother-in-law dealt out the same dose at the other end. The conductor came in, and, straddling over the women on the floor, sold the tickets for six and a half cents. Another conductor followed to collect the same, and soon we reached our destination.

Guadalupe is the holiest shrine in Mexico. It is the scene of a tradition that is never doubted for an instant by the people. In 1531 the Virgin appeared one evening to a poor peon, Juan Diego, and told him to go to some wealthy man and say it was her will that a church be built on that spot. The Indian, in great fright, obeyed her command, but the wealthy fellow refused to put credence in the incredulous story, so the peon returned and told the Virgin, who was still there, of his failure. She told him to return and show his tilma (apron) as proof.

The amazed fellow did so, and the light disclosed the picture of the Virgin painted on the apron. Still the unbeliever doubted, and the Virgin sent for the third time a bunch of fresh roses such as never before grew in this country. The infidel took the flowers, and the picture of the Virgin fell from the heart of a rose. He was convinced, and built a large church on the spot where the Virgin appeared.

The church is a fine one, decorated with statues, paintings and gold. The silver railing weighs twenty-six tons, and is composed of a metal composite. The church authorities have received numerous offers for this rich relic. Some persons desired to replace the railing with one of solid silver, but this bargain was not accepted. Diego's apron is above the altar in a frame. On it is painted a picture of the Virgin, but, to say the very least, it was not drawn by a master hand. The bunch of roses, which, they claim, never fades, is also shown in a glass vase is gazed on with reverence by the believers. Some unbelievers (some people doubt everything) say fresh roses are put in every day, but they are probably preserved.

It is the common belief that anything asked of the Virgin of Guadalupe is granted. I have seen people pray with their hands outstretched, and after awhile murmur, "Gracious, gracious!" and get up as if the favor had been received. Women ofttimes kiss the floor when they think they have received mercy at the hands of their dear saint. Near the door are hundreds of rude oil paintings representing scenes in which the Virgin has saved the lives of people. One man fell from a second-story window, and by murmuring the Virgin's name escaped uninjured. Another was not crushed to death, although his horse fell on him. One was released from prison, many from fatal sicknesses, and hundreds of canes and crutches in the corner testify to the many who have been healed.

A little green plaza filled with tall
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trees, beautiful and flowing fountains, separates the church of the Virgin of Guadalupe from another, which, in order to have some attraction, flowers, boasts of a well in the vestibule, which is ever boiling up its muddy water. The water cures any disease, so they say, and at any time a crowd is found around filling its magic brim filling jars, bottles, and pitchers to take home, or supping from the copper bowl that is chained to the iron that cover the well. Very few can suppress the look of disgust when they try to swallow the vile stuff with the all-healing qualities.

Nor are these all the churches of Guadalupe. Away up on top of a pile of rocks, some hundred feet in height, is the oldest church of the three. It is quite small, and filled with quaint paintings.

At the back of it is the graveyard, where lies the body of Santa Anna, and looking down over the brow of the hill the tourist can see the building where the treaty of peace was signed with the Americans in 1848.

It is now used as the barracks. At one side of the church is one of the queer monuments raised in honor of the Virgin. The Escandon family, who are believed to be worth some $20,000,000, once had a vessel out to sea, the loss of which would have put them in bankruptcy. There were great storms, and the vessel had been overdue so long that everybody gave it up for lost. The Escandons went to the church in a body and prayed to the Virgin to restore their property, and they would in return build in her honor a stone sail. It must have been considered a big inducement, for a few days after the ship came in safe, and the stone sail stands to-day a memento of the Virgin's goodness.

Down on the other side, almost at the foot of the hill, is a grotto which, perhaps, is the only one of the kind in the world. A poor Indian formed the rough side of the stone hill into arches, benches, cunning little summer houses and all sorts of retreats. This alone would not have been very attractive, so he came to town and gathered up all the pieces of china, glassware, etc., and, with a cement he had invented, covered every inch with, this stuff, fitting them neatly, smoothly and evenly together. All sorts of designs he made—the Mexican coat of arms, pea-fowls, serpents, birds, animals, scenes from life. Eve plucking an apple in the Garden of Eden and handing it to Adam. The work was done so well that it now looks like the finest mosaic, and hence it is called the Mosaic Grotto. Flowers, trees and vines are growing inside, and by candle light it looks like a transformation scene.

There are potteries located here where the Indians make all sorts of queer little things, which have some claim to beauty, and are bought by the natives as well as foreigners. There is some talk of making a pleasure resort at the village of Papotla, the historic Noche Triste, where Cortes, when flying from the furious Aztecs, ordered a short halt, and, sitting down under an old knotted and gnarled cypress tree, wept at his failure. The tree is not a thing of beauty and has very little life remaining in it now; the top has been removed, and it has been badly burned on the inside by some one who had no love for the memory of Cortes. A large iron fence now surrounds it, and effectually blocks the destroyers or trophy gatherer's hand from further vandalism. A pleasure resort might do well here, as the surrounding country is beautiful. Between here and the city is the canal over which the Spanish commander, Alvavado, made his famous leap, thereby saving his life. Stories of it differ. One says that a wet, mossy log crossed the canal, and the Spanish, seeing this their only means of
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escape, tried to cross. The condition of the log caused them to slip, and they were drowned in the depths below. When Alvarado came to it and saw the fate of the others, he stuck his spear, or halberd, into the center and safely sprung over. Still others claim he leap without the aid of an intervening log.

Another pretty story has been exploded. In the botanical garden at the palace they have the celebrated flower Tzapalilqui-Xochitl, of the Aztecs. The story runs that there are only three of the kind in the world—one at the palace, another at a different point in Mexico, and the mother plant on the mountain. At one time two tribes had a long and bloody war for the possession of it, so the story goes, but with a great deal more exaggeration. The plant is commonly called the "flower-hand," as they claim that inside is a perfect baby hand. I went to see it, and was much disappointed. The tree grows to a good height. The leaves, heart-shape, are thick and about the color of the under part of a silver-maple leaf, except that they are very rough, which prevents them from glistening like the maple. The thick, wax-like, bell-shaped red blossom grows mouth upward, and inside is the so-called hand. It has five fingers and one thumb, but looks exactly like a bird's claw, and not like a hand. The story ran that there are but three in existence. Without doubt the plant is rare and there may be no more than a dozen, if that many, in the world; but I have seen in the gardens of two different gentlemen the very same tree. One of these gentlemen is in Europe, and the other bought his plant from him, so there was no way of learning where the tree came from.

Mexican houses are built to last centuries. It is a common thing to see houses two hundred years old, and they are better than many they are putting up to-day, for they are adopting the American style of building in as small a space as possible, the structures to stand for a few years. The house where Humboldt lived is near the center of the city. It is not kept as a monument to his memory, as one would suppose when they think of the professed love of Mexico for him, but is occupied by a private family. The only thing that marks the house from those surrounding it is a small plate above the door, on which is inscribed: "To the memory of Alexander Humboldt, who lived in this house in the year 1808. In the centennial anniversary of his birth. The German residenters. September 14, 1869."

At Tacubaya, two miles from the city, there is a large tree, about one hundred and seventy feet in height. It is green, winter and summer, and was never known to shed its leaves, which are of a peculiar oblong shape and a beautiful livid green. For the reason that it never sheds its leaves it derived the name of "the blessed tree;" the large fountain at the foot, which furnishes the water for the poor of the village, is called "the fountain of the blessed tree," and the pulque shop and grocery store opposite are named "the pulque shop and the beautiful store of the blessed tree."

Mexico is the hotbed of children; the land is flooded with them, and a small family is a thing unknown; they greet you at every window, at every corner, on every woman's back; they fill the carriages and the plaza; they are like a swarm of bees around a honeysuckle—one on every tiny flower and hundreds waiting for their chance. A man died the other day who was followed to the grave by eighty-seven sons and daughters, and had buried thirteen, more than you can count in three generations in

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