Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans/Chapter 13
A RAMBLE AROUND THE CITY.
THIS city of nearly three hundred thousand inhabitants lies in latitude 19° 26' north of the equator, and at an elevation above the sea of seven thousand four hundred feet. Its situation, within four degrees of the tropic of Cancer, would give it, so far as geographical position is concerned, a climate like that of Havana, without its sea breezes; but the isothermal line is here deflected northward by the greater altitude. The temperature ranges between 65 and 85 degrees, varying little with the seasons; the mornings and nights are cool, while at midday it is always hot, and the difference between sunshine and shade is very great. The climate is strictly temperate, and nowhere in the world do the periodical alternations of rain and drought occur with greater regularity.The so-called rainy season extends from June to November, and is the most delightful period of the year, especially at its commencement and towards its termination. The latter month, November, is cool and pleasant, and indicates that the season has arrived when visitors from other countries can enter Mexico without fear of encountering deadly disease, and with the prospect before them of a full winter of dry weather. It is in May or June that "muttered thunders announce the coming of the rains, and all nature looks expectantly for the approaching showers"; the dry, brown hills take on a carpet of green in a single night; the beds of water-courses, for months without a drop of water in them, are in a few days the channels of furious streams. The animals of the hills and plains rejoice at the recurrence of the period of rain, for their pastures then afford them an abundance of succulent herbage. The eye of
man is delighted with verdure and the bloom of flowers, which clothe the valleys and brighten the gardens. At the close of this season the migratory birds arrive from the north; great flocks of ducks and plover, which betake themselves to the lakes and marshes, where they afford an abundance of food for the Indians and much sport to the denizens of the city.
Even long journeys are pleasantest in this season, especially in the northern portion of the republic, except for the occasional disadvantages of swollen streams and flooded roads. By timing the hours of travel so that a start is secured before daylight, and halting by the middle of the afternoon, the rains are avoided, as they invariably fall between noon and sunset, except at the beginning of the season. In a journey of above a thousand miles on horseback, through Southern Mexico, in the height of the rainy season, myself and companions got wet scarcely a dozen times, though in the saddle every day. In the city of Mexico, the encircling mountains, by their position and great height, precipitate many showers that do not fall in places outside the valley, as in Puebla, for instance, which has a much smaller rainfall.
From the contiguity of the mountains to the valley, also, the rains here assume a violence that at times is tremendous, filling the streets of the city, and flooding the parks and plazas. In a single shower, lasting but an hour or so, I once saw the main street of Mexico filled knee-deep, and every one caught out in it had to hire a coach with which to reach his home. This was owing not only to sudden precipitation, but to the defective drainage of the city, which would not allow of the carrying away of the water in sufficient volume. Even the contents of the sewers were floated into the streets, and washed into the doorways of many stores and dwellings. On the occurrence of such sudden rainfalls, the porters of the city transform themselves into beasts of burden, and carry ladies and gentlemen from one crossing to another, for a few centavos, on their backs. They are rascals, many of them, who have been known to suspend an unlucky passenger above the water till he agreed to give a generous douceur for the privilege of landing, or keep him in this defenceless position till a companion has found and got away with his purse or watch.
From its great elevation, combined with its geographical position, Mexico (the city) has a most perfect climate. Except for the local influences, previously mentioned, the atmosphere is dry and pure. Many people affect to suffer from the rarefaction of the air; but it is believed that, if they had been transported here without knowing of the change of altitude, they would breathe as easily as at the coast. The air is so transparent that objects at a distance seem close at hand; many writers have noticed the deceptive appearance of the hills, which can be seen at the termination of every street as though within an hour's walk, when in reality twenty miles away; and the two great volcanoes, though seemingly within cannon-shot, are all of fifty miles distant.
The brisk electric condition of the air may account for the animation of the people, both native and foreign residents, who are always stirring, except at noon, and always cheerful. Despite the exhilarating atmosphere, to breathe which is a perfect delight, there is a universal cessation of active business at noon, (though morning is early devoted to work, and evening to recreation,) as the siesta imperatively asserts its claims, and everybody retires for an hour or two to couch or hammock. The longest day of the year being but thirteen hours, and the shortest eleven, this almost equal division of time between day and night greatly facilitates plans for business and amusement. Everything goes on with clock-work regularity, and the inhabitants of the great city rise, eat, work, snooze, dance, and retire at stated hours. Honest men profit by this regularity to despatch their labors with their fellow-men when they are most accessible, and after dark those who are not honest know where and when to find victims to fleece or murder, without losing sleep, or shivering all night in the cold.With this brief digression, as explanatory of the sanitary condition of the city, let us continue our sight-seeing. Having started with the plaza mayor, it would perhaps be well to work outwards from it, and take the most distant places last.
Diagonally 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. Notwithstanding the presence here of an establishment that will advance upon nearly everything a fair percentage of its value, the smaller dens of "My Uncle" flourish in abundance. They may be found on every street, and on some streets in every block, displaying a more heterogeneous assortment of stuff than the mind of man can conceive of. They will take anything offered them, and the majority are in league with thieves and pickpockets, who deposit their "takes" with them until pursuit is over, and they can be profitably disposed of. The police are cognizant of this, and keep up a rigid inspection of the pawn-shops, though the rascals generally evade responsibility whenever found with stolen goods. An American dealer in hardware told me that he lost more through the pawn-shops than in any other way; for young men, of apparent respectability, have repeatedly bought revolvers, knives, etc. of him on credit, and had them in the pawn-shops before the day had closed. It is owing to such losses as these that dealers in American goods, hardware especially, charge for them four times the price asked in New York—in order that the Mexican fop may keep up appearances.
Another large building, built with laudable intentions, but which has failed to completely realize the purposes of its founders, is the Mineria, or School of Mines. Mexico has better provided for her sons in respect to education than foreigners generally give her credit for, and this School of Mines is only one of many institutions throughout the republic for the training of young men in practical engineering and mining. Though often praised as a building of stately architecture, which would be considered a grand structure in any country, the Mineria fails to convey that impression now; and when told that it cost a million and a half of dollars, and that it is the work of the great architect and sculptor, Tolsa, we only wonder at the genius of a man who could conceal so much money in such an unimposing building. Here General Grant was entertained during his first visit to Mexico, in 1880, when he was the guest of the people.
There is a fine collection of the products of the mines here, a good library, astronomical and meteorological apparatus, educated professors, trained assistants, and some of the most charming young men as students that it has been my fortune ever to meet. One of them, I remember, who bore the name of Cortés, having been detailed by his teacher to show me over the building, displayed such tact, courtesy, and intelligence that I shall never forget him. This treatment of a stranger is universal, and one's heart warms at the recollection of attentions received from these gentlemen of the educational institution of Mexico. In this connection, I should not fail to mention the officers in charge of the meteorological observatory in the Palace. Educated in every detail of their profession, maintaining a leading position among the scientific men of the day, they are making the influence of their observations felt, especially in the United States. But, though busied with their duties night and day, I never found them so much engaged as not to have time to answer questions, or give the greatest consideration to my requests.
The principal street of Mexico, on or near which are its largest hotels, its finest stores and restaurants, and some of its richest private dwellings, is the Calle de San Francisco, known also as Calle de los Plateros, or Street of the Silversmiths, and by various other names. The vexatious plan, formerly pursued, of giving every different block of a street a different name, is now being abandoned; a more improved system is about to be adopted; and in a few years, it is hoped, one may be able to find the number he is in search of in any particular street without spending hours about it, as now is necessary. In San Francisco Street are some of the most richly-stocked stores in Mexico, where, despite the almost prohibitory duties on foreign goods, articles from every land on earth are accumulated. Half-way down this street is the grand Hotel Iturbide (pronounced Eé-tur-bé-dee), once the palace of the first emperor after Mexico became independent.
This hotel is patronized by such American visitors as worship all things smacking of royalty; not because it is comfortable, not because it is cheerful even,—for it is scarcely less gloomy than a tomb,—but because it is "the thing" to be there. Even clerks on scant salary, engineers who have come out on ventures, artists, correspondents of newspapers, railway contractors,—all may be found within the precincts of Iturbide, that they may write home to their poor relations, "I have dwelt in the abode of an emperor." Grand and gloomy, with a façade noteworthy for nothing except its long, protruding water-spouts, with an interior mainly attractive for its wide court, with dirty mozos or men-servants as chambermaids, bare floors, and gaunt bedsteads, there is nothing to attract one to Iturbide, except, perhaps, the drinks dispensed at its bar, which, like the climate, are delicious and vivifying. In describing one hotel, we describe all, for they are all built and managed after the same plan. The cafés, which are conducted apart even if in the same building, are excellent.
Illustrating the departure in a modified way from the architecture of older Mexico, such houses as that of the millionaire Escandon is a fine specimen, though even this structure exemplifies the manner in which the Mexican utilizes his dwelling place, as the lower floors are occupied by stables and the offices of the Mexican railway. Near this abode of wealth is a peculiar, though effective, tile-covered block, which glistens in the sun like the porcelain domes of Vera Cruz. Historic and beautiful buildings abound near this centre, for only a stone's throw away is the great pile built long ago by the Franciscans, a conventual structure which they lost when their property was secularized, and which is now owned and used by two Christian religious corporations. The missionary work instituted here by the Rev. Dr. Butler is now successfully carried out by his son, and this Methodist rallying place for Protestants is in a flourishing condition. Halls and cloisters, once the resort of unctuous, holy monks, are now filled with active workers in the good cause, and with the material for the lively propagation of the Gospel. The most attractive portion is that facing the Calle de San Francisco, and owned by the Episcopal Church.A little way distant, a few streets to the south, is another convent, likewise to be put to a use more in accordance
with the demands of the times. A magnificent building has just been repaired, and in a measure reconstructed, for the reception of one hundred thousand or more volumes, which are to constitute a national library, with such additions as the future may bring. The books are mostly the spoils from other convents and religious establishments, and though mainly of a character more suited to monks and recluses than to the student of to-day, yet there are many volumes of great rarity and value pertaining to the early history of this country. While upon this subject, I might remark that Mexico is yet full of old and rare religious books. In the book-stalls, which are daily erected around the great cathedral, and nightly taken away, I have often purchased odd works of forgotten, but once famous authors. The keepers of these temporary establishments are shrewd and well informed on the value of books, from a Mexican standpoint; but as they are mostly illiterate, and judge of the value of a book more by the eagerness of a customer than from the reports of trade sales or catalogues, they often sell for a mere song volumes worth their weight in silver.
If this were only a dissertation on old books, I might go on describing treasures that would make a bibliophile's eyes water; but as my object is merely to show my readers how they may see Mexico and its possessions to the best advantage, I repress this inclination to indulge in a favorite vanity.
Of old houses there are many about which the antiquary and the artist might love to linger. Perhaps that one in which Humboldt dwelt while here, in the Calle San Augustin, is sought out most persistently. It is made conspicuous by an inscription over the door. Humboldt, as one writer has well remarked, is indeed an honorary citizen of the capital, and achieved more for Mexican independence with his pen than many others combined with the sword. Coming up from South America, he landed on Mexican soil in March, 1803, and remained a year in the country. Though he only visited such points as were of easy access from the capital, he nevertheless so improved and utilized the labors of others that the whole territory bears the impress of his mighty mind. His work, "A Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain," though now chiefly useful as giving statistical information regarding the country previous to and at the period of his visit, must yet be taken, as a later writer truly says, as the point d'appui for the works of all travellers coming after him. Though perhaps he did not discover here much that was new, or throw any new light upon the history of the people, he yet brought afresh to the notice of the world the writings of the old historians, revived an interest in archaeology, and set before all Europe the great natural resources of a country then inhabited by an oppressed people. His books have been a mine of wealth for subsequent historians, and have indeed served not only as a point d'appui, but as a very material portion of their productions.
No building in the city, except the former residence of Humboldt, so forcibly brings to mind the great savant as the mint,—the Casa de Moneda. Though all the prominent points of the valley, such hills as Chapultepec, El Penon, and the Cerro of Guadalupe, are associated with his astronomical observations and trigonometrical surveys, yet this Casa de Moneda recalls that vast array of figures with which he demonstrated the actual coinage of Mexico from remote times up to the period of his visit. Not millions, but billions, are necessary in expressing in dollars the vast treasure that has passed through this mint, entering in crude ingots and departing in glittering pesos. The wealth of Montezuma and the Incas of Peru combined has been poured into this establishment since its foundation, since its first coinage in 1535 to the present day. The accumulated treasures of those great monarchs represented the slow accretions of centuries, but the silver flood that is now flowing into the apartado represents a stream that promises to increase rather than diminish,—to augment as the rich veins are developed and the old and abandoned mines pumped out and reworked.The coinage here, for the first three hundred years, was not far from $2,200,000,000! Though I cannot give exact statistics of this mint of Mexico, as there are others established in the large cities of the republic, the sum total of all the mints, so far as is known, up to the year 1883 is over $3,000,000,000.
The coinage only is shown here; millions have been exported of the ore; and an approximate of the whole amount will be attempted when we visit the mines. We may wander through these halls in a state of dazed uncertainty as to whether we are existing in the past or present, so firmly does this silver chain of dates and facts bind us, and lead us back to the first years of Spanish possession. Through centuries of change, and every variety of discord and warfare, the dies of the mint have gone on, stamping the likeness of successive rulers upon the product of the mines. Coins of the realm, of the empire, of the republic, at last the steady stream shows only an even flow of coins of the republic, the emblem of Liberty upon every one. Every peso is stamped with its weight in drams and grains; and good weight it is, every dollar weighing just one ounce; for these good Mexicans hold that an honest dollar is alone the product of an honest man.
Another relic of the past, savoring of hell and iniquity, though now devoted to use as a college of medicine, is the old Palace of the Inquisition, near the Plazuela of San Domingo. Long since abolished, the hideous face of the tribunal of the Inquisition peers at us only from the ashes of the dead and horrible past. Its last victim in Mexico, General José Morelos, was burned in November, 1815. For two hundred and fifty years, since 1571, it had exerted its baleful influence, but was crushed, with the last vestige of Spanish power, in 1821. The Plazuela is now occupied as a market in a small way, by poor people, and the odor of sizzling pork and tamales rises above the very place where heretics and apostates were once roasted and toasted to a crisp.
It is difficult to wander far from your door without encountering a hospital of some sort; which fact speaks well for the people. Since the suppression of the monastic establishments and the banishment of the sweet sisters of charity, the government has taken these hospitals under its charge By the admission of both friend and foe it has discharged its duty faithfully, and the sick and afflicted of all classes have only to mention their particular complaints when they are at once assigned to their proper wards.
Equally numerous are the theatres and dance-houses, the largest of the former being the National,—Teatro Nacional,—in which are brought out many things interesting to American as well as Mexican. A defect in all Mexican theatres, and a very objectionable feature, is the custom of allowing the "prompter" to be not only seen, but heard. The perpetual buzz that precedes the actor's utterances is inexpressibly annoying. Yet the Mexicans submit to these impositions, the result of negligence on the part of the actors, and apparently are not inconvenienced by it at all. Cigarettes between the acts, and frequent exchanges of calls, are permissible. As the great city is now lighted by electric lights, and electric clocks connected with the astronomical observatory are displayed in prominent places, no one need fear to wander about its streets, even at night, except in remote and unillumined suburbs.
Very near to the city, once situated, in fact, at the end of the shortest of those four causeways leading out of ancient Mexico, is Tacuba, two miles from the Alameda. In going to this interesting suburb, you take the car at the plaza, and pass through, among many others, the avenue of illustrious men, Los Hombres Ilustres, which is very wide and straight, and leads directly out into the country, though changing its name half a dozen times before it reaches open fields. Lying to its right, beyond the Alameda, is the abode of some of the men who have made, not only this street, but the whole republic, illustrious. They reside in a silent quarter called San Fernando, the panteon, or cemetery, of San Fernando. Most of the great men of Mexico are dead; the greatest lie here, either sepulchred beneath costly marbles, or shelved in the columbaria, after the city fashion in this country.
By far the richest sculpture is that above the remains of Juarez, the "Washington of Mexico," its Indian President, its wise ruler. There lie buried, also, several of the unfortunate generals and leaders of the people, who have been executed by their countrymen, either by the people because they leaned toward Spain, or by the Spaniards because they favored the people. They died for their country, all of them, and through their deaths, though they fell fighting on different sides, is their beloved land now made glorious. I wonder if there will be any reproaches in order when the last trump shall summon all these heroes to their final awards. Let us imagine them pleading their cases.
"I," for instance, says Iturbide, "struck the decisive blow that freed my country from the yoke of Spain." "Yes," will reply some rank republican, "and set up an empire of your own."
"But I first blew the trumpet-call of freedom!" will claim the bold Hidalgo.
And some member of the Church party will retort: "And in so doing sealed the doom of your Catholic mother."
The irrepressible Santa Anna will doubtless attempt to prove that he was the saviour of Mexico; but some of his numerous enemies will fling at him his supreme selfishness, and enumerate his defeats at the hands of the Americans.
Guerrero and Comonfort, and a host of generals, who made their fortunes and lost their lives in the cause, fighting in the light that then shone on them, will not allow themselves to be ignored. Miramon and Mexia will point to their martyrdom in the cause of the Church and the Empire, while Maximilian will loftily, and perhaps justly, claim that the imperial government he represented and gave his life for was the only one fitted for Mexico. Juarez will undoubtedly rest serenely confident that the peace and progress resulting from his administration is his title to a seat among the elect. But what will they all say when there appears the apparition of the great warrior who made their feeble exercise of power a possibility? Will they not shrink before his terrible features, and allow him a hearing without interruption? Cortes, the conqueror, the chosen of the Lord, the fighter for the faith, the murderer of Indians of royal blood, the founder of Spanish dominion in New Spain,—all must bow before him, unless the Aztecs, whom he destroyed, be allowed to have a voice in the matter. Montezuma and Guatemotzin! what burning brands ye could cast at the Spanish bigot! Would he bow his head before your reproaches, or would he fling at you the long record of the victims of the sacrifice murdered by you and your ancestors? The record of Cortes is not a true one, if he would not overwhelm you with evidence that he did the world a service in destroying you and your religion.
Now, not all these heroes are buried here in San Fernando, but the few that are, having represented politics of such different complexions, suggest the thoughts expressed above. Who is to judge which of these men were in the right? It is my opinion, that no more difficult problem will arise at the last judgment, than when these Mexican heroes shall put in their appearance for a final award.
In the cities the cemeteries are well cared for; marble busts and monuments mark the resting-places of famous dead, while tiers of sealed cells of masonry hold the remains of many more. But in the country it is different, and they fall into terrible neglect. In obedience to custom, that ordains that no grave can be held longer than for a certain term of years, the grave is opened, and room made for another occupant at the expiration of the time in the deed. Once dead, forgotten. After a few years their bones are dug up and thrown into a charnel pit in the corner of the cemetery, and their places occupied anew. A spectacle to move one to tears is this, of the last remains of man, of woman, and of youth treated as though but a portion of the meaner clay around them. I have seen grinning skulls, with eyeless sockets, and long tresses yet attached to them, which told that the spirit of gentle woman once resided there, cast out in the charnel pits, to become the sport of the elements and the scorn of beholders. These ghastly emblems of death are too often the ornaments of altars and niches in the churches, and they may be seen ranged in rows upon churchyard walls, and piled up at the bases of crosses and at the feet of shrines. But, little by little, Mexico is purging herself of these emblems of a moribund Church, and they will soon cease to offend the senses of the traveller in any part of the republic.
When horse-cars were first introduced into the city of Mexico, Señor E——, the manager of the lines, conceived the plan of purchasing all the hearses. Then he put funeral cars on the branch running to the cemetery, and the result was that everybody wishing to bury in consecrated ground was at his mercy. It soon, however, came to be the fashion to visit the graveyard in the horse-cars, and all except the very poorest people might avail themselves of this privilege. A funeral procession of this sort passed me one day in the Plaza, the car draped in white, the white coffin exposed to the glare of day and the gaze of the populace, the horses with nodding plumes driven by a spruce young man in conventional uniform, and the car containing the "mourners" gliding smoothly over the rails. The price for service is graduated to suit the taste and necessity of every one, being from above one hundred dollars down to as low as three, depending upon the number of horses, equipment of the hearse, and number and livery of attendants.
Of the many churches in the city, all equally attractive in their internal decoration, no one is more so from its exterior ornamentation than that of San Hypolito, not far from the Panteon. It was rebuilt in 1599, where, it is said, Cortes once had a hermitage, in commemoration of the expulsion of the Spaniards from the city. On the corner of the wall enclosing the church is a carving in stone, representing an eagle flying away with an Indian. Whether it is intended to convey the idea of victory for the Indian or of defeat, of the rapacity of the conquerors or the translation of the Aztec to realms of supernal bliss, has never been satisfactorily explained. Near this church, tradition has it, was the ditch which Alvarado leaped, on that night of general disaster, the Noche Triste. Commander of the rear guard, he was one of the few who escaped, and claimed to have owed his life to a leap across one of the canals, from which the bridge had been removed, in the causeway leading to Tacuba. But Bernal Diaz, writing fifty years after the events of that night, says that the aperture was too wide and the sides too high for him to have leaped, let him have been ever so active. "As to that fatal bridge, which is called the 'Leap of Alvarado,' I say that no soldier thought of looking whether he leaped much or little, for we had enough to do to save our own lives."
We are on the way now to the "tree of Noche Triste" but there are so many objects of antiquity connected with the early history of the city that we cannot avoid frequent halts. The aqueduct of San Cosme, which ends in a sculptured fountain, is beyond the portion of the street known as Buena Vista, where there are some fine houses and gardens of wealthy citizens, and a little farther is the gate stormed by the Americans when they charged down the line of the aqueduct upon the city. Just where the giant water-way turns abruptly westward and stretches out towards Chapultepec is a spot no loyal American should fail to visit,—the cemetery set apart for the burial of foreigners. It is called the American cemetery, though more Germans are buried there than countrymen of ours, and adjoining it is the English portion, both densely shaded, both neatly kept, and fragrant with the flowers planted here in profusion. At the west end, towards Chapultepec, is a monument, a granite shaft with marble dies, on one of which is inscribed, "To the memory of the American soldiers who perished in this valley in 1847, whose bones, collected by their country's order, are here buried"; and on the other, "Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, Chapultepec, Mexico." It occurred to me that the Mexicans must be a forgiving people, that they allow such an humiliating reminder of defeat to stand on the border of their chief city. It would have been more generous in our people to have omitted the names of the victories, content to have a simple monument over our brave soldiers; for we need no reminder of that buried past, now that our former foe is marching with us hand in hand to an assured future of prosperity. The cemetery lies just clear of the suburbs, and where the level fertile fields commence. When I was there the freshest grave was that of Colonel Greenwood, who had been assassinated a few months previously, while surveying the line of the National Railroad: flowers were yet fresh upon it.
About a mile from the stone bridge here is the tree we are looking for; it is a charming walk,—or it was that day in April when I first made my pilgrimage,—through fields green with alfalfa and bordered with trees and magueys, and before you are aware of fatigue, after turning a sharp bend in the road, the famous tree rises before you;—a grand old cypress, that would attract our attention were it not surrounded with that halo of history. Its swelling trunk is said to be sixty feet around, though its jagged limbs, blasted by many a storm and worn with age, do not reach far above the little chapel that squats beside it. This chapel was erected in memory of that night of dreadful battle, when the Spaniards, driven like sheep before the hordes of Aztecs, perished as never before in the New World, trodden under foot, with their backs to the enemy. La noche triste they called that awful night of black despair,—"the sorrowful night,"—and this aged cypress, that still stands in defiance of the assaults of time, el arbol de la noche triste, the tree of the sorrowful night. Here, in this village of Popotla, Cortés sat down upon a stone, and wept at the loss of his soldiers;—beneath this tree, it is affirmed by some,—at all events, near this spot. Alluding to this circumstance, an ancient writer sings dolefully:—
"In Tacuba was Cortés, with many a gallant chief;
He thought upon his losses, and bowed his head with grief."
The town of Tacuba is about a quarter of a mile farther, and not a great distance beyond is Atzcapotzalco, once the seat of a native kingdom, which fell with that of Montezuma. No ruins here, or remains of the sacred edifices that existed at the first coming of the Spaniards, save a low mound and scattered TREE OF NOCHE TRISTE. fragments of pottery. Both villages are easily reached from the city, and both contain religious establishments, that of Atzcapotzalco being of great proportions.
The church, or chapel, standing hard by the tree of noche triste, seems abandoned to the Indians, and is very old,—old enough to carry the thoughts back to that sad night of the first of July, 1520. The Aztecs relaxed their pursuit here at Popotla, else not a Spaniard would have remained alive to tell the tale; and, though harassed by the inhabitants of the towns about, the soldiers made good their escape, on the day following, to Otancalpolco, where they fortified themselves in a temple on a hill. Thence, after a brief night of rest, they marched under guidance of a single Indian towards Tlascala, their place of refuge; though not without another battle, in which they came near being annihilated. Upon the hill where they obtained their first relief, and a little time to ddress their wounds, there was erected some years later a church dedicated to Our Lady of Succor,—Nuestra Señora de los Remedios,—and this Virgin of the Remedios was a long time honored, and the people made pilgrimages to her shrine. She was a faithful saint, and did all she could for her worshippers; but as she was the saint of the Spaniards, she was deposed in the revolution, and now the Virgin of Guadalupe reigns supreme.
- A few old works, brought home by the author, are now in the Public Library of Boston.